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Designing an escape room while locked out of the library 

By June 19, 2020September 16th, 2023No Comments

By Katie Minarsich and Kaylee Morlan

Hi! It’s Katie and Kaylee. We’re student employees at the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine (WHL), where we’re creating the library’s first escape room to showcase our new home in the Health Sciences Education Center (HSEC) — opening soon!

New visibility for the library

The Wangensteen Historical Library, formed through fundraising efforts by Owen H. Wangensteen and dedicated in 1972, holds more than 73,000 volumes of rare books and materials with a variety of focuses including the historical development of health, the development of professions, and natural history.

When the library reopens, WHL will be in its new, more visible space on the second floor of the Philips-Wangensteen Building in the Health Sciences Education Center. WHL will continue its focus on research and education, providing opportunities for students like us to gain skills in our career interests.

A way in, through an escape room?

An escape room is a physical adventure game in which players solving a series of puzzles use clues and strategy to complete the objectives — typically within a time limit!

An escape room arose as one way to showcase our new space during a spring 2019 brainstorming session with Curators Lois Hendrickson and Emily Beck.


An initial sketch of a maze feature of the escape room.

The brainstorming process

Once we decided to create an escape room, we researched other escape rooms in an academic setting, and decided that our main goal in creating an escape room is to boost awareness of the WHL: What we’re about, where we moved to, and that we exist!

Our planning would need to account for the fact that we would be in an entirely new space, and the exhibit had to be flexible enough to put up and take down, as needed. We did a lot of sketches.

Discovering our collection

Volvelle (wheel chart)

This volvelle (wheel chart) with 2 rotating discs comes from a 16th century book on health and astrology.

Much of the knowledge we have gained about the Wangensteen Library comes from spending hours pulling and shelving books in the stacks, organizing material for class visits, and asking Lois and Emily questions about materials.

While these activities seem simple and mundane, the understanding we gained was extremely beneficial when thinking of artifacts and books from the collection we might incorporate into the escape room set-up.

Yet the keys to the library — and its upcoming escape room exhibit — require both discovering the collection and how to find items.

For example, the escape room includes scans of a book with moving pieces, which we found by searching through WHL’s list of books with moving parts. One of our favorite pieces of the escape room is a plastic replica of a human skull we found while browsing through materials from past exhibits at WHL! Knowing how to use our online catalog makes it easy to find books and artifacts one may not have even known existed.

Coming soon!

Stay tuned for more articles that detail our explorations and thought process throughout the creation of the escape room, as well as a look into the transition to complete online work!

About the authors

Kaylee Morlan is a history major, and intends to graduate in the spring of 2021. She has been working as a student employee at WHL for two years, and worked at an escape room in high school. Her time as a student employee at WHL has given her the opportunity to learn more about how history can be shared in a circle larger than academia alone.

Katie Minarsich is majoring in Political Science and plans to graduate in the spring of 2020. She first found out about WHL when her brother-in-law worked at the library as a student while she was in middle school, and started work herself in the fall of 2018. She says the value she has found in working at the Wangensteen is through the intersection between politics and historical medicine, a relationship she didn’t know existed.

Erinn Aspinall

Author Erinn Aspinall

More posts by Erinn Aspinall

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