The Art of Running a Lock-in

Hi Guys!  This past Friday we held a successful Minecraft Lock-in at the Clearview Library District. This was probably my twentieth lock-in at the Clearview Library District.  I’ve done all nighters (6 to 6) and half-nighters (6-12).  I’ve done tweens (9-12) and teens (13-18).  I’ve done a number of various themes: Pirate Shipwreck, Act on Stage, Time Travel, Renaissance, Vampires, Deep Space Horror Survival, Spies and Conspiracy Theories, and more.  I’ve tried several different approaches: party games, murder mystery, choose your own adventure, competition and challenges.

And through it all, I’ve learned a lot about how to prepare and run a lock-in.  So I got to thinking; shouldn’t I share this know-how with my other awesome fellow youth librarians?  The conclusion I came to was: Heck ya!  So here ya have it – part one of another multi-post series.  This series will focus on the Art of preparing and running library lock-ins (no small task, I assure you – but one that can be super fun and super fulfilling).

Let’s Start With the Basics

Before you can propose this idea to your dept head or supervisor, you need to justify your reasoning (of course).  Why a lock-in?  Lock-ins hold special appeal to youth. Whether that’s due to being able to stay up late/all night or the ability to have a public building all to themselves – for some reason kids like the concept.  Let’s go with it.

Lock-ins allow youth staff to have quality bonding time with the kids/teens they serve.  This is important.  When kids/teens feel connected to their librarians, they become more invested in their library and are more likely to spread the word about library resources and programs.  Lock-ins also have the side effect of making libraries that much cooler.  And being cool in the eyes of teens is especially important.  Lock-in help break down the age-old stereotype that libraries are for dorks / are boring / are pointless.  After all, aren’t we trying to reshape libraries?  Aren’t we reinventing the service model?  We are community centers!  Places to gather, hang out, learn, make, explore!  Let’s help kids experience libraries in a new way!  What this means is that lock-ins will also draw larger groups of tweens/teens into the library for a single program than would the typical craft or movie program.

Ok, so the above speaks to the youth librarian’s heart but it may not exactly sell the idea to the administrator.  Here’s what you’ve got to consider when talking with your boss:

  • Staff Time:  This is the most precious commodity.  How much time staff spend preparing or supervising a lock-in is important to consider.  Lock-ins can be work-intense (especially if you’re designing a custom one like I have in the past).  But they don’t have to be.  Once you’ve worked out a planning procedure and/or a successful approach, repeat repeat repeat.  Much less work the second and third time around.  More on this later.
  • Staffing a Lock-In: But the real staffing consideration is that lock-ins typically require good supervision.  But you can’t exactly have all six of your staff work the six hours of the lock-in when you’re serving a limited group of patrons – that just isn’t a wise use of tax payer dollars –  and you need to consider staff time as part of the program expenses. (See next bullet.) In choosing which staff will attend, always be sure to have someone with decision-making ability and the keys to the building.  For bigger programs, try to utilize staff from other depts as allowed.  Library pages cost less than a full-time librarian.  It also goes without saying that staff chaperones should like working with youth.
  • Attendance:  To make lock-ins (and the pre-work required) manageable, you need to set an attendance limit.  This is going to be directly proportional to the amount of staff or volunteers you can scrounge up.  A good rule of thumb is six to eight kids per chaperone. I would always advise that you have two staff members per every 12 to 16 kids – with at minimum two staff members at every lock-in.  The number of kids you allow at a lock-in (and thus the amount of staff you’ll need to pay) depends on the size of your library or branch.
  • Other Expenses:  Much of what we use for lock-ins is made/prepared in-house.  Occasionally, I will purchase a few extra items for the lock-in but I rarely spend more than $100 on these extras.  (For an example of these sorts of expenses, check back in a few days for my post on the Minecraft Lock-in.)  Ususally, the majority of other expenses is for food.  I serve pizza, soda, and chips for dinner and then later, we have a snack of some sort (icecream or cookies) and we have plenty of candy all night long.  Food tends to cost us $100-$150.  To offset this expense, I charge a $5.00 fee per participant (chaperones are exempt, $7.00 for overnights) to attend the lock-in.
  • Format:  The other thing your boss will want to know is how you’re going to control xx many kids in the library during the lock-in.  Parents want to know this too so we always include an FAQ page with our permission form.  We approach this by dividing the kids up into teams and assigning one chaperone per team.  Throughout the night, the kids work in their teams to complete the various activities and challenges – that way, not only are they accountable to their chaperone but also to their teammates.  The other factor to a well-run lock-in is to have a schedule of events with several back-up activities on hand (for the times when you plow through the schedule faster than anticipated).  You also need to be prepared and have a plan for unexpected events which means having an emergency plan.  Again, be sure to come back and take a look at my Minecraft Lock-in post for an example of this.
  • Example: The Clearview Library District is a mid-sized library serving a patron base of ~25,000.  The typical children’s program sees 25-60 attendees.  The typical tween/teen program sees 6-20 attendees.  We only offer lock-ins to tween and teens and our typical lock-in attendance is 20-25.  I usually have three staff members (including me, the Dept Head) as well as 2 to 6 parent volunteers.  I usually budget $250 for lock-in expenses (not including staff), knowing that I will see half of that back through the attendance fee.  So, in the end, lock-ins usually cost me $125 plus staff time.

There are lots of other things to consider but those are the big ones.  I’ll touch on these other things when I break down my Minecraft Lock-in – next post!


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