Devon libraries reach new audiences with escape room experience

Devon libraries reach new audiences with escape room experience

What happened to the last known witches in the UK and the librarian who disappeared trying to uncover their story? This is the mystery visitors to Devon’s library service are invited to unravel in a new book-themed escape room called Lost Librarian. It blends technology and creativity to enhance the library service’s traditional offering of literature, information and storytelling to reach new audiences. 

The project is part of a mission by Libraries Unlimited, a charity formed in 2016, to attract new visitors and reconnect with existing ones, with an open call for artists to pitch playful ways to bring libraries to life. The brainchild of designer Lizzie Johnson, creative technologist Kyle Hirani and writer Matt Gibbs, the escape room gives visitors 60 minutes to solve 10 interactive puzzle books, which are enhanced with movement and touch sensors. Each book uncovers more of the story of what happened to the last three Exeter witches. 

The original idea was to spread 23 puzzle books across the floors of the libraries to encourage visitors to explore, but when Covid-19 hit, the organisers felt that the escape room format would be a good way to better control the experience. 

Daniel Clark, creative director of Evolve, the arm of Libraries Unlimited that programmes its events, believes that people are “hungry for experiences” following the pandemic. “We’ve all been stuck in our homes, so a fun, playful experience for the family feels like a winner,” he said. “The escape room format is so popular right now and we are amazed by the creative team that has managed to breathe new life into this way of working and tie it into the many things that people love and know about their libraries.” 

Libraries Unlimited hopes that by introducing new and vibrant experiences that enhance the libraries’ traditional offering, it will be able to change the perceptions of libraries and open them up to new visitors. “Audience feedback has been brilliant, with 100% of people saying they loved the experience and many saying it’s inspired them to join their local library,” Clark added. 

The best way to develop and implement innovative ideas is to consult and engage with artists, the team said. “Creating open calls and giving them time and space—and a little money—for development is essential,” Clarke added. “We try to get artists to spend time in our library spaces, collaborating with communities and staff to get the best results. We’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of support from Arts Council England, which has given us support to make this work happen and enabled us to have a dedicated creative team as part of our core libraries team.” 

As well as collaborating with artists, Evolve ran many focus groups with young people to test the experience and get their feedback, which “proved invaluable” for the creative team, Clark added. In October and November, the escape room will tour Cullompton, Tavistock and Okehampton, and then three further Devon Libraries in February and March. 

For further details, visit librariesevolve.org.uk