What is it?
After the library is closed, invite middle schoolers to play laser tag in the building.
$300-$700, depending on the equipment you use.
Number of participants
This can vary a lot. If you rent equipment, most rental companies will offer 10 to 20 laser taggers at a time. It’s often cost-effective to have the equipment for a block of time. I like to get the equipment for three hours, and break it into three time slots; participants can sign up for one slot. Each one-hour slot has 20 players (10 on each team), so I get 60 total in one night. After all the instructions and suiting up, I’m usually able to give the participants 40 minutes of play during their timeslot, which seems a good amount of time to me.
Why Do It?
When you’re doing something unconventional like this, it’s a good idea to prepare for the possibility that your reasoning will be challenged. You need to justify it to administration as well as to any community members who may challenge you. Here are some reasons to hold this program:
- It generates a lot of hype, which improves the image of the library to kids in the community. It also challenges the common misconception that the Library is boring and only for studying.
- It attracts non-users, and after they visit the library once they are more likely to come back.
- It is an opportunity for supervised fun, socialization, and healthy competition.
- It’s educational.
Wait…educational? Really? It is if you make it educational. We add a scavenger hunt game that teaches players how to find things in the library. This makes it fit more closely with our mission. More on that below.
Whenever I start thinking about a program that’s a ton of wacky, unconventional fun, I inevitably end up thinking about liability. Make sure your administration is on board before you start planning this program. It may even be worth talking to the library’s insurance provider and/or lawyer about it. Also, make sure you have good communication with parents.
At my library, we e-mail for permission from the guardians of all participants a few days before any afterhours event. We allow parents to either respond to the e-mail giving approval, or to come to the door on the day of the event and sign a paper form. Doing this gives me the peace of mind of knowing that parents know what their child is doing. If you rent laser tag equipment, the company may also have a permission form.
Where to Play
I feel that playing out in the stacks makes for a much better program than playing in a meeting room. It gives a lot more cover, provides more educational opportunities, and most importantly, adds to the novelty or “taboo” feeling of it. This is, I think, the biggest draw of the program. You can play laser tag anywhere. You can play laser tag in a library…only in a library. 😉
That being said, a meeting room would be a smaller and easier-to-control environment. You’d have less potential for accidents and be more likely to get approval from administrators. If you do hold it in a meeting room, make sure the room is big, and fill it with objects to create cover. If there’s nothing to duck and hide behind, there’s not much point to laser tag. Large cardboard boxes should work well. Camping tents are also great because players can dart inside for cover.
If you play in the library proper, you’ll need to set some strict ground rules. These are some of ours:
- No going on any stairs or the elevator
- No going in any offices or other rooms (we put signs on the doors)
- No going in the bathroom unless it’s to use the bathroom, and you can’t take laser tag equipment inside
- No touching any electronic equipment or taking books or anything else off the shelves
- No moving, climbing over, or diving behind furniture.
If there’s an area with a lot of expensive equipment or that is especially tempting for budding acrobats, make that area out-of-bounds. It’ll be a lot easier than trying to control their activity in that area once the game starts.
I recommend renting equipment if you have the budget. It is more expensive, but you will be able to get higher-quality taggers (aka laser guns, but we avoided the word “gun”). The professional equipment is much more fun and easier to manage. Cheap equipment means more technical issues, which can result in some players being unable to play or feeling that faulty equipment makes the game unfair. I’ve found that middle school-age players take the game seriously, and get upset if the game is “not fair” or things aren’t working right. (With older teens and adults, you might be able to get away with an “It’s just a game” attitude, but that doesn’t work for me.) Before you rent, ask what type of equipment they rent out and do a little research; I’ve seen some places that rent out the low-quality toy laser taggers, and you might as well buy those if you want them.
There are some pros to buying your own equipment. The biggest one is that you can use it whenever you want. It is also a lot cheaper than renting. I know some librarians who bought 20 of these taggers for about $300. They decided on these after asking other library staff for suggestions. (I haven’t use them, so I can’t personally attest to how well they work.) $300 is less than I pay to rent 20 taggers for 3 hours, so they spend less money AND get to keep them. They do all require four AA batteries though, so it’s a lot of batteries!
If you want to rent, there are probably some businesses around you that offer the service. They may also offer to send a staff member to help you run it, which I find extremely helpful. Try searching things like “laser tag equipment rental near me,” “laser gun rental near me,” or “mobile laser tag near me.” (There are also some places that ship throughout the U.S., but I haven’t found any that are good quality and affordable.) These are the things you want to talk about when you contact them:
- How many taggers can you rent at a time? How long can you keep them?
- Do they offer an option to hire a staff member to come to the event?
- Describe the library set-up and make sure they can work in that type of location; some may require that you do it outdoors or in a big gym.
- If you are incorporating an educational game (details below), make sure they can support that. Some places are used to setting up their own games.
If you live in the Chicago area like me, here are some options. I’m not going to include prices because the quotes might not always be the same, but in my experience, it’s about $500 for equipment and a staff member for three hours.
mybattleroyale.com – I have worked with them in the past. Their professional equipment is great (I don’t recommend what they call their “toy taggers”). They have sent staff members to us in the past, and they were friendly and great with kids; however, they aren’t offering that service right now, and I don’t know if they will resume. Customer service at the event was great, but it wasn’t the best leading up to the event. They could be hard to get a hold of and didn’t seem super organized on the business side. I was happy with them overall, though.
goldengunlasertag.com – I may work with them for our next event, since we’d like to hire a staff member and Battle Royale cannot offer that this year. They have 16 taggers and can send a staff member. When I contacted them for more information and a quote, the response from the owner was enthusiastic and almost immediate, and he was eager to adapt to work in our educational game.
gametruckparty.com/chicago/parties/laser-tag – This place looks promising, but they only allow ten players at a time, which is too few for the demand at my library. It might be a good option for a smaller event.
Making It Educational
Working an educational game into the program is a great way to make it fit the library’s mission, and give you something to say to doubters. You could come up with any number of ways to do this. Here’s what I do.
The point of my game is to test the kids’ knowledge of where to find things in the Library. I created little squares of paper I call “tokens.” They contain images of icons like the ones here.
The tokens were hidden in the play area. Each player received a clue sheet with hints about where to find them. Each team had to get one of as many types of token as they could back to their base. If a player got “killed,” they had to go back to base and press a button that rec-activated their tagger. The winner was determined by which team had most tokens at the end, NOT by who got tagged or “killed” the most–which meant that the players who devoted themselves to the brainwork were the winners!
I had three rounds of laser tag in a row with two teams each, and no time between rounds to restock tokens. That meant I needed six copies of each token at each hiding spot (one for each team playing). But I didn’t want kids grabbing other teams’ tokens. My solution was to assign each team a different color, and print the tokens on paper of their color. If a team brought a token not their color, they lost points. Since the images on tokens were tied to their locations, I would know where any ill-begotten tokens belonged. If it was the opposing team’s, I gave that team the points. If it belonged to a team that would be playing later in the night, I could go put it back in its spot so it was there when that team played.
This system worked okay, but there was some confusion and lots of forgetting about colors in the excitement of grabbing tokens. Next time, I may do the extra work to just give each team completely different hiding spots and tokens. I’ll have to be careful it’s fair, though. The closer a token is to the opposing team’s base, the harder it is to get, so they need to be distributed to make the game even for both teams.
Here are my clue sheets and answer sheets from a couple of past events. Feel free to adapt these for your own use.
A Sample Event
You’re going to have to make your event fit with your space, population, audience size, equipment, and rules. For reference, though, I wanted to share the rules and schedule I used in 2018:
Let kids be on a team with friends if you can, but avoid letting it turn into boys versus girls. I hate to generalize, but I’ve witnessed this happening enough times that I know to look out for it: in my experience, boys and girls had different play styles, and this led to arguments. Having some of each on each team made for a more balanced game.
There will probably be a lot of excitement among the kids, and some will have trouble listening. For me, they mostly found the safety and sportsmanship rules intuitive, but many didn’t listen well enough to grasp the educational game well. Keep reminding them as they play that doing the scavenger hunt (or whatever educational game you incorporate) is the way to win!
I do not recommend allowing middle schoolers to play with elementary schoolers or high schoolers, since the game can get a little physical and the skill levels of each age group with be significantly different, making for an unbalanced game.
This program gets more buzz and higher attendance than anything else I do all year, and it brings in a lot of kids I’ve never seen before. Just that makes it a huge success, in my opinion. The more kids get the idea that the library is a fun place, the more likely they are to support it and take advantage of what it has to offer now and when they are older.
If you have any questions or want to talk to me about laser tag, feel free to leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.