Posted in Big Programs, Makerspace

Beauty Science

One of our goals for the year is to host career readiness programming for teens but how do we make that sound exciting to a 14 year old?  Our first career readiness program was called beauty science and teens created popular beauty items and we discussed the science and careers associated with it.

Will boys come to this? Yes!

Bath Bombs

We weren’t sure if teens took baths but on social media, bath bombs are not about relaxation; it’s about taking a video of a cool fizzing sphere.  We don’t care what they do with them.  As a matter of fact, we asked them to tag us in their videos.

Budget: $60/50 teens; 3 small bombs/teen

Ages: 10+

  • Citric acidbath bombs
  • Corn starch
  • Baking soda
  • Epsom Salt
  • Food dye
  • Essential oils
  • Molds (small)
  • Bowls
  • Measuring spoons
  • Mixing spoons
  • Plastic wrap
  • Goody bag
  • Spray bottles of water


  • Out of 20 participants, 4 were boys
  • Twisting the molds together seemed to work better
  • Sometimes the molds don’t work.  If this happens, dump out the mix, add a couple of sprays of water, and mix again.
  • Let the bombs sit out unwrapped while teens make their other molds.  Then wrap them.  They seem to hold better when they dry out for a while.
  • If you want to turn this into a long program, 1.5 hours, allow teens to experiment with colors (galaxy, unicorn, black).  Teens can also put toys inside the bomb.  They can do themes (Hogwarts sorting, etc). You can have teens create their own company and give their bombs names and they can design a logo on a sticker or tag.
  • Here’s the PDF of the instructions- bath bombs.

DIY Lip Balm

Teens find this to be the most fascinating because they can’t believe it’s so easy to make something they buy in the store.

Budget: $55/50 teens

Age: 12+

Supplies Needed:


Disclaimer-We used a counter top burner but you can use the double boiler method.

If you have a microwave in your room, this is ideal but if you don’t, you can boil a bowl of water and place a metal or glass bowl over the bowl with hot water.  You need to be able to melt the wax.

We did this program as a drop in so only four teens could do it at a time. The following batch was enough for six teens.

  1. Have the group decide what color they want their lip balm to be.  Give them that color crayon.  The crayon will not leave a pigment on the lip; it just creates color for the balm.
  2. Have one teen pour a 1/4 cup of beeswax into a glass or metal bowl. Pass the bowl.
  3. Have the next teen put a table spoon of shea butter or petroleum jelly into the bowl
  4. Have the next teen break crayons into the bowl and add a couple of drops of essential oil.
  5. Melting time:
    1. If you are doing this as a drop in, the staff can stand at the front of the table with the double boiler and allow one teen to stir the ingredients until melted.
    2. If you are doing a group of teens, you can pre-boil water and place it on a table cloth in the middle of each table of teens.  Have one teen put the bowl with ingredients on top of the boiling water and the teens can take turns mixing.  Just be sure to remind them A LOT that that bowls are hot and to not touch them with out an oven mitt.
  6. We transferred the melted ingredients into a Pyrex measuring glass for easy pouring.
  7. I’d recommend a staff member to the pouring.
    1. Have teens place a funnel in their tubes and pour the ingredients.
  8. Have teens set their tubes in the middle to dry.
  9. While it is drying, teens can clean up and write their name or the type of lip balm on the label that comes with the tubes.


  • This program is very quick and only took about 10 minutes.  To provide a longer program, you can have teens make several different types of beauty products.
    • You could create a career readiness program and have teen create a beauty company and a logo.  You can have teens work in groups and “pitch” their product to the group.
    • You could use the M in STEAM and have teens make their lip balm company into a business.  They could figure out profit/cost. You could teach Google Slides or Power Point and have teens create their presentation on slides to present to the group.
  • Out of 17 teens, none were boys.  Boys were not interested in making lip balm even though they use it.  I tried to encourage them to make it by telling them to give it to their mom or girlfriend-nothing worked.
  • The tubes are professional looking but they aren’t cute.  I prefer these containers because you can add glitter and you can actually see the lip balm. It’s also cheaper.


DIY Sugar Body Scrub

Budget: $45/16 teens-depending on the supplies you already have

Age: 10+

Supplies Needed:


  1. Important: The mixture should be 75% sugar and 25% oil.  This is important depending on your container size.
  2. Mix sugar and oil in a bowl or the container if the opening is big enough.
  3. Add a couple of drops of essential oil.
  4. Add dye until you get the desired color.


  • This project only takes about 10 minutes.  If you want to stretch this to a longer program:
    • Teens can make labels.
    • You can provide a plethora of oils, extracts, fruit zests, body glitter, etc for teens to make their own recipe.
    • Teens can make several scrubs for holiday gifts.
  • Out of 27 teens, 8 boys participated.  For some reason, boys wanted to make body scrub to give away to their mothers.

Our makerspace does daily drop in programs for the after school crowd and a longer traditional program for teens who come to the library specifically for the program.  We did these three projects over a course of three days in a week.

As you can see, these activities were very popular among our teens by the attendance we received. I think beauty science is similar to slime because they mixed different ingredients and made one cool thing. They are so proud of themselves for making something and we ask if they use the items they make in the programs and they do!

To make a long story short, we will be hosting beauty science again.

Posted in Big Programs

Murder Mystery Part 3: Party Time!

You’ve picked the perfect theme and cast, you’ve promoted it to get the maximum attendance, and you’ve planned your escape room.  Now it’s time to prepare the party. Our theme was Panic at the Library which was a take on Panic at the Disco’s song, I Write Sins not Tragedies. We chose this theme because our teens like this group and this type of music.  This music group is actually still popular so your teens may also like and you can use our theme.  Or, you can use a basic wedding reception theme if you want to model your murder mystery after ours.

Note: The linked escape room is Harry Potter themed but we used the same concept-we used several locks to open one case.  Teens were placed in groups and searched group designated areas in the library.

The Script

We wrote an original script and you are free to use it.  Please make a copy then make changes on your copy.  This is the sheet staff used to keep track of the event.  Once again, please make a copy then make changes if needed.


Teens really like dark themes, creepy carnival; zombies; Stranger Things; halloween, so our decor has been black and creepy for a couple of years which means we didn’t have to spend a lot on decor.  Since this is a wedding theme, our colors were black and red and we went with wedding type decoration.

  • Centerpieces were from our Valentine’s day decor box, leftover Mason jars and doilies, and ribbon from our craft closet.  A lot of the decor came from our Valentine’s day decor box.
  • Cake-we ordered from Walmart.  It was actually a gender reveal cake and we purchased more cupcakes for a total of $23.  The topper came from Walmart. We already had a cake stand.
  • Wedding napkins came from the wedding section at Walmart.
  • Bouquet-I made the bouquet with gel pens and duct tape roses and ribbon from Walmart.
  • The cast wore their own clothes
  • Guestbook-teens signed the book upon entering. We used this as door prizes (leftover candy) and we will use their addresses to invite them to future programs.
  • Champagne glasses
  • Party hats


The majority of our budget went to food-$100.  You don’t have to have food, you can just have cake and host your party after dinner time.


Party Games and Activities

We Googled wedding games around the world because American weddings are quite boring.  We of course made some variations.

Two Truths and a Lie and musical chairs were the games.  The DJ played Cha Cha Slide, Cotton Eye Joe, and the Chicken Dance.  And of course we had the escape room.

How Did it Go?

We spent about $200 and half of this was food.  The bride’s skirt was $30.  Murder mysteries are quite cheap if you use what you have and don’t serve food.

We had a total of 29 teens.  We had 3 boys, 12 middle schoolers and 17 high schoolers.  We were very happy with the overall attendance.  We would like to see more boys and more middle schoolers.

Believe it or not, the most popular activities were musical chairs and Cha Cha Slide.

We went through the party too fast even though I had it timed out.  I have to remember that teens are okay with music and socializing and they don’t need to be engaged every minute.

Having a DJ was great because teens like music and she helped with the ambiance and the flow of the program.  DJ LMK was our youth services department head and she used the Panic at the Disco Pandora station, and Youtube for requests.


Only two teens guessed the murderer and motive but this is typical.  Teens just don’t pay attention even though I remind them ALL THE TIME and the clues are obvious.  They don’t care about the guessing part anyway, they just like the party and the acting.


Their favorite part was the death scene, of course.  We had an actor who was extremely over the top and outshined everyone else.  I’d suggest getting VERY outgoing teens/staff because that’s what the teens remember-the acting.


I do a verbal evaluation by asking the teens if they had fun.  I ask them to be honest and make suggestions for next time and this is effective.  They are honest. They all said they had fun and one teen suggested it be longer. Um…I think two hours is plenty of time.

Posted in Big Programs

Escape Room

Everybody is talking about escape rooms; even ALA had escape rooms.  What’s the big deal? Escape rooms challenge teens to use problem solving and critical thinking skills, it’s collaborative, teens like puzzles, and it’s cheap.

Here’s our one and done Harry Potter escape room.  You can modify it to make it a traditional small group escape room.

Cheap? Breakout EDU costs $150!! You don’t need Breakout EDU to host your escape room and your creativity can create as many escape rooms as you can think of.

Budget: $50

Supplies Needed: 

UV Light

Invisible Ink Pen

Padlock key lock (You can buy these at the Dollar store)

Combo lock

Lockout Hasp

Storage Lock box (or something similar)

Flash drive

Breakout EDU is charging you to use their curriculum but you’re smart; you can do your own.  I’ve actually never used their curriculum; I’ve done three escape rooms and found it easier to think up my own story.

Here’s How

You can do a one and done escape room for a bunch of teens or a room that requires groups throughout the day.  You can make it any theme you want.

Here’s our one and done Harry Potter escape room.  You can modify it to make it a traditional small group escape room.

Posted in Big Programs

Harry Potter Escape Room

This is a one and done escape room for a large group.  If you are having a 2 hour program and you need an activity, this type of escape room is good because it can accommodate a lot of teens.

The escape room is not going to take two hours so you have to have it as one activity in your Harry Potter party.

Potter After Hours /Yule Ball/ Harry Potter Night

My program was called Potter After Hours so this post will be about that party.

Activities: Sorting, Quidditch Pong, Ollivander’s wand making, Potions with Professor Snape, trivia, and escape Azkaban.

Budget: ? (depends on you)

Quidditch Pong

  • To make the rings we used cups, skewers, pipe cleaners to make the hoops, and lots of tape.
  • We used regular ping pong balls.
  • You can make your own rules.
    • Rule Example: Assign points to the hoops and teens receive points for making it through the hoop.  You can eliminate the cups if you do it this way.
    • Rule Example We Used:  The hoops were decoration.  The cups were assigned points and one cup was the snitch.  When you got it in the snitch cup you received 150 points and the game was over.


Ollivander’s Wand Making

  • We did the traditional skewer, hot glue, paint method. Please see this Pinterest post for instructions.
  • It only takes about 15 minutes but you’ll have to supply a drying table for teens to put their wands to dry and retrieve at the end of the party.

Potions with Professor Snape

  • We provided recipes for a love potion, liquid luck, and dragon pox remedy.  Feel free to make up your own recipes.  Teens can also make up their own recipes for their own potions.  It’s up to you.
    • We purchased the following essential oils-lemon, lavender, orange, 12345628_10153716828872349_6832605103835816827_n
      peppermint, eucalyptus, and almond oil as the base.  You can provide whatever you want.  Our oils were topical but if you want them to be edible, use honey as the base and provide extracts instead of essential oils.
    • We provided funnels for the base and told teens to only use one drop of oil because it’s expensive.
    • We also pre-made tags that said love potion, liquid luck, and dragon pox.  Teens can also use Sharpies to draw on the bottle.  It depends on your time limits.

Trivia-You can find our trivia here.  This is a traditional style team trivia.  The answers are included in the slide show.  If you want to edit this trivia, PLEASE copy it first and edit your copy.

How We Organized the Party

  • Teens probably know their house before they arrive but for the sake of equal team trivia teams, we did a sorting hat ceremony upon arrival.
    • Teens can pull house colored candy from a cauldron.
    • Cupcake method-Bake cupcakes, carve out the middle and fill with house colored frosting, frost the cupcakes.  When teens bite or pull open cupcakes, their house will be revealed.
  • The first 45 minutes, teens did the wands, potions, and quidditch.
  • Escape room (See below)
  • Trivia-Teens sit in the house they were sorted into

Escape Room

Objective: Escape Azkaban before the Dementor’s Kiss

Group Gryffindor with Hufflepuff and Slytherin with Ravenclaw to form two groups.  You will be using the locking system pictured below for this game.


As you can see, there are three locks on each side of the lockout hasp.  Team Gryffinpuff will get clues to left side and Team Slytherclaw will get the same clues but it will be for the right side of the hasp. Inform each team to search for clues in their designated area.  For example, tell Griffinpuff to search for clues in the youth department and Slytherclaw is to search in the adult department.

To begin the game, tell them their objective is to escape Azkaban before the Dementor’s Kiss.  The spell to escape is in the box.

  • Clue #1
    • Read to the entire group: Oh what a puzzle you’ll be in if you use the unforgivable curses.
    • Give both teams an envelope that contains a paper puzzle piece of the words AVADA KEDAVRA. The envelope should also contain the clue you read.
    • Tell the teams to search their depts. for the other puzzle pieces. When the teams return, they can input the combo in one of the locks.
    • They then wait for the other team
      • Prep before the party
        • Cut out the puzzle pieces and write a piece of the combination to one lock on each puzzle piece.  For example, if the combination on the hasp is 345, write 3 on the back of one puzzle piece; 4 on the back of a puzzle piece; and 5 on the back of the last puzzle piece.
        • Hide two puzzle pieces in plain sight in each department.  Teens should be able to find the pieces but it shouldn’t be too easy.
  • Clue #2
    • Although we ruined the celebration for the winning team of the Quidditch World Cup, maybe this polyjuice potion will help us escape Azkaban.
      • Give each teen a small cup of juice and the team the clue you read.  The Irish team won the Quidditch World Cup and that’s their clue.  Teens can use their phones to Google the answer. (Don’t tell teens before hand that they can use their phones; let them figure it out.)
    • When the teams return, they can input the combo in one of the locks.
    • They then wait for the other team.
      • Prep before the party
        • Write one letter on the bottom of seven cups to spell IRELAND.  On the bottom of three cups write, “find the flag.” One cup/word. The remaining cups will have no letters.  Do this for each team. As they drink, they should notice letters on the bottom of some of the cups and they will begin to arrange the letters.
        • Place several varied world flags around each department including the Irish flag.  On the back of the Irish flag put a QR code.
          • To make a QR code: I took a picture of a written trivia question, “I created SPEW in this book” and I put the picture on Instagram.  You can do your library’s IG or your personal. Go to that IG account on a computer, pull up that post, and copy the URL.  Go to QR generator site and click URL at the top of the screen. Paste the URL, save it, cut it out, and tape it to the back of the Irish flag.  One teen will have to download a QR reader.  You can tell one person from each team to download it before the escape room or you can let them figure it out.
        • This will lead them to the book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Keep the book on the shelf where it normally should be.  Inside the book, tape a key that opens the lock on the hasp.
  • Clue #3
    • Before the party, we made two dementor pinatas.  We purchased two batman pinatas from Walmart or Amazon. Get the pull string piñata. We covered them with lots of black streamers.
    • Have each team go to their piñata. One teen pulls the strings one at a time.  When the piñata bursts, they should look for their next clue and UV flashlight. You can also have candy in the piñata and teens can come back to get candy after they escape.
    • Clue: Find all your answers in the Room of Requirement
    • When the teams return, they can input the combo in one of the locks.
    • They then wait for the other team.
      • Prep Before the Party
        • Designate an area in each dept as the Room of Requirement and put a nice big sign so the teens know this is where they should be.
        • Using the pen with invisible ink, on a sheet of paper taped to the wall write “This is the year Azkaban was first used as a detention facility.” The answer is 1917 and this is the final combo.
        • On other sheets of paper, write ZONKO.  Make a lot of ZONKO papers and tape them to the wall.
        • Teens can use their phones to find the answer.
  • Inside the Lockbox
    • Write any spell on a sheet of paper.  You could also put a sheet that says we escaped Azkaban and have the teens take a picture.


Hopefully this isn’t too confusing.  If you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll answer it for you.


Posted in Big Programs

Murder Mystery Part 2: Casting & Promoting

Part 1: Murder Mystery


After we select our theme, we get a cast.  For the past two years, we had teens as the cast. We simple asked our regular teens and if we needed more, we asked for volunteers on Instagram and Facebook.

This year we will have staff as the cast and this is because we are behind in our planning.  However, our first murder mystery featured staff and having staff as the cast can be fun because teens get to see their librarians in a different atmosphere.  At our murder mystery, they will get to see their youth librarian be a goth overhyped wedding DJ-how cool is that?

The Script

Most of the time we let the teens help us write the script but once again, we are in crunch time and we have to write it ourselves.  Yes, we write our own script and it’s surprisingly not hard.

  • You’ve decided on a theme and that’s extremely helpful.
  • Choose thematic games/activities because this will be the bulk of your party and an easy way to involve the cast.
    • Two years ago the theme was a slumber party and the participants played traditional slumber party games-truth or dare; makeovers; hide and seek.
    • This year with the wedding reception theme, the activities include two truths and a lie; musical chairs; and the throwing of the bouquet and guarder.  The first two activities are traditions from other countries because American receptions are just dancing and eating-boring for teens.
  • We usually minimal lines for the cast to memorize and encourage them to improvise and remain in character the entire party.  Each character has a profile so that cast member knows how to behave during the party.  For this party, the cast will be sitting at the head table and may have their script in front of them.
  • We always email the script two weeks prior to the party and ask the cast to memorize their lines. We do dress rehearsals two hours before the party and we feed them dinner.  It’s difficult to get teens together to rehearse but we’ve never had a problem rehearsing immediately before the event.

I will post the complete script in February after our murder mystery.


If you have a library that gets attendance through your newsletter, congrats to you-you can skip this section.  If you are like my library where your patrons do not read their newsletter and you have to promote your programs to an inch of death, keep reading.

We of course do the traditional flyers around the library so the following is in addition to that.

  • We send out personal invitations to your regular teens through the snail mail.
    • We always make our invites fancy and not with the MS Publisher template invites.  They are always on theme so this year, the invites will resemble a real wedding invitation.
      • We place an additional invite for teens to give to a friend.
    • We also pass out invites to teens who visit the makerspace and we use the same fancy invites.
  • We TRY to take pictures of the cast in their costumes to be placed on the flyers and social media.
    • We put each cast member on their own flyer to make them look like suspects.
      • If you have teen actors and you can’t get them to send a pic of them in their costume, ask them if you can take a picture from their social media to use on a flyer.
      • We also use these suspect flyers on social media.
        • One year, we had cast members take some videos in character and
          Social Media whodunit promos

          we posted them on social media.  This is optional but we do this because your social media flyers will eventually get ignored and this way, we are catching their attention.

    • “Chalk” outline in the stacks.
      • We use tape to make a “chalk” out line of a dead body on the floor of the YA stacks and tape a flyer in the center of the outline.  This is a guaranteed way to get teens to see your flyer.
    • Book Display-We create a big thematic book display.

Image 1-12-18 at 10.02 AM

We do a big promotion because this is our winter quarter big event and we often get new faces at the murder mystery that turn into new teen patrons.  You of course do not have to do all of this.


Please visit Teen Services Depot next Friday for a post on Escape Rooms and how we will incorporate one into our murder mystery.


Posted in Big Programs

Murder Mystery Part 1

Every once in a while I see librarians request murder mystery and escape room programming info.  At my library, we do a murder mystery every year and we’ve done two different escape room programs.  It is about that time for our annual murder mystery/escape room party so to give others some ideas, I’ll write an ongoing post about the programming process.


We change the theme every year because we’ve found that choosing a pop culture theme gets the most attendance and since pop culture trends change quickly, our theme changes every year.

2017’s theme was in honor of the popular TV show-American Horror Story.  Here’s the info.

2016’s theme was in honor of the popular TV show at the time-Scream Queens. He’s the info.

We always survey our teens in some way before we choose a theme.  This is done with a paper survey during school visits or through discussions.  When we do a paper survey, we ask one question-what’s your favorite TV show/movie?  We then list a bunch of titles and ask them to circle what they like and we also leave a blank to fill in.  This is strategic because if the survey is too long, they won’t do it.

This year, our survey was done verbally and based on their conversations and responses, we chose the song, I Write Sins not Tragedies by Panic at the Disco.  Our teens love this band and that song-even though it is old as hell.

We changed the name to Panic at the Library and we will follow the spirit of the music video.  The party will resemble a wedding reception where the groom will get murdered for nefarious deeds.  The attending teens will be invited guests and we’ll play traditional wedding reception games/activities.  It’s not just a wedding but a goth wedding with a freak show undertone like the video.  I’ll write about the actual party in a future post.

Based on national pop culture trends, possible theme ideas include Stranger Things, Riverdale, IT, or Pretty Little Liars.

Visit the blog every Friday in January and February for new topics.  Part two-promotion and casting.

Posted in Big Programs, Makerspace, Passive Programs

Slime Party

I know you are afraid, but don’t be. It’s going to be okay.

My teen programming spans 6-12th grade and our attendance has been skewing older and we need to attract 6th graders-SLIME!  75% of our attendance was middle school.

Slime can be expensive. The more teens you anticipate and the more types of slime you make will break your budget.  We had 90 teens over a span of three days and we made five different types of slime and our budget was about $430.00.  DON’T PANIC! You can adjust to fit your budget.  I will break down the price of each type of slime we did and you can pick and choose.

None of our recipes used Borax.  Borax can cause rashes on sensitive skin so I looked for recipes that used other ingredients.  Liquid starch is difficult to find in stores.  We found it at Walmart but I’d suggest purchasing from Amazon and get a lot becasue you don’t want to run out at the last minute like we did.

We bought containers for them to store their slime but you can use baggies too.

slime party 2

Follow Teen Services Depot on Instagram!

Heat Sensitive Slime-Changes colors when touched with cold hands.

Total Cost for 30 Teens (including glue & liquid starch)-$95

Thermochromic Pigment $20 for one 10 gram container.  I bought four so it’ll be $80.

DISCLAIMER: I didn’t use food coloring.  It affected the pigment.

slime party 1

Magnetic Slime-Moves with magnets. Search Youtube to see how it works.

Total Cost for 30 Teens (including glue & starch)- $70

Magnets  $19.99 for 20.  I bought two packs.  You can search for cheaper but they must be strong.

Black Iron Oxide (Magnetic Powder) $12.99 for one pound.  One pound is enough for 30 teens.

DISCLAIMER: This is messy.  It’s very important for teens to knead quickly and to not get it on their clothes or paper.  It’s also important to wash their hands after playing with it.


Glitter Monster Slime

Total Cost for 30 Teens (including clear glue, starch, glitter, googly eyes, baking soda, contact solution)- $45

DISCLAIMER: This recipe calls for food coloring; we did not use it. Substitute food coloring for googly eyes.

DISCLAIMER #2: We purchased a one gallon container of clear glue and it costs about $27.  Get contact solution at the Dollar Store b/c brand name solution is expensive.


Glow in the Dark Floam

Total Cost for 30 Teens (including glue & starch & glow in dark paint)- $40

Styrofoam Balls– $9.99 for eight packs.  I bought two packs so it’ll be $20.

Fluffy Slime

Total Cost for 30 Teens (including glue, starch, contact solution, food coloring, and shaving cream)-$30

We used about five cans of shaving cream.

DISCLAIMER: Purchase contact solution, shaving cream, and food coloring from the Dollar Store.

slime party 5

STEAM Option

As I was practicing, I realized that you can experiment and add just about anything to make unique slime.  The important ingredients are glue (white or clear) and a binding agent-liquid starch or contact solution.

Set out different materials for teens to create their own slime-sand, sugar, beads, clay, Kool aid, or anything you have laying around.


We had five different slimes but by co worker told me that five may have been too many.  I agree and would recommend three different slimes.  Most teens make slime at school so I wanted to avoid the popular slimes like glitter slime.  That’s why we did magnetic and heat sensitive slime.

  • I had a line of tables covered in paper. As teens entered, I asked their name and
    had a staffer write their name on the paper.  This is where teens stored their completed slime.  You’ll see why below.

slime party 2

  •  I had a staff member at every slime table.  Every table held seven teens.
    • I’d recommend required registration so you know exactly how many chairs you’ll need.
    • The staffer had teens fullfil the steps one at a time.  Example, if the first step is 1/2 cup of glue, the staffer had teens pour glue into their bowls and pass it to the next teen.  She didn’t go to the next step until everyone had 1/2 glue.
  • When teens were done with each slime, they went to the covered table, put their slime in a container, and put it by their name.
    • Teens then go back to their table and wait until the other tables are finished.
  • Once everyone is finished, we rotated tables.
  • After each teen has been to each table, the party was over.
    • You can have snacks or let teens play with their slime when everything is finished.


  • Popscicle sticks for stirring
  • Bowls (You may need bigger bowls for floam)
  • Measuring cups and spoons (enough for two cups/spoons for each table)
  • Containers to store glue and starch for easy pour. (those big gallons of glue are heavy).
  • Table covers
  • Plenty of napkins and wet wipes
  • Baggies or plastic containers
Posted in Big Programs

Teen Read Week: Short Story Contest

The theme for Teen Read Week 2017 is Unleash Your Story which makes it the perfect time to host a short story contest for your teens.  At my library, we run an annual short story contest and 2017 will be our 5th annual.  If you are interested in hosting a contest at your library, here’s how we organize ours-ZB Inked Short Story Contest.

What Should the Rules Be?

Rules are IMPORTANT for your participants and your sanity.  Make sure your rules are appropriate for your demographic and something you can handle.  Here are our more important rules:

  • Stories should be no longer than 4 pages.  You may be inundated with hundreds zb inked 2of stories and to maintain your sanity, limit the number of pages.  In previous years, it was a three page max but our teens complained and we increased it.  We also have the rule…
  • Teens may submit up to two stories.  Once again, please be mindful of your sanity.  We did this because our contest is not themed and our teens were conflicted between what story to submit.  One teen also found this as a loophole to the 4 page limit.  He was frustrated because he couldn’t condense his story so he submitted chapter one and chapter two as two separate stories.  He won first place that year.
  • The contest is only open to teens in our district.  Some libraries open their contest to anyone but we live in a lower income community and some of our submissions are good stories but poorly executed.  We also live in one of the wealthiest counties in the state with the best schools and many, not all but many, of our teens can’t quite compete.  We want the teens in our district to have a shot at winning. I know that sounds like we have no faith in our teens/schools but in previous years, teens in neighboring districts took all three awards so we decided to limit the contest.  We occasionally get the teacher who lives out of the district and asks if their kid can participate but we sadly decline their submission.
  • We only allow emailed submissions.  This is actually a new rule for this year.  We create an anthology of the winners and it’s easier to print from email than copy from paper.  If you are opening your contest to younger teens, 4th-5th grade, you may consider paper submissions as younger teens don’t have computers or email at school.
  • Grammar Counts.  We have a strict grammar rule and since then, the submissions have been thoroughly proofread.  We also tell our teens they will be judged on creativity, originality, and use of characters.
  • We have two grade categories: 6th-8th & 9th-12th. If just isn’t fair to make a 6th grader compete with a 12th grader.
  • Not all prizes are guaranteed.  In other words, there might not be a third place winner.  On low submission years, we didn’t have good stories but we said there would be 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes awarded.  This year, we will not award bad stories.
  • We don’t sensor the teens.  We do ask that they use family friendly language but they may write about abuse, LGBTQ, violence, gore, mental health, etc.   We have received submissions about abortion and gay characters and we’ve never received any complaints from parents.  We do however, put a disclaimer on those stories in the anthology.
  • Other important rules: Have a clear cut of date and time for submission deadlines.  9pm to midnight is best because teens tend to work late into the evening.  Have one email for submissions and questions.  Express an acceptable type font and size-we do Times New Roman/12/double-spaced.  Express the date when you will announce the winners otherwise you’ll have teens asking every day. Give yourself two to three weeks to judge.

ZB Library Short Story Flyer/Rules


zb inked
Contest winner with Stacey Kade

Prizes are up to your budget but whatever your prize, list it on the flyer.

  • We host an author visit every Spring and one of our contest prizes is to have dinner with the author.  Teens enjoy this because the dinner is usually limited to 10 teens and they can ask all the questions they desire.

Get The Word Out-CHEAPLY

We live in a community where we have to jump through hoops to promote our programs and services.  If you work at a library where people actually read their newsletter, congrats and you can probably skip this part.  If you aren’t so lucky, here’s what we do:

  • Schools. We usually just send flyers to English/reading teachers and librarians but this year we will also send free books.  We received a large donation from Scholastic and we will be giving out approx. 500 books.
    • Asking Publishers for Book Donations.  We simply visit all book publishers, find the school/library marketing contact, and ask for donations.  We always describe our program and intent with the books.  You’ll receive lots of no’s but you may get lucky like we did.
    • Teachers.  Ask a teacher, librarian, or principal from each school to judge the contest.  They will be invested in the contest and encourage their students to enter.
      • At our library, our teen staff chooses the top six finalists and we have teachers judge the finalists.  Teachers are busy so don’t give them more work.
  • Social Media.  
    • Try a Facebook or Instagram boost.  Boosts are cheap ($7-$20) and they reach hundreds of patrons IN YOUR COMMUNITY.  When you post on FB, you’ll see a blue button that says, “boost.”  Click it and follow the directions.
    • Weeks leading up to the deadline, I post creative writing tips.  This is a different way of reminding your followers of the contest without being annoying.
  • Wattpad
    • Wattpad is a website where people publish their short stories and novels.  LOTS of teens read and write on Wattpad so this year we will include it in our contest.
      • We’ve created an account and teens can easily share the story with us on Wattpad and it will count as their entry.


We use a rubric that you may use below.  We also deduct points for not including a full name, grade, and school.  We put this on the rule sheet.  We do this to make teens accountable for life.  In life, you have to put your contact info; might as well start now.

We take the average from every judge to determine our winners.  We also encourage judges to make comments.

Judging Rubric

When you’ve chosen a winner, take a picture and see if you can get it in your local newspaper so that your patrons will look out for your contest next year.

zb inke


Posted in Big Programs, Makerspace

Don’t Just Play Games; Make Them

We live in a community where teens play A LOT of games but they don’t know much about making them so we decided to create a day long game making bonanza and we called it Challenge Accepted.

Attendance: 84 (6th-12th grades and adults)

Budget: $500 (Game Truck, lunch, dinner, snacks)  We shared the cost of the game truck with the youth department.  You can save money by only offering snacks.

11am-1pm: Create Your Own Super Mario Bros Level or Minecraft Mod

Teens STILL love Super Mario Bros and we used that to hook them.  We used two different programs-Gamestar Mechanic and Pixel Press.



  • Gamestar Mechanic is done online through a website where teens play levels, similar to the game they are going to design, to acquire characters; obstacle; villains; etc.  Teens can go through a tutorial to learn the basics if you are not comfortable teaching game design.
    • Game Mechanic costs $2/student and you can receive a free trial to test.
    • The teens really liked Game Mechanic and I highly recommend it.
  • Pixel Press-Adventure Time is an app that allows the gamer to add coins, obstacles, and levels.
    • The app is $2.99 and you can upload it to multiple iPads.
    • This game has a steeper learning curve than Gamestar and I would say it’s more appropriate for an intermediate gamer/coder.
Pixel Press Adventure Time

Minecraft Mods

  • Tynker is an app that allows gamers to make their own worlds.
    • Tynker requires a subscription.
    • You have to have your own Minecraft server which is difficult for a library.
  • Kano is a arduino that can do the same as Tynker. We used Kano because we already purchased them with grant funds.
    • You have to purchase Kano kits for $150-$350/ea
    • Kano provides step by step instructions which is great for librarians who are Minecraft novices.
Making Minecraft Mods with Kano

1pm-3pm: Laser Tag/Game Truck

Game Truck is a big green truck that come to you to lead games.  We wanted to do laser tag on the library’s lawn as a energy release from sitting behind a computer all day.  It rained that day so we did video games instead.  Teens REALLY loves Game Truck even though it’s just gaming in a big truck.  I highly recommend it if you have it in your area.  You get it for two hours and it costs about $400.

Inside the Game Truck

3pm-5:30pm: DIY Board Game and 3D Print your Pawn/Die

Cooperative games are all the rage and I wanted teens to learn how to create their own board game.

  • I printed a blank game board from Google Images and stapled it to foam board.
  • I added space for cards like Chance cards from Monopoly.
  • I included space for title; description; objective; rules; and place to design pawn or die

Game Day

  • Teens were divided into groups of three or four.
  • Each group was given a game board, scratch paper, pencils, and colored pencils.
  • I allowed between 5-10 minutes for each item
    • Teens were asked to decide on the description; objective; rules; cards; die design; and title.
  • Teens were then allowed the rest of the time to create their board game.
  • One person was designated to design their pawn or die in Tinkercad-3D printing website.
    • We were able to print one pawn during the program and we told teens to return to pick up their piece.
      • We will print a pawn or die for each member of the group.

6-8pm: Dungeons and Dragons

We do not know how to play so we asked a staff member to be a dungeon master and to teach the basics of the game.  Since libraries are full of nerds, chances are you have a D&D player among your co workers or you can ask one of your teens.

Posted in Big Programs, Makerspace

Polymer Clay

Polymer Clay is used to make small figurines or jewelry and requires baking to harden.  For our polymer clay programs we advertise it as making mini foods because they are so cute but feel free to do whatever is popular in your community.   We use a convection oven to bake.  If you don’t have a convection oven, ask staff if they’d be willing to donate theirs for the day.


  • Provide pictures or videos if you have a big screen TV in your teen room.  Sometimes teens need a visual to get started.
  • Provide utensils for cutting and designing.  We put out toothpicks, plastic knives and forks.  If you purchase a kit, they provide utensils.
  • Provide hand sanitizer and napkins because if teens use red clay and then use white, the red clay on their fingers will ruin the white.  Inform teens to clean their hands between clay and the utensils.
  • If teens are making jewelry, the metal pieces can be baked.
  • Bake all the figurines together.  Bake at 275 degrees for 15 minutes.
  • Purchase the glue and gloss that’s made for polymer clay.  The glue is for the jewelry pieces and the gloss is to make it shiny.

Have Fun!