Saturday, August 17, 2013

Get Into Creative Mode: Host a Minecraft Build-Off!

This summer, I hosted a very successful Minecraft Build-Off program for teens at my library. Even though I myself am an experienced Minecraft player at home, you don't have to be one in order to put on a program with your teens.

The general idea of Minecraft is that players "mine" resources (wood, stone, diamond, wheat, etc.) and then can "craft" with them and build structures, tools, landscapes, etc. The cool thing is that there really isn't a limit to what you can design and build with the game.

There are two basic modes to Minecraft: creative and survival. In Creative Mode, players are given an unlimited amount of every available resource in their inventory so that they don't have to focus on the finding and mining aspect; they can just focus on being creative and building. The other mode is Survival Mode. Here players have to find and mine their resources before they craft them into the structures they want to build. There are also monsters that come out at night that they have to worry about fighting and a health bar that they have to keep full or else they will die in the game. You can find some tutorials on the basics here or by searching on YouTube for Minecraft basics tutorials. The Minecraft wiki is also a good place to go to find good information about the various items and materials, keyboard command charts, etc.

There are a couple of ways you can hold a Minecraft program. You can choose to host a one-time build-off where the teens play in their own worlds in Creative Mode. You can also host a server where teens can all play together in the same world in either Creative or Survival Mode.

What I Did:
After talking with another local librarian about how she ran her program and garnering a lot of great advice from others on the listservs I decided to try a one-time build-off program. It is amazingly easy to setup and run. We decided hold the build-off in the Computer Lab on the library PC's. Our IT Department installed the free Minecraft software on the computers ahead of time so that all teens had to do upon arrival was log in. You can get the program from

The one caveat is that teens need a paid account in order to log in and play. Accounts cost $26.95. This wasn't an issue for me as most of the teens in my community already play Minecraft and have accounts. However, you can also purchase paid accounts for the teens to use at a discount from Their accounts cost $18 and then you can let your teens use them during the program. I've also spoken with librarians who purchase gift cards from to use with teens who don't already have paid accounts.

As the teens arrive the day of the program, ask them to log in to Minecraft. When we are ready to begin, I tell them to click on the following options:
  • Click on "Single Player" and "Create New World"
  • Change the Game Mode to "Creative"
  • Click on "More World Options"
    • Generate Structures should be "Off"
    • World Type should be "Superflat"
    • Allow Cheats should be "Off"
    • Bonus Chest should be "Off"
  • Click "Done" and then "Create New World"
I gave the teens 90 minutes to build a structure around a theme, which I don't give them until the day of the programs so they can't make any pre-plans for what they'll build. The theme I chose for this build-off went along with the teen summer reading theme: Beneath the Surface. I asked them to build the best zombie defense they could think of. 

Some other theme ideas:
  • Castles
  • Houses
  • Pixel Art
  • Roller Coasters
  • Farms
  • Gardens
  • Seasonal or Holiday themed
  • And of course, Libraries!
At the end of the 90 minutes, I went around and had each teen give me a mini-tour of their structure. Then I awarded Minecraft-themed prizes in the following categories: Best Interior, Best Exterior, Most Creative, Best Use of Redstone, and Best Overall. I purchased Minecraft keychains and rubber bracelets from Amazon for prizes. The best overall won a giant foam pickaxe:

Think Geek and the Minecraft website also sell themed merchandise. 

One thing I did after the program was to have each teen stay logged in so that I could take screenshots of their creations to share on our Facebook page. I saved the photos to a jump drive then logged them out. Here are some of their zombie forts:

How It Went:
This program was a hit! I could only take 15 teens due to the number of computers in our lab. I had another 15 teens on the waiting list, so at the last minute we added a second session. Luckily, I have an Amazon Prime account and was able to get a second set of prizes! The teens had a blast and they really blew me away with their creativity. It was difficult to choose the winners! Because I saw so many creations at once it was hard for me to keep track. What I would probably do next time is create a judging sheet of sorts with a rubric so that I can quickly score them in different categories using a numeric rating system.

The next step is hopefully to start a regular monthly Minecraft club at the library where teens can all play in the same world together. This would required server space and other extra planning. 

Other awesome websites about Minecraft programs:

Have you run a Minecraft program at your library before? If so, did you do anything differently? Feel free to contact me for more specifics or with any questions!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Because Bowties Are Cool: Doctor Who @ Your Library

Over the summer, my coworker came up with the brilliant idea of doing a Doctor Who Party for teens. Since I am a huge Doctor Who fan myself, I was eager to jump in and help out. We had 60 very enthusiastic teens attend! For those of you that are unfamiliar with Doctor Who, it's a TV show about a time lord named The Doctor who travels with his (mostly) female companions throughout time and space. Here's a guy who can explain it much better than me:

Also check out this Doctor Who wiki for more detailed info on the Doctors, companions, and other Whovian things.

With the 50th anniversary special airing at the end of November and the fandom ever-growing amongst teens, Doctor Who parties have been slowly gaining in popularity in libraries. I see postings for ideas more than ever in the listervs and on Facebook. So here's what we did at our Doctor Who event:

1. Sonic Screwdriver Pens: We got the idea from the blog Doodle Craft. Click the link for the full instructions. We used Fimo clay which we bought from our local craft store. It comes in all sorts of Doctor Who-vian types of colors like silver and metallic blue. The clay-wrapped pens do have to be baked, so make sure you have access to an oven or toaster oven. This was the first activity the teens did when they came in because it took the longest to complete. While the pens baked, we moved on to our next activity.

Some of our teen's creations
Some more of their creations

2. Doctor Who Trivia: My coworker told me about a new way to do trivia with teens and I may never go back to the old way of doing it! Basically, you divide the teens up into equal teams. Then you put out 1 less chair than number of teams, each with a point value attached (10 points up to 50 points). So if you have 6 teams, you would put out 5 chairs. Then you give each team a Ziploc baggie with the trivia answers on strips of paper. You would then ask a question and 1 person from each team would find the correct answer in the pile and run with it to one of the chairs. Obviously, they are all going to go for the 50 point chair and one team won't make it to a seat in time so their points for that round will be 0. Then you have everyone go back to their places behind a line and rearrange the chairs. This trivia method is super loud, chaotic, and fun! We used a whiteboard to tally up all of the points. The winning team won vinyl TARDIS clings we bought on Amazon. I would be happy to send anyone our trivia questions/answers.

3. Cubee Craft: We set out a bunch of cubees printed on cardstock and scissors and let the teens go to town while we showed clips from Doctor Who. You can find some great ones here.

4. The TARDIS: I am lucky enough to be married to someone just as geeky as I am. Long story short, my husband, our friends, and I went to a convention where we dressed up like Doctor Who. Of course, we needed a full-size TARDIS to go with it so my husband and his friend built one in my basement where it resides today. They were nice enough to not only bring it to our program, but to dress up like 2 of the doctors as well!

My friend and husband as 10 & 11 (center), the 4th Doctor (left), and a totally awesome teen Weeping Angel (right)
5. Snack: One activity we wanted to do but ran out of time was have the teens make TARDIS cakes. We would give them rectangles of plain white cake and blue decorations (icing, M&M's, sprinkles, etc.) and let them get creative.

For some more ideas, also visit the ever-awesome Teen Librarian's Toolbox.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Summer Reading Wrap Up and Reflection: Teen Edition

Our teen summer reading game is geared towards teens going into 6th grade to going into 12th grade. This summer, we had 270 teens register to play the game. It is much simpler than our children's game!

How We Did It:

After they sign up, the teens receive a calendar of the summer reading dates (in this case, June 10th to August 3rd). They track the number of hours they read each day. For every 5 hours they read, they get a scratch-off ticket. It could say one of the following things:

  • You win a book - We have a cart of prize books from donations and such that we use for prizes over the summer. I also use a lot of the ARCs and swag I pick up at ALA Annual!
  • You win a prize - We have a box with some fun instant prize-y type things like mini-notebooks, leftover comics from Free Comic Book Day, lip gloss, etc.
  • You win an entry in our Grand Prize Drawing - Teens fill out the back of the scratch-off and place it in our entry box. This year we gave away 2 Kindle Fires!
  • Pick another ticket - 'Nuff said
  • Sorry try again - 'Nuff said
We print our scratch-off tickets in-house. We print them on cardstock and then buy rolls of the silver scratch-off dot stickers. It works pretty well because we can always make more when we run low. 

The first library I worked in also used scratch-off tickets with their teen summer reading game and it was also a huge hit! 

We also did a range of great programs for teens:

For details on any of these programs, feel free to contact me!

How Did It Go?:

I feel like our teen summer reading game is pretty streamlined and easy to do. Our teens seem to like participating and enjoy the scratch-off element a lot. I think we offered a great variety of programs and our attendance was great overall at every program. The one "failure" we ran into though was in trying to do a Reader's Theatre program. We had 8 teens sign up and only 5 half-committed to the program. The problem is that over the summer our teens are very busy with camps and other activities. Plus, we already have 2 other youth theatre groups in the community. So I guess we'll just chalk it up to experience, right?

How was your teen summer reading game? What kinds of things did you do for teens this summer?

Summer Reading Wrap Up and Reflection: Children's Edition

After 8 weeks of storytimes, programs, and general craziness our summer reading program is finally over. I always feel a mixture of sadness and relief: sadness that summer is almost at an end, but relief that I finally have a moment to exhale.

How We Did It:
This year we had record-breaking summer reading numbers. We had 1,568 children in grade preschool to 5 sign up to play our summer reading game with over 102 different schools participating. We even had a child or two from out of state sign up! Of those 1,568 kids here are the ones who finished their reading logs:

The Rock Wall of Fame
Being a small, independent library we do a LOT for our summer reading game. Here's a list of all of our activities:

1. The Summer Reading Log: This is the basis of our summer reading program. When the kids register they receive their Reading Log where they keep track of the time they read over the 8 weeks. At 5, 10, 15, and 20 hours they receive a different prize. After 20 hours of reading they also get their picture taken and posted on our bulletin board. Because this year's theme was "Dig Into Reading" we had the Rock Wall of Fame (pictured above). Then they can either continue reading with extra reading log sheets or they can choose to stop playing altogether.

2. The Game Board: Every summer I am tasked with creating a poster-sized game board. Every hour that the kids read, they get to take 1 turn on the game board where they could land on one of the following spaces:

  • Trivia - They have to answer an easy trivia question correctly to receive an entry form for our weekly prize drawing
  • Fun Sheet - We print out a different fun sheet (a.k.a. activity sheet) each week from the SRP Manual. It could be a word search, maze, coloring sheet, etc.
  • Enter the Weekly Prize Drawing 
  • Enter the Grand Prize Drawing
  • Instant Prize - They receive an instant prize from our ginormous bin at the Children's Desk. Prizes are small and include lots of things from the Highsmith catalog.
  • Roll Again
  • Go Back 2 Spaces
  • Go Forward 2 Space
  • Resting Spaces - This is where we advertise some of our series programming.
Our Game Board
3. The Mascot: Every summer, we choose a character mascot that goes along with the summer reading theme. This year, it was Diary of a Worm, Spider, and Fly:
We hide them in a different part of the library each week. The kids have to locate them to receive a stamp on a special log we create. This year we called it the Nightcrawler Notebook. At the end of the 8 weeks, they turn their logs in and we do a drawing where one lucky winner gets the mascot.

4. Movie and Pizza Party: Every time our registered participants come in to the library during the summer reading game, they get to fill out an entry form for a chance to win a movie and a pizza party for them and 4 of their friends at the library. 

We also had a plethora of program offerings for children this summer which included:
  • Campfire Storytimes
  • A potato garden/french fry party on our patio
  • Spy Academy for tweens
  • Superhero Training Academy for K-5
  • A digging animals program with the Akron Zoo
  • Movie nights with ice cream provided by one of our local businesses
How Did It Go?:
Our children's summer reading program is always huge! It's a constant stream of kids coming in to play on the game board, find the mascot, collect prizes, etc. There normally isn't a lot of time to get anything else done at the desk. This summer was no exception. Luckily, we utilize some older children/teen volunteers to run the game board for us, but we are still extremely busy. I know the kids love all of the activities we do for them over the summer, but sometimes near the middle I feel like we all suffer from a bit of burnout. Some days the only thing that keeps me peppy is the excitement of the kids coming into the library. We also over-programmed a bit this summer, which probably contributed to the exhaustion.

Normally, we would get a break during the month of August to recuperate and decompress from the summer. However, our supervisor applied for our library to receive a Harry Potter Traveling Exhibit, which can be viewed here. They are huge panels that detail the science, medicine, and magic found in the Harry Potter books. Thus, we were all tasked with coming up with a Harry Potter program to do with grades 3 to 8. I am planning a Potions program at the end of the month, which I'll do a write up about after it's finished.

What was your summer reading experience? What kinds of programs/activities do you offer for your patrons? Do you get a break in August?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Toddler Storytime - Colors

Sadly, this was the last week of summer storytimes!

The Plan:


Duckie's Rainbow by Frances Barry

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin - I love this book! It's a really fun read-aloud. I especially love snapping my fingers and singing the song. I also have the kids chime in and say "Goodness, no!" with me.


"Green Square, Green Square"
(Based on the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin Jr.)

I found this wonderful rhyme on Sunflower Storytime's blog. Click here to see the full rhyme and download her template!

"Color Game" by Jim Gill (from Jim Gill Sings Do Re Mi on his Toe Leg Knee)

I passed out a colored scarf to each child and we did the movements along to the song. So much fun!

Toddler Storytime - Bugs

The Plan:


The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
The Flea's Sneeze by Lynn Downey


"Here is the Beehive"

Here is the beehive (hold up fist)
Where are the bees?
Hidden away where nobody sees (hold other hand over fist)
Watch and you'll see them come out of their hive (bend head close to fist)
1, 2, 3, 4, 5! (hold up fingers as you count)
Buzz! (wave fingers or tickle for babies)

"Itsy Bitsy Spider"

The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout (do any variation of a spider with hands moving up)
Down came the rain and washed the spider out (wiggle fingers down for rain then move hand apart on "washed the spider out")
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain (make sun with hand above head)
And the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again! (do any variation of a spider with hands moving up)

For a fun variation, do the "great big hairy spider" and the "very quiet spider"!