Spy Night @ Your Library

As many of you know, especially if you follow me on Twitter, one of my greatest fears in life is that all these cool and amazing programs we have – especially the ones during summer – miss out on working parents.  Everything we have starts at 2 PM? Well, what about if you don’t have a nanny or you don’t have a parent who stays at home or you don’t have a grandparent/uncle to take you to the program? What if both your parents work and you’re in day camp? I just can’t abide this.  I can’t.  It’s why, years ago, I added a Saturday morning session of our Music & Movement program – this stretched staffing but it gave us a whole new audience of grateful families who would never have been able to participate otherwise.  It’s why I’ve started adding monthly Saturday storytimes (4th Saturday and, yes, we get asked about them often) and, if I could, I’d do them every Saturday.

It’s also why this year I decided we had to add more evening programs to our SUMMER EXTRAVAGANZA.  Yes, in the midst of our busiest season, when we are constantly overloaded with programs and patron visits, I decided to add programs.  Just to see.  Just to see if anyone would actually come.

Guess what?  They sure do.

In my SUMMER EXTRAVAGANZA preview, I wrote some of the evening programs we were trying and why.  So far the other programs – the STEM Film Series and the Craft Evenings – are VERY popular (wheeee!) but even they pale in comparison to the WILD SUCCESS of Spy Night, which was set up the exact same as all of our one hour stand-alone parties, only it happened at 6:00 PM instead of 2:00 PM.  The result?  Our biggest party attendance of the summer, shattering My Little Pony’s attendance and coming close to being our largest party ever.  WOWZA, THAT’S SOME RESULTS!

Here’s how it happened! (As per usual, lots of this planning came from trolling mostly birthday parties on Pinterest and then modifying and cobbling something together that fit our sizes and spaces.  This wasn’t inspired by any specific series or popular trend I was observing at a particular time at my library … but who doesn’t like spies and secret agents, right?)

15 Minutes of Intro & Story

stachesUpon arrival, the kids were given nametags with codenames and fake mustaches for their disguises.  The codenames were all actual codenames used by the Secret Service for Presidents/Presidential candidates and family. (I got this idea from some blog – sorry I can’t remember which!) The kids loved this, especially when they heard they were REAL names from the Secret Service. The mustaches were 7 for a dollar at the Dollar Tree.  But since we had such a HUGE crowd, we ran out of both code names and mustaches (and we were prepared for 35 kids!)  You can buy the Dollar Tree mustaches in bulk and since mustaches are SUCH a thing with our kids right now, I’m considering it for a multitude of prizes and programs.

Then we settled in for the story.  It was hard to find a good book to read!  When I asked the day of the program, I got some great suggestions for spy picture books on Twitter.  But either my library didn’t have them or they were checked out/at the branch.  So, there’s a good lesson for planning ahead. 😉

I chose to go with a book from the Adam Sharp series by George Stanley.  Thissharp is a cute little tongue in cheek early reader series about an eight year old super spy.  They got a big kick out of how he goes to elementary school in a tuxedo and the gifted program is really a SPY program. I worked extra hard to get them engaged in the story since it”s a reader series.  It actually worked well since we had older kids there too. And all the Adam Sharp books checked out after, hooray! After getting code names and disguises and reading a few chapters, it was time to rotate to our stations to begin training for SPY SCHOOL.

30 Minutes of Craft & Activity

We had set up four stations, which turned out to be SUPER HELPFUL for the huge crowd!

Code Breaking

Much bigger hit than we anticipated!  I translated some messages using three simple codes: the classic pigpen cipher (this was the easiest one I found since it doubled up the letters in a box and was easier for the kids to read that way), a very simple number cipher (A = 1, B = 2, C = 3), and the basic substitution cipher as seen here.  We also talked at this station about other kinds of codes and how these codes had been used in history and how you could make them more complication.  HUGE HIT. They took home all our samples even after they’d cracked the codes.  Two of the codes had X Files taglines (yes really) like BELIEVE THE LIE and THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE, which many parents got a kick out of and kids thought sounded plenty mysterious.  One code was a joke where you had to decode the answer (Why did the spy stay in bed?  Because he was undercover) and again, much love by all.  And, yes, all our code books checked out!


Your basic, “Put 10 items on a tray, give everyone a minute, cover the tray up and see what they can remember” party game, which we explained was for working on your observation skills, a spy necessity.  This station was a mixed bag, it was hard to lure them over to it, but it was fun once they got there.  We also encouraged parents and kids or siblings to play together, especially if the kids couldn’t write yet, they could still describe what they say which would help build recall.

Hot Potato Bomb

A game of hot potato using a silver spray painted styrofoam ball meant to represent a bomb.  We played the Mission: Impossible theme as they tossed the bomb around and whoever was holding it when the music stopped was out.  Simple enough, right?  But no.  We needed WAY MORE adults in this station to make it work.  The kids were both throwing it WAY TOO HARD (naturally) and then instantly dropping it when the music stopped as if that meant they wouldn’t be out. My amazing student intern Stephanie (who I will someday convince to be a librarian, just you wait) did a great job trying to control this, setting down rules about how they couldn’t drop it and they were instantly out if they threw it, but it was just too chaotic.  Heed these warnings if you try to repeat this station, or the hot potato game in any form, with older kids.  (and if you have any strategies for how to better manage this game, please share.)


Without a doubt, the biggest hit was the laser maze.  (Here’s my student worker Dillon – who I will also make a librarian, just you wait – posing in the middle of one. The student workers loved setting this up, a great task for teen volunteers and workers) I had seen this all over Pinterest, but no birthday party could offer a spot for the laser maze as cool and perfect as between library shelves.  SO!  We set up two, one slightly simpler using crepe paper streamers and the other slightly harder using red string.

Everyone went WILD for these. The kids went through them over and over and they didn’t rip them down (even accidentally – book tape did the job!) and they didn’t cheat (we made sure they couldn’t just slide through on their stomachs by placing some low on the ground) they just had a great time. Liz, my co-worker who was working this station, made loud BUZZZZZ’ing every time they brushed across one which, of course, made them just shudder with delight.

15 minutes of Wrap-Up

Usually, we wrap up with sitting back down with drinks and cookies but I decided to put a spin on this.  We called the group back together and I told them there were FINGERPRINTS hidden through out the library and when they brought one back, they would be full fledged spies. I had printed out fingerprints from Word’s ClipArt and hid them all around YS.  As I’ve mentioned for all these events: the look and find is, without a doubt, the kid’s favorite thing to do.  We could do this SIX MILLION TIMES and they’d go for it every time.  It fit perfectly with the theme!  They returned with a fingerprint, got their two cookies and congratulations, and were then permitted to go look for more fingerprints.  (I debated having “official spy” certificates as a final prize but decided against it, the kids haven’t seemed to want those as much.  BUT if I were doing it again, I’d do it in conjunction with the hunt, i.e. they’d find be able to keep any/all of  their found fingerprints and attach them to their certificate.  I think they would have REALLY wanted the certificates then!)

In all, it was an amazing night.  We had almost 100 people (!) attend and the crowed skewed slightly older than many of these events we have during the day, which was great.  And dozens of the parents thanked me for having it at night.  We had whole families come and some people I knew as great patrons but had never seen at a program before.  Our spy books flew off the shelves and the entire YS area was hopping with the circulation and summer reading returns that always go with a program but this time it was AT NIGHT for once.

 I covered a lot of my lessons learned in the post (so much learning from mistakes!) but one thing I certainly learned was this kind of program, the summer extravaganza the stand alone party type,  is definitely worth having at night even with the way it stretched staff and scheduling. I WILL be repeating this, at the very least, during next summer and perhaps even more regularly.

Have you had a SPY event at your library?  What lessons did YOU learn or books did you read and highlight?  Any tips for how I could have made some of the games or stations run smoother? Do you have evening or weekend programs like this at your library? How do you present and promote programs, even passive programs. for working parents and families?

Are there any questions or details about SPY NIGHT I didn’t answer or that you want more info about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here or talk with me on Twitter)



5 Responses to “Spy Night @ Your Library”

  1. carrie

    This is a fabulous post with awesome ideas. I’m having two spy programs tomorrow. We are doing similar activities with the addition of a Nerf shooting range and mine field (balloons). I like the idea of the code names and fingerprint search! Great post!

  2. Awnali

    This sounds like a fantastic program, and I’d love to try it here. I really appreciate what you have to say about having it in the evenings–we sweat over the staffing issues, too. Glad to know it’s worth it to reach more people.
    Maybe instead of the hot potato bomb that didn’t work as well, you could have done target practice–throwing the bomb or bean bag at a target or bad guy? Shooting a Nerf gun at the target?