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Detectives in the Library

Who doesn't love a good mystery every once in a while? Especially one that takes a ready brain, secret code, and a refreshing stroll through your local library?

If you're ready to get your children excited about the library, read on.

Scenario: It's time to go to the library for your annual celebration of National Library Week, and it's the last place your children want to go.

Materials needed: Pencils, 4 x 6 inch index cards, blindfolds (optional), and your local library.

Step One:  Think of the first or the last line to that poem with the title you can’t remember. Then write the line down for each of your children on 4 x 6 inch index cards.

This missing title and the rest of the poem is no longer a disturbing interruption to your mental routine but is what librarians call “A Reference Question.” But for your purpose, you can just call it “The Mystery" that will make your children love the library forever.

Step Two: Step away from the computer. Internet search engines are useful except during National Library Week.

Step Three: Load the van and head to your local library. [Optional Step: You may want to blindfold your stubborn ones here.]

Step Four: Lead your children to the library’s reference section and in low tones explain to them that you have an exciting mystery for them to solve.

Step Five: Locate Granger's Index to Poetry. This is a library reference work staple and the first clue! Give them a little time to familiarize themselves with the index. (Any blindfolds used can be removed at this point.)

Step Six:  Give each child a 4 x 6 inch index card with “The Mystery” written on it. Explain that you’d like them to find out the title of the poem from which the line belongs, as well as a book containing the entire poem text. Hand them each a pencil, and tell them to go!

With you there to guide your detective prodigies “The Mystery” should unfold something like this:

The Index Stage. Granger’s is detective-friendly allowing its users to search by First Line, Last Line, and Title. When your children see the line in question, they’ll also see some funny code after the entry that might look something like this: WPC, ReMoGo, or AH.  Encourage them to write down every code they see.

Your detectives’ curiosity should be piqued at this point making their nimble fingers page through the index hunting for even more clues.

The Decoding Stage: Toward the front of the index your detectives will find one of the hidden pleasures of library research: The List of Abbreviations. Using this guide, they’ll soon be able to crack the secret codes. You’ll see the smiles form as they begin to realize that WPC stands for Women Poets of China, and ReMoGo stands for The Real Mother Goose, and AH stands for Ancient Hymns and New.

With the book titles written down, your detectives will now wonder where the next clue is. If they ask for a hint, simply tell them that the next clue will give another code to tell them exactly where to go in the library to find the sought-after books.

The Weeding Stage. After your children are illumined, they’ll run (quietly) to the online catalog. You may need to give them a few pointers on how to use it. Since your library might be a few square feet smaller than the Library of Congress, you likely won’t find all of your book titles here. Have your children weed out the unavailable book titles by crossing off their lists as they search and writing down the call numbers of the books that are available.

This exercise can teach the value of determination and details! When a title doesn’t come up on your child’s first try, make sure the search string is spelled correctly. You can also encourage your children to try more search methods such as searching by author, or even by keyword.  Older children may be ready for a combination search called the Boolean Method.

The Stacks Stage. After all call numbers are found, take a deep breath and restate your “Be Quiet in the Library” speech. Not only is the potentially noisy climax next, but it’s also where you may want to hold a contest.

This final step takes place in what librarians call “The Stacks.” No, it’s not a place where library patrons are held until their fines can be paid. It’s simply where all the books are kept. Once you find the section of “The Stacks” where you know your books are located, you can explain the contest to your library detectives.

The contest? Assign one call number to each child and let the first child who finds a book with the poem (solve “The Mystery”) be the winner.

But to make sure all of your children feel like winners, consider giving them all really valuable, inexpensive prizes . . .

Library cards might work.

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