Library Mystery Event (Previous Format)

Mystery at the Gould Library

The Mystery is an annual event at the Gould Library that is run for incoming students during New Student Week.  The goal of the event is to introduce the library to new students in a fun way.  The mystery is based on the game Clue, in that participants are given a list of possible suspects, locations, and murder weapons.  The object of the game is to obtain cards (we’ll call them “exoneration cards” from here on out) for enough suspects / locations / weapons that eliminate those choices and leave groups with the correct suspect, location, and weapon used in the murder.

In order to obtain the exoneration cards, participants follow clues that lead them into the library through common tasks that they might be expected to do at the library, this includes going to the stacks, asking for help at the reference desk (called “Research/IT desk” at Carleton), visiting Circulation, and navigating some of the library’s web pages.

A Typical Mystery at the Library

To better illustrate the Mystery, I’ll walk through a typical Mystery night.

Incoming students arrive at the library at 9 PM, they are brought into one room and told (in a very dramatic fashion, of course) that there has been a murder in the library, and their help is needed to solve the mystery.  The students divide into 10 or 12 groups.  We’ve found that 5 or 6 students per group works best, but we’ve had to increase that number recently as the popularity of the event has increased.

Each group is given an envelope with information to get them started.  The envelope contains:

  • a sign up sheet where all members put their names and phone numbers
  • a check off list of suspects, locations, and weapons
  • pencils
  • a key to a locker in the library (the key has a number on it that gives the floor and locker number)

The groups then head to their lockers, and use the key to get their next clue envelope.

From here, the contents of each clue envelope will be different, but in general, they all include:

  • an exoneration card (or two) allowing them to eliminate a suspect, location or weapon
  • instructions on what to do next to get their next clue envelope.

Each group will get the same instructions, but they get those instructions in a random order so that no two groups follow the exact same course.  This also ensures that people staffing the event are not overwhelmed with all of the groups coming to see them at once.

Below is a table of the different instructions given, the actions the groups must take to complete the task and get the next set of instructions, and the learning goals for that task. 

Text of the Instructions Task to get to next set of instructions Learning goals
Locker key Find the locker that the key matches Next envelope is in the locker Learn the location of library lockers.

A friend of a friend who dated that friend tells you that Professor Popper was watching a movie called “Library Video” some time over the weekend.  Go to the Reserves Desk, where media like DVDs and Videos are kept, and ask for the “Library Video.”

Watch carefully!


Return it to the Reserves Desk for another clue.

Check out the DVD and watch it on one of our DVD players.  When they return the disk, they are asked where the "Aloha deck" is in the library (which is explained in the movie).  They are given the next envelope after they answer the question Learn the location and process for checking out movies at the library

Professor Popper kept detailed notes on the searches that he did for journal articles.  His most recent search was done in the library database called Academic Search Premier. 

He searched for the phrase: [“Koronis asteroid dust within Antarctic ice”] (note, phrases are different for each group)

(Popper only relied on the print volumes of journals.


Even though an online version may be available, you'll have to go get the print.)

In Academic Search Premier, search for the title of the article.  Find the citation of the article and where in the library the bound journal is located.  Next envelope is in the journal Learn how to search one of our databases, and use the Find It! Button to find location information.  Learn where bound periodicals are located.
A reserves worker noticed a very strange reading on Professor Popper's eReserves page for his ANTS 100 course (use ANTS as the password to see the page).  It may have been put there by mistake, but it certainly looks like a clue. Go to the e-reserves page for the course.  The reading posted is a letter written to one of the librarians, exonerating him from the crime and asking for help in defining the term "liver jerker."  The group must go to the reference room and find the definition to get their next envelope. Learn how to access e-reserves readings.  Learn where the reference collection and reference desks are.

One of the victim’s favorite books was [Tuxedo Park] (note, book titles are different for each group)

Use the online catalog, BRIDGE, to get the location of the book, and then check it out to receive your next clue. 

Look up the title of the book in our catalog, find the book in the stacks and take it to circulation.  Groups receive the next envelope when they give the circulation worker the book and their locker key (we had been losing locker keys before we added this requirement). Learn how to use the  catalog and find the book on the shelf using the LoC call number system.  Learn the location of the circulation desk. 
This instruction is a print out of a catalog record for a book shelved in our Current Reading Room. Go to the current reading room and find the book.  The next envelope is in the book. Learn where our current reading collection is, and how to find books using the LoC call number system.
On Monday evening, Professor Popper told his wife that he was hoping to practice and then edit his first lecture at “that big screen in the library, assuming it’s available”    Follow this hint and you may strike gold…or silver? Go to the "Silver Screen" (a large projection screen for group use).  A note directs them to a classroom where they meet a librarian who tells them a story about one of the locations and weapons.  After listening to the story, groups get their next envelope. Learn where the Silver Screen is.  Learn where the classroom is.

Solving the Mystery

Once a group has gotten all of the exoneration cards and has determined the murderer, the location, and the weapon used, they come back to the room where they started with their answer.  If they are right, we ring a bell and announce over the loudspeaker that the mystery has been solved and all groups should return to the starting location.  Once everyone is back, the “murderer” reads a confession and the winning group is announced.  Members of the winning group all receive $10 in “Schillers” (Carleton currency that can be used at the snack bar, in the laundry facilities and at the bookstore).  Cookies and juice and pop are served to the students at the end of the event.

Set up

The bulk of the preparation for the event is spent getting the envelopes filled with the correct clues and exoneration cards, and getting them placed in the library.  Because the library is open during New Student Week, and some envelopes are placed in books and journals, we don’t start placing the envelopes until the library closes on the evening of the event, at 6 pm.  Other important things to keep in mind is making sure that the books, journals, and reference book that are to be used for the event are in the stacks where they belong.  The instructions that lead groups to our Current Reading Room must be printed anew each year as that collection changes frequently.  When possible, we select books and articles that have to do with Antarctica, penguins, or murder.  The Antarctica and penguin theme are related to the Gould library’s namesake, Laurence McKinley Gould, who had been an Antarctic explorer.

Success with the Murder Mystery

Each year, the popularity of the Murder Mystery seems to increase.  This year, we had a record group of 120 students, which represents nearly ¼ of the incoming class.  It is always held on the Friday of New Student Week, and is an optional activity.  Most years, it is competing for students’ time with outings to the town’s “Defeat of Jesse James Day” celebration, as well as activities such as movie showings and dances.  Despite this competition, and the fact that we have increased the number of students that we allow to participate from 70 to 120, we have had to turn away students from the mystery event for the last 3 years.  While we do publicize the event with some posters, and it is listed in the New Student Week schedule, most of our publicity comes from word of mouth as New Student Week leaders and Resident Assistants encourage their students to attend the event.