The Power of (Scary) Stories

There’s a chill in the air, and it’s got nothing to do with the climate (in my town, we’re still experiencing highs in the 80s). It has everything to do with a certain haunted holiday at the end of the month. I’m a big horror fan year round, and I love this time of year especially because everyone is eager to get in on the scary fun.

In our latest #hyperlib chat, Stacie Ledden encourages libraries to resist the impulse to be insular: to look outside the industry itself to see how other industries and fields are behaving and how they are innovating. This may sound like a lot of work and it certainly can be, but there are also ways to easily bring this innovation into your own library- starting with what are your passions, and what are your staff passionate about? How can you bring that into the library?

A Haunted Library Tour

How that looked for me was the Beale Library’s Haunted Library Tour. I thrive on scary stories, enjoy creative writing and planning, and wanted to bring this all to a Halloween program after dark for adults at the library. It started as an idea for something small- one evening three years ago with guest storytellers throughout library with 30 attendees max. What it turned into is a multi-night, multi-tour event complete with scare actors, set pieces, soundscaping, and an original script that spanned the last three Halloweens (not including this one) and hundreds of attendees. You can see photos from last year’s theme, a summer camp run by an immortality cult, here, and a trailer for the year prior’s theme, Dr. Frankenstein’s haunted library, here.

Photo Credit: Terry Tripp Photography and Shawn McQuilliams

I’m immensely proud of this work and my team, but make no mistake, this was absolutely a labor of love. I would not have pulled several 14 hour days for just anything! I think stories, experiencing and telling them, are what keep many of us going through dark times. They certainly are for me.

Photo Credit: Terry Tripp Photography and Shawn McQuilliams

A New Type of Storytelling

This year looks different. I’m no longer working for the library, and though I’m still planning events they aren’t in person anymore. Appropriately for the season, these memories are haunting me right now. I miss the stress and excitement of pulling off events like these. But there is much to be learned about immersive storytelling virtually from theatre companies around the world.

No Proscenium is a site that shares news of upcoming immersive theatre and so much of it is at our fingertips now that we’ve been forced to go virtual. I invite you to take a seat around the online campfire as the world swaps chilling tales to keep you up at night:

  • The Tower of Terror: Six Stories of Horror – An immersive site to explore and experience on Halloween night. Pay-what-you-can.
  • The Empty Space’s HAUNTED BAKERSFIELD – Local storytellers and actors tell true accounts of ghost stories in Kern County. $10.
  • Dark Dial Haunted Radio Hour – With live soundscaping provided by a DJ, we present three tales of terror adapted for the small screen: The Monkey’s Paw, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Yellow Wallpaper (that last one adapted by me). Pay-what-you-can.
  • The Japanese Ghost Painting Introduction – Like most immersive theatre experiences I’ve done in the past month, I know absolutely nothing about this one, just that it comes highly recommended. But that’s part of the adventure! $33.

The More, The Scarier!

Scary stories pair well with libraries, it’s true. Perhaps a partnership with a local theatre company could bring new people into the library and create a unique immersive experience. As Professor Stephens reminds us in Challenged but not Dying, The Public Libraries are More Relevant than Ever, libraries struggle against the status quo of what we’ve “always done,” that fear response that shuts down change. Perhaps it is time to embrace the fear and show the public just how much fun being afraid can be. Consider adding horror programming to your library!

21 thoughts on “The Power of (Scary) Stories

  1. @dyerariel,

    What a fun post! I love the events you shared and the Halloween programing that you did at the library. I can see how that would be a popular event for many communities and a great way to involve many people who may have never been to the library before. You put so much heart into the events and it really shows! Great post and ideas!

    • @scollins Thank you for your comment! It really was quite a bit of fun. For last year’s, I ended up putting up a bunch of “missing flyers” as props, for missing campers throughout the years. I filled the flyers with pictures of people I knew who would get a kick out of it (as well as a couple of the cast, too) and it worked. But OOPS I accidentally left some of the props up after the show was over in the audiovisual department, and people were asking about the missing posters as if they were real! Talk about immersive, haha.

  2. I definitely miss the physical haunted and spook attractions around San Diego and appreciate the virtual options you have posted about. The events manager at the UCSD library is an amazing musician and he has volunteered to have a live zoom session where he will play creepy Theremin sounds and even do a small interactive activity for his fellow UCSD employees who have children. I know he is only offering this to the UCSD community but to me it still shows how libraries can make a difference during a definite dark time.

    • @carriesanabria I love the sound of that theremin evening, even if it’s only for staff. How cool is that! In fact I love that he is keeping it specific to the UCSD staff and their kids. I hope it goes well!

  3. Hi Ariel –
    This program looked like so much fun. I think this might have been one haunted event I could have attended with my horror enthusiast husband.
    I think you make some great points about how to approach story telling. Thanks for such as fun post.

  4. You win for the most fun and seasonally appropriate post, @dyerariel! I would LOVE to do something like this in our library, which would lend itself well to a haunted library tour. I can bet it took hundreds of hours to put together. I love Halloween and am missing the feeling of the season, but tomorrow night I’ll be going to Night of the Jacks near Malibu, a drive-through experience that isn’t very scary, but lots of jack-o-lanterns and cool effects. Great post and I will definitely check out some of those events!

    • @kayzdaze2020 Okay WOW have been wanting to do Night of the Jacks for the past few years but haven’t gotten around to it yet! That sounds like an excellent way to celebrate this year. I’m a big fan of the seasonal stuff that isn’t scary, too. Love a good pumpkin patch and corn maze! If you ever find yourself putting together a haunted library, please feel free to reach out to me and I can give you some more details on strategies for workload and how I planned, because I definitely got better at it by the third year and it was less overwhelming than the first!

      • Thanks, @dyerariel, I will definitely take you up on your offer of guidance. As for NofJ, my neighbor went last year and this year, and said it’s still cool, but much better when you can walk through it as opposed to driving. The Santa Anas are blowing like crazy right now, so I’m hoping they subside by tonight or it will be more like Night of the Jumping Jacks!

  5. Hi Ariel (@dyerariel),

    This is fantastic! I am sure that your hard work did not go unnoticed. Your haunted library tour looks incredibly terrifying (in the best way) and I may have to visit at a later date. Is your library doing any spooky virtual programming this year?


    • Hi @cierapasturel! Thanks for your comment! No scary programming that I know of, but I”m also not working with the public library system anymore! I’m working for a tech company as their events coordinator. Hopefully someone at the library takes up the mantle of “creepy curator” as I came to refer to myself in that particular haunted programming role, but no one has yet! But for my tech company we’ve planned the Dark Dial Haunted Radio hour linked above and I’m looking forward to it!

        • Good question @cierapasturel! In the first photo it’s scare actors. In the second photo, one of the figures is a scare actor, and the others are all blow up dolls that we shoved into cloaks. We had a creepy Latin chant we recorded and one of my good friends is a DJ, so he put it together with ambient sounds and creepy music!

  6. What a great post! I’m super impressed with the effort you put into the haunted library programs. I’m longing for something like that this year, so I appreciate your inclusion of virtual horror experiences as well!

    • Hi @sarahchristmas! If you find any good horror/Halloween experiences, let me know! I did the Tower of Terror one I linked above and had SUCH a good time. What a fun experience. You never know what you’re getting into with these immersive virtual things, but that one was great! I recommend following that theatre org for future events if you’re interested.

  7. @dyerariel This was such a fun read! I’m one of the few people who isn’t really into Halloween, but I know so many people are! You offered some incredibly fun ways to bring the spooky spirit into the library, and I absolutely enjoyed reading this today!

    Thank you!

    • Hi @jlford0209! Thanks for reading and enjoying. It’s funny how crazy people go over Halloween- I enjoy horror and Halloween but was shocked at the response we had to our haunted tour. Turns out we have a lot to do in our town for kids for the holiday, but there wasn’t enough programming that was adult-specific (really besides bar crawls, we had nothing that was adult specific). Little did I know we were filling a service gap with something I initially wanted to do simply because I thought it would be fun!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *