Free Alternative to Online Program Registration using Google

Many libraries have delightful programs for registering their patrons for programs online and we all wish we could do that, but it's expensive.

So, rather than relegate the rest of us to binders full of paper sign-up sheets, here is an option for allowing patrons to register themselves online for library programs without overwhelming your frontline staff.

You'll be using Google Forms, Google Sheets, and Google Calendar, so get ready to get REALLY familiar with your Google login.

These are the general steps, which I'll explain in greater detail for those who are unfamiliar with these programs. However, if you're already a pro at using these Google programs, have at it!

  1. Make a public event calendar on Google Calendar, preferably using a library Google account so you don't accident cross-post personal events. Embed that calendar on your library website.

  2. Use Google Forms to create a registration form for each event and put the signup links into Google Calendar events.

  3. Link your registration form results all to the same Google Sheets spreadsheet so you can view all your registrations in one place.


The Pros of this system:

  • it's free!

  • it requires a lot of work by one person to get set up, but doesn't require much work from frontline staff, and is relatively easy to continue using.

  • your patrons can sign themselves up for programs without having to go through staff.


The Cons of this system:

  • patrons can't check their registration status or cancel their registration without calling.

  • some less tech savvy staff members or patrons may object to the system. The workaround here is allowing them to still call or visit the desk to register, and a staff member (or more tech-comfortable staff member) can register them.

  • it is difficult to limit registration for events, so you will need to keep a close eye on any events that have a firm registration cap or make these events phone-registration only. There are ways to limit responses but it involves using Google scripts and is pretty advanced. If you are comfortable attempting this, you can easily find instructions online how to do so, but I'm not including it here because it can be overwhelming to beginning users.

Step 1: Creating a public event calendar on Google Calendar

I highly recommend against using your personal Google login to do this. If your library uses Google Suite, use your work Google login, or if you don't have one, make your own work-only Google account. I would hate to accidentally post something personal on the library calendar.

Then, once your logged into that library Google account, visit calendar.google.com.

Depending on how many calendars you already have on that account, your left side panel should look something like this. Click on the + symbol and then "Create New Calendar."

Name your calendar. The public will see the name you choose. You can add a short description here, too. Make sure your local time zone is selected, and hit the "Create calendar" button.

Your new calendar name will now show in the menu to the left. Click on it.

Then, about halfway down on the page, check the box that says "Make available to public."

Ta-da!

You have the option of embedding this calendar on your library's website, which you can learn to do here, or you can just give staff members access to this calendar as a place to store those registration links until you share them elsewhere.

Step 2: Using Google Forms to create registration forms for programs

Visit forms.google.com while logged into your work-related Google account.

Click Blank to start new form.

Google Forms is very intuitive to use. Explore it a bit and get comfortable with adding new questions. There are several excellent videos on YouTube if you would like a more thorough explanation of how creating a Google Form works.

Here is a simple registration form example:

Once you've got it the way you like it, click the "Send" button at the top right.

Then, click the link button and then the Copy button. You have now copied the link patrons will use to access this registration form.

Step 3: Adding the registration link to the Google Calendar

Go to your new library Google Calendar and click on the calendar day of this new event.

Add all the details.

Be sure that you select the new library calendar you made from the options and not the default personal calendar. See in my example photo how I changed it to the "Library Events" calendar.

Click to add a description. You can write whatever you want here -- patrons will see it.

Add something like "Please register" and paste that link we just copied earlier into the box.

Save.

Step 4: Using Google Sheets to keep track of registration

Let's go back to that form you were working on. Click at the top where it says "Responses" and then click the little green square symbol. It will prompt you to create a new spreadsheet.

If you are not a spreadsheet person, don't be phased. We're not going to do any intense spreadsheet formulas (but, if you're a spreadsheet guru, go right ahead!)

We're going to Create a New Spreadsheet. Give it a name. This is where all of our registration forms are going to drop for our events anytime someone registers. I recommend doing it by month or season. Let's name it for the current season you're in. For me, it's Summer 2021. Create!

You will only be creating a new spreadsheet for your first event. Hereafter, we're going to "Select existing spreadsheet" and use this one. We'll circle back to this shortly.

You may notice that all the text seems to run together. Fear not, we'll fix it.

Click this little square right here, and it will highlight everything. Then, click: Format -> Text Wrapping -> Wrap.


Phew. That's better.

One last thing on this part. At the bottom, it will say something like "Form Responses 1" and there will be a tiny arrow next to it. Click the arrow to open a little menu, then select "Rename." I recommend naming it after the event, and including a date. So something like "Book Club 7.1.21."

Okay, now it's time to circle back.

You can repeat the process of creating Google Forms for each event. You can also save yourself time by creating copies of previous forms and changing the information inside.

When you finish your second form, we're not going to create a new spreadsheet again, remember? We're going to use the one we already have. So, when you click on "Responses" and see that little green square, we're going to "Select existing spreadsheet." Use the one we made earlier and follow the next few steps above to clean up the runtogether text and change the tab name to that event.

Making Changes and Checking Registration

You can view registration at any time by going to Google Drive and opening the link to your spreadsheet.

If you have an event whose registration you are watching very closely, you can enable email notifications on Google Forms to let you know whenever someone registers.

If someone contacts you and wants to cancel, you can simply go into the spreadsheet and delete their line.

You can also add notes to the extra columns to the right of the response on the spreadsheet.

I hope you found this guide helpful. If anything was unclear or you'd recommend I make any changes, please email me at jess@decafjess.com. :)