Your Name and Title: 

Matthew D. Thompson, PhD 

Community Engagement Librarian


Library, School, or Organization Name:

Suffolk Public Library

Suffolk, Virginia


Area of the World from Which You Will Present:

East Coast, USA


Language in Which You Will Present:



Target Audience(s):

programming, community engagement, outreach


Short Session Description (one line):

With our plans for a community dance scuttled by the pandemic, I led a team that created a wacky online adventure inspired by escape rooms and scavenger hunts.


Full Session Description (as long as you would like):

In the summer of 2020 the Suffolk Public Library branch buildings were completely closed and we had not yet begun to offer curbside service. We were in an experimental phase as we tested new designs for reaching beyond the pandemic’s barriers to once again connect with our audience through programming and resources. Out of this milieu came our live, multi-platform virtual escape room, “Online Adventure: The Case of the Bookmobile Bandit,” which aired July 30, 2020. 

In this session I describe the motivations we had for creating the Bookmobile Bandit, some of the obstacles that needed to be addressed in planning the program, and the challenges we met in the performance debut. This will be of interest to library staff interested in reaching a family audience through creative virtual programming as well as individuals interested in game design. By way of conclusion I nod to the follow up programs, "Loose Leaves Sink Thieves," a Scooby Doo inspired scavenger hunt set in a local historic cemetery and "Fine Art Filch," a scavenger hunt created in partnership with local small businesses. These are the two and a half ideas reference in the session title: a virtual escape room, a remote scavenger hunt, and a scavenger hunt with expanded community partnerships.

In the URL section below I have included a link to a Google Sheet that provides a walkthrough of the Bookmobile Bandit performance. Readers are advised to start at the top and read down to follow the game progress. On the left are headings for the different stages of the game and on the right are links to content associated with that stage. The second and third sheets are planning documents from earlier drafts of the game.

Summer 2020 was a terrifying but also exciting time, as our library staff, with no training in virtual programming, met the challenges of educating, entertaining, and enriching the lives of our community members with creativity and enthusiasm. Brave of heart and short on skill, we channeled the low budget energy of public access television without reflecting on our qualifications as performers. This moderately successful program went on to inspire other library staff to think outside the box as we navigated the pandemic and remains a high water mark for weird things I have done at work. I would like the chance to share the tale of Bookmobile Bandit with the Library 2.0 mini-conference because I’m very proud to have taken the lead on this project and I want to share with other library professionals. Perhaps it will inspire others to embrace their inner drama club kid!


Websites / URLs Associated with Your Session:


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