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Three Ring Library Circus: TLA 2024 Conference Poster, Katherine Hooker: Start Here

A digital extension of poster presentaton.

Click to Play the Digital Escape Game

(Read on for more info on it. Best on Desktop platform)


Poster session presented at 2024 Texas Library Association annual conference.

Created for Associate Professor of Theatre Kerry Bechtel's class.

     This project was a very customized, multi-part instruction to support students' library research in a Theatre Design course. The librarian has worked with the professor for several years and felt encouraged to try something different, inspired by her innovative and creative syllabus. The tie-in to Circus theming was fully embraced and each piece was custom-designed to fit the aesthetic and the unique research needs. The class consisted of 25 students (large for a class at Southwestern University) and the decision was made to split the class into two groups. Instruction occurred on February 7th and 12th, 2024. Each 75 minute class consisted of: about 20-30 minutes devoted to an introductory digital escape game (with built in feedback exit survey), followed by instruction on the class' collaborative Circus imagery Padlet, and finally a traditional instruction/demonstration portion where the librarian showed the course LibGuide and tips and tricks regarding the library's web page and resources. At the very end of class, the students filled out Project Outcome survey questions to assess the library instruction. 

     The result was that students seemed pleased by the unique and themed experience, and were more receptive to hearing the typical lecture portion of the class. Several students also verbally expressed their appreciation for the themed rewards and the fact that effort had been put in to make their class special and engaging. This model of instruction worked extremely well, and Smith Library Center's research and instruction librarians may well look into implementing this three-part instruction plan more widely- for instance for the First Year Seminar experience for next year's incoming class. Katherine wishes to express thanks to Kerry Bechtel for trusting her to try something new in her class, and to librarian Maureen Mitchell at Del Mar College, whose online workshop really inspired and guided the digital escape room production.

Tools Utilized for this Project:

  • Google Suite
    • Google Slides (Digital Escape Room layout)
    • Google Docs (Digital Escape Room clues and documentation)
    • Google Forms (Digital Escape Room exit form / assessment mechanism)
  • Canva (Design tool for many elements)
  • Padlet (Collaborative class project to gather circus inspirational image research)
  • Ransomizer (Free website for creating ransom notes)
  • Springshare LibGuides (Class guide- subject of the more traditional instruction that followed the escape room)

All free to use!


Kroski, Ellyssa, and ALA TechSource. Library Technology Reports : How to Create Free Digital Breakouts for Libraries. of Library Technology Reports, V. 56, No. 3. Chicago, IL: ALA TechSource, 2020. (Link)

     A helpful how-to manual. Generated the idea to use Ransomizer note.

Makri, Agoritsa, Dimitrios Vlachopoulos, and Richard A. Martina. "Digital escape rooms as innovative pedagogical tools in education: A systematic literature review." Sustainability 13, no. 8 (2021): 4587. (Link)

     A thorough overview of the topic and a framework for illustrating that digital escape rooms can be effective.

Mitchell, Maureen. “OER Escape Room to South Padre Island”. Interactive online workshop presented at the TLA Library Instruction Round Table (LIRT) Annual Summit. December 8, 2023. (Link)

     This excellent workshop and digital escape room provided direct inspiration for this project- thank you for sharing!

Additional Commentary Gathered from Project Outcome Survey

In addition to the Google Form that students filled out immediately after finishing the escape game (first 30 minutes of class), they also completed a Project Outcome survey at the conclusion of the 75 minute class. Their responses to 'What was your favorite part of this session?":

  • I liked the game we played in the beginning, it was engaging and helpful.
  • I liked the digital escape room and the animal cookies :)
  • I liked the game
  • The game
  • I thought the escape room exercise was a great way to make the library meeting fun and constructive!
  • I liked the mini escape game and how it was circus theme
  • I really enjoyed how the escape room made a fun learning environment.
  • I never knew the library held old editions of Vogue and other magazines. I will definitely be looking at those. Also I’ve never heard of ArtStor but that will be a source I will use.
  • I like that now I know how to search for books now.
  • the escape room was informative and the interactive elements were entertaining
  • The game
  • I liked working with a group to do the escape room thing. I also liked getting a sticker they’re super cool.
  • The “old search service” that finds old books and documents.
  • The info about padlet and the class page
  • How it was interactive and fun.

3 Part Library Instruction

Act 1: Digital Escape Game- interactive Google Slide

Act 1: Digital Escape Game- worksheet

Act 2: Collaborative class Padlet

Act 3: Customized Course LibGuide and traditional instruction


Students completed the digital escape room in approximately 20 to 30 minutes.

Students who chose to work in small groups seemed to complete the puzzle faster and enjoy themselves more.

Themed rewards: design stickers and SU Pirate themed temporary tattoos. Students received at the conclusion of the digital escape room.

Students were also rewarded with nostalgic and on-theme Circus Animal cookies. These earned many smiles and student enjoyed eating them while the more traditional, lecture-based library instruction was delivered.

Having started the 75 minute instruction period with the gamified portion, students seemed more receptive to the traditional lecture/demonstration portion of the instruction.


Assessment was gathered via GoogleForm and was the students' exit ticket before completing the escape room and collecting rewards.

From 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much), the majority of students liked the gamified instruction.

From 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much), students felt like they learned something about library research by completing the game.

Commentary was optional: