Geek Culture

Published on February 12th, 2015 | by Kimberly Alberts

Mine And Craft @ Your Library: Host a Build-Off!

A couple of summers ago, I hosted a very successful Minecraft Build-Off program for teens at my library. Even though I myself am an experienced Minecraft player at home, you don’t have to be one in order to put on a program with your teens.

The general idea of Minecraft is that players “mine” resources (wood, stone, diamond, wheat, etc.) and then can “craft” with them and build structures, tools, landscapes, etc. The cool thing is that there really isn’t a limit to what you can design and build with the game.

There are two basic modes to Minecraft: creative and survival. In Creative Mode, players are given an unlimited amount of every available resource in their inventory so that they don’t have to focus on the finding and mining aspect; they can just focus on being creative and building. The other mode is Survival Mode. Here players have to find and mine their resources before they craft them into the structures they want to build. There are also monsters that come out at night that they have to worry about fighting and a health bar that they have to keep full or else they will die in the game. You can find some tutorials on the basics here or by searching on YouTube for Minecraft basics tutorials. The Minecraft wiki is also a good place to go to find good information about the various items and materials, keyboard command charts, etc.

There are a couple of ways you can hold a Minecraft program. You can choose to host a one-time build-off where the teens play in their own worlds in Creative Mode. You can also host a server where teens can all play together in the same world in either Creative or Survival Mode.

What I Did

After talking with another local librarian about how she ran her program and garnering a lot of great advice from others on the listservs I decided to try a one-time build-off program. It is amazingly easy to setup and run. We held the build-off in the Computer Lab on the library PC’s. Our IT Department installed the free Minecraft software on the computers ahead of time so that all teens had to do upon arrival was log in. You can get the program from

The one caveat is that teens need a paid account in order to log in and play. Accounts cost $26.95. This wasn’t an issue for me as most of the teens in my community already play Minecraft and have accounts. However, you can also purchase paid accounts for the teens to use at a discount from Accounts cost $18 and then you can let your teens use them during the program. I’ve also spoken with librarians who purchase gift cards from to use with teens who don’t already have paid accounts.

As the teens arrived the day of the program, I asked them to log in to Minecraft. When we were ready to begin, I told them to click on the following options:

  • Click on “Single Player” and “Create New World”
  • Change the Game Mode to “Creative”
  • Click on “More World Options”
    • Generate Structures should be “Off”
    • World Type should be “Superflat”
    • Allow Cheats should be “Off”
    • Bonus Chest should be “Off”
  • Click “Done” and then “Create New World”

I gave the teens 90 minutes to build a structure around a theme, which I don’t give them until the day of the programs so they can’t make any pre-plans for what they’ll build. The theme I chose for this build-off went along with the teen summer reading theme: Beneath the Surface. I asked them to build the best zombie defense they could think of.

Some other theme ideas:

  • Castles
  • Houses
  • Pixel Art
  • Roller Coasters
  • Farms
  • Gardens
  • Zoos
  • Seasonal or Holiday themed
  • And of course, Libraries!

At the end of the 90 minutes, I went around and had each teen give me a mini-tour of their structure. Then I awarded Minecraft-themed prizes in the following categories: Best Interior, Best Exterior, Most Creative, Best Use of Redstone, and Best Overall. I purchased Minecraft keychains and rubber bracelets from Amazon for prizes. The best overall won a giant foam pickaxe.

Think Geek and the Minecraft website also sell themed merchandise.

One thing I did after the program was to have each teen stay logged in so that I could take screenshots of their creations to share on our Facebook page. I saved the photos to a jump drive then logged them out. Here are some of their zombie forts:




How It Went

This program was a hit! I could only take 15 teens due to the number of computers in our lab. I had another 15 teens on the waiting list, so at the last minute we added a second session. Luckily, I have an Amazon Prime account and was able to quickly get a second set of prizes! The teens had a blast and they really blew me away with their creativity. It was difficult to choose the winners. Because I saw so many creations at once it was hard for me to keep track. What I would probably do next time is create a judging sheet of sorts with a rubric so that I can quickly score them in different categories using a numeric rating system.

Since the first session, I’ve done this program several more times with both teens (grades 6 to 12) and tweens (grades 3 to 5). Each time things went very well. I was a bit nervous about how the tweens would do, but they were just as great!

I’ve also started a regular monthly Minecraft Club for teens, which involves a whole other can of worms with server spaces, mods, etc. I’ll be writing about it in more detail on my blog.

Other awesome websites about Minecraft programs:


About the Author

is a Youth Services/Emerging Technologies Librarian at the Hudson Library & Historical Society in Ohio. Being a huge geek herself, she currently runs her library’s anime and Minecraft clubs as well as orders the manga/graphic novels for her department. She is also a teen lit reviewer for School Library Journal. You can find her on Twitter (@libraryladykim) or on her blog (

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