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Take Your Community On A Treasure Hunt Through Time

Several years ago, Advantage Archives helped a library partner create a multi-week scavenger hunt through history leading up to the 150th anniversary of the library. Using their Community History Archives, the local community was guided through a series of clues leading them to discover interesting facts, events, and stories about their local community, starting with the library’s founding in 1868. The very first clue was:

“Find the newspaper published on the day the library was established. There is ad on that page that will put you on the right track to solving the next clue.” 

The ad the clue referred to from that particular newspaper page was for the Union Pacific Railroad, boasting, “640 Miles are now finished and in operation” 

The next clue was:

“If distance was a day, what a day the distance would make. If you have conducted your research for this game that we have engineered, then you will find your next clue on page 3 in exactly this many days from yesterday’s paper. Were just getting started, and from here it is full steam ahead.”

The “Treasure Hunt Through Time” continued in this fashion, with clues being posted on the library’s social media page every other day for four weeks. There were 25 clues in all, culminating with 26th and last clue being published by the local newspaper on the anniversary day, marking the end of the scavenger hunt. That clue pointed the participants to the library, where an ice cream social was held, and the first one there was awarded a “golden” magnifying glass inscribed with the dates between that day and the library’s founding, declaring them the winner of the “Treasure Hunt Through Time”, as well as a gift certificate donated from a local restaurant that had severed the community for decades.

This is a repeatable strategy for any library in the country. All it requires is a little creativity, innovation, and an understanding of the community’s interests. “A Treasure Hunt Through Time” uses the freely available Community History Archive of digital newspapers to create a fun, educational, and engaging experience for patrons. Here is a simple formula you can follow:

  • Select The Theme: Decide on the objective for your treasure hunt. The theme of a “Treasure Hunt Through Time” can be selected based on various factors such as local history, cultural significance, community interests, or even ongoing events. Here are some theme ideas for your treasure hunt:
    • Historic Landmarks: This theme could involve clues about various historical landmarks in your community. Participants could discover the history behind these places and learn about their significance over time.
    • Local Festivals and Traditions: This theme could cover local festivals, traditions, and annual events. Participants might learn about the origins of these traditions, how they’ve evolved, and the people who played key roles in their establishment.
    • Local Heroes: This theme would focus on influential figures from your community’s history. This could include politicians, athletes, artists, activists, entrepreneurs, etc.
    • Historical Eras: Choose a particular era or decade and design clues related to major events, lifestyles, popular culture, technology, etc., from that time.
    • Inventions and Innovations: Focus on key technological advancements or inventions that have impacted your community. This could include anything from infrastructure projects to important scientific research.
    • Food History: This delicious theme could lead participants on a journey through your community’s culinary history. They could learn about historic restaurants, local dishes, farming, food production, etc. If your community has a “Restaurant Week,” this makes for a good tie-in.
    • The World Wars or Civil Rights Movement: Depending on the community’s history, focusing on significant global or national events like the World Wars or the Civil Rights Movement and their local impact could be a fascinating theme.

Remember, the theme should be engaging and resonate with your community, as this will drive participation and make the experience more meaningful for those involved.

  • Set The Timeframe: Decide whether the event will take place over a single day or longer, such as a week or a month. Consider having volunteers or staff available during this time to assist participants, answer questions, or provide hints. 

The timeframe for a “Treasure Hunt Through Time” can vary depending on several factors, including the complexity of the clues, the number of participants, and the library’s schedule. However, a common approach is to hold this type of event over one week to a month. 

A week-long event provides a focused period where participants can dedicate time to the treasure hunt. It’s short enough to maintain enthusiasm and interest, but long enough to allow participants to engage with the content and solve the clues. 

If the clues are particularly challenging or if you want to give participants more time to engage with the activity, extending it over a month might be a good idea. This longer timeframe can also accommodate participants who may have other commitments, giving them more flexibility to engage with the treasure hunt at their own pace. 

Remember to provide some form of assistance or guidance throughout the event, whether through designated library staff, volunteers, or even automated hints available through your library’s website or social media platforms. This will ensure participants feel supported and are able to fully engage with the activity.

In any case, make sure to announce the start and end dates of the event clearly, and consider having a small event or announcement to reveal the answers and celebrate the completion of the treasure hunt.

  • Decide The Reward: Consider having rewards for participants who complete the treasure hunt. This could be as simple as certificates of completion, or you might offer prizes such as books, library merchandise, or gift vouchers for local businesses.

Rewards for completing the “Treasure Hunt Through Time” can vary widely depending on your library’s budget, the age and interests of your participants, and the nature of the event itself. Here are a few ideas:

  • Certificates or Medals: These are cost-effective and can be a nice participant keepsake. You could create certificates or medals that commemorate their participation in the event.
  • Library Merchandise: Tote bags, mugs, bookmarks, or t-shirts with your library’s logo or a design related to the event can be a fun and practical reward.
  • Book Vouchers: Gift vouchers for a certain amount for book purchases could be a wonderful reward, especially for avid readers.
  • Local Business Vouchers: Partner with local businesses to provide gift vouchers. This rewards participants, supports local businesses, and fosters a sense of community.
  • Meet-and-Greet or Workshop: If your event is based around local history or a specific theme, consider arranging a meet-and-greet with a local historian or a workshop relevant to the theme.
  • Personalized Newspaper Print: Create a print of a historical newspaper page relevant to the treasure hunt or the winner’s interests.

Remember, while prizes can be a great incentive, the real reward for participants in this kind of event is the fun of the hunt itself and the knowledge and appreciation of local history they gain along the way.

  • Get Creative With The Clues: Create a series of clues that will guide participants through the Community History Archives. Each clue should lead to a particular article, advertisement, or piece of information in a specific newspaper issue. Ensure the clues are challenging but solvable with careful research. It is always fun to tie the clues together in a sequence that is dependent on the one before it, creating an interconnected journey through the historical newspapers. As an example:
  • Clue 1: “On April 2, 1893, an important building in our town was inaugurated. What is the name of the building?”
  • Clue 2: “Find the 25th-anniversary celebration article of the building from Clue 1. Which important person gave a speech during the celebration?”
  • Clue 3: “In a 1934 issue, a feature story was published about the person from Clue 2. What hobby was this person known for?”
  • Clue 4: “Find an advertisement in the August 20, 1950, issue that sells equipment related to the hobby from Clue 3. What was the price listed?”
  • Clue 5: “On June 5, 1975, a local resident won a competition related to the hobby from Clue 3. Who was this person, and what was the prize?”

This approach increases the challenge and intrigue and encourages participants to read the articles in more depth, enhancing their engagement with the content.

  • Promote the Upcoming Event: Promoting an event like “A Treasure Hunt Through Time” is all about reaching as many people as possible in your community and sparking their interest. Here are specific strategies for you to consider:
  • Leverage Your Library’s Website: Create a dedicated page or section for the event on your website. This page should include all the information about the event, including how to participate, the rules, the timeline, and the rewards. Regularly update this page as the event progresses.
  • Use Social Media Creatively: Use your library’s social media channels to announce the event and update followers. Share interesting tidbits related to the event theme or give “sneak peeks” of clues to stir curiosity. Consider creating a unique hashtag for the event to encourage participants to share their progress and experiences. You could also host live videos on platforms like Facebook or Instagram to engage with your audience in real time.
  • Reach Out to Local Media: Write a press release about your event and send it to local newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations. Given the unique nature of the event and its focus on local history, they may be interested in covering it.
  • Collaborate with Schools: Reach out to local schools and offer to incorporate the treasure hunt into their curriculum. This promotes the event and provides a unique learning opportunity for students.
  • In-Library Promotion: Display posters, flyers, and banners about the event in prominent library areas. You could also have library staff wear badges or pins related to the event to spark conversations with patrons.
  • Partner with Local Businesses and Organizations: Local businesses, community centers, and historical societies might be interested in promoting the event or even sponsoring prizes. This not only enhances the event but also fosters stronger community ties.
  • Train The Hunters: Write a clear set of instructions on participating in the treasure hunt. This should include information on accessing and navigating the digital newspaper archives. Provide a demonstration or tutorial if possible, to ensure all participants are comfortable with the technology. Training participants for “A Treasure Hunt Through Time” event can be a rewarding process, as it allows individuals to gain useful skills in historical research and digital literacy. Here’s a step-by-step approach to training participants:
    • Information Session: Hold a kickoff meeting or webinar to introduce the event. During this session, explain the purpose of the event, and the rules of participation, and provide a tutorial on how to navigate and search the digital newspaper archive. You can host this session in person at the library and online for wider reach.
    • Demonstration: Show participants how to use the digital newspaper archive effectively. This can include demonstrations of keyword searches, advanced search options, browsing by date or publication, and other tips for effectively finding information in the archive.
    • Hands-On Practice: Allow participants to practice using the archive. This could be done in a computer lab setting, where a facilitator can answer questions and assist. For remote participants, consider setting a practice task that they can do at home.
    • Provide Reference Materials: Create a simple guide or cheat sheet that participants can refer to while working on the treasure hunt. This guide could include tips for effective searching, common terms related to the treasure hunt theme, or a reminder of the treasure hunt rules and timeline.
    • Q&A Sessions: Make sure to include time for participants to ask questions during the training sessions. If hosting online training, consider setting up a forum or chat group where participants can ask questions and share tips.
    • Ongoing Support: Ensure participants know whom to contact if they have questions or encounter difficulties during the event. This could be a designated library staff member or a special email address set up for the event.

Training for this event prepares participants for the treasure hunt and equips them with valuable skills they can apply in future research or educational activities.

  • Make It Happen: Have fun and ensure the hunters have fun too! Creating excitement during “A Treasure Hunt Through Time” involves keeping participants engaged and feeling a part of the experience. 
    • Provide  Regular Updates: Post regular updates about the event on your library’s website and social media channels. This could include interesting facts about the clues, or teasers about what’s to come.
    • Create A Leaderboard: If your event has many participants, consider creating a leaderboard that shows who has solved the most clues or progressed the furthest. This can inspire friendly competition and keep participants motivated.
    • Spotlight Participants: Share the progress or experiences of participants (with their permission) on your library’s website or social media. This can include interesting discoveries, photos of participants in action, or testimonials about what they’re learning or enjoying about the event.
    • Host A Mini-Special Event: Hosting a special event related to the treasure hunt, such as a “halfway there” celebration, a clue reveal party, or a live Q&A session, can be held in-person or virtually.
    • Spice It Up With Some Extra Challenges: Introduce additional mini-challenges or bonus clues to keep participants engaged during the event. These could be tied to specific days (e.g., “Trivia Tuesday”) or could be revealed at certain milestones.
    • Collaborate with Schools or Community Groups: Encourage local schools or community groups to participate and provide updates on their progress. This not only fosters community involvement but can also create a sense of camaraderie among participants.
    • Celebrate The Event With A Closing Ceremony: Plan an exciting closing ceremony where you can reveal the answers, recognize participants, and award prizes. This gives participants something to look forward to at the end of the event.

The event will be remembered for the information that directly answered the questions and for understanding the broader context of those answers. At the end of the day participant will feel rewarded by the experience, have enhanced their historical understanding and research skills, and most importantly, have had fun!

  • Post-Event Engagement: Once the treasure hunt is over, engage with participants to get their feedback. A post-event engagement strategy for “A Treasure Hunt Through Time” can help sustain the excitement and learning long after the event has concluded. Here are several elements to include in such a strategy:
    • Event Recap: Share a detailed recap of the event on your library’s website and social media channels. This should include highlights, interesting discoveries, participant testimonials, and a summary of what was learned during the treasure hunt.
    • Recognition: Recognize all participants, not just the winners. This could be done through a virtual “wall of fame” on your website, shout-outs on social media, or certificates of participation.
    • Feedback: Solicit feedback from participants through an online survey or feedback form. This not only shows participants that you value their opinion but can also provide valuable insights for improving future events.
    • Continued Learning: Encourage participants to continue exploring the Community History Archives, even after the event has ended. Share additional resources or reading suggestions related to the treasure hunt theme.
    • Follow-Up Activities: Plan follow-up activities related to the treasure hunt. This could include a series of workshops about local history, a book club focusing on historical novels, or a guest lecture by a local historian.
    • Promote Future Events: Use the momentum from the treasure hunt to promote upcoming library events. Participants who enjoyed the treasure hunt will likely be interested in other library activities.
    • Thank You Note: Send a thank you note to all participants, expressing appreciation for their involvement and sharing some of the positive outcomes of the event.
    • Maintain Contact: If participants opted in for future communications, keep them informed about related activities or news. This could be done through an email newsletter or regular updates on social media.

By keeping participants engaged after the event, you can extend the learning experience, foster a stronger sense of community, and build anticipation for future events.

The “Treasure Hunt Through Time” strategy presents a unique and engaging way for libraries to utilize their Community History Archives. This fun virtual scavenger hunt can be organized for individuals, families, or teams and can be tailored to suit different age groups and interests.

Not only does it encourage the use of the Community History Archive, but it also creates a fun, interactive platform for patrons to learn about their local history. With careful planning and implementation, this strategy can significantly enhance community engagement and foster a deeper appreciation for local heritage.

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