Friday, August 11, 2017

Program Planning: Walk-In, Registration, or 1 Hour Early Tickets?

So, you have planned this fantastic program. Maybe you are running it yourself, maybe you hired someone highly recommended... Either way, you think that it could be a hit and you are dreaming of a full house.

But what to do next? Should you require registration or just allow walk-ins? Should you hand out tickets an hour before the event? We look at all three of these options and give you the low down on the pros and cons, as well as share a fourth technique you don't hear about often. (This post was inspired from the YA-YAAC listserv, which we highly recommend to youth and teen librarians!)


The easiest way to handle program attendees. You advertise the event and anyone is allowed to attend. No sign-up necessary.


  1. Patrons don't need to register ahead of time.
  2. No need to keep track of who is signing up and who is wait listed.
  3. You don't get no-shows!
  4. People who couldn't commit to the date early won't be discouraged from coming the day of.


  1. You have no idea how many people to expect to come.
  2. Hard to plan material needs. Might have bought too much or too little, wasting funds or requiring rushed trips to the store during the program.


Many libraries require registration for their programs. Patrons need to sign-up ahead of time (either by contacting the library who has a paper sign-up form or online via a program like Eventkeeper) until space runs out. 


  1. You will know how many people to expect at the program. If not enough register, it is easy to make the call to cancel the program. You will also be able to spend the appropriate amount of money on supplies.
  2. You don't have to open the registration right away. Some libraries prefer to wait either two weeks before the event or the Friday before and then open registration.
  3. You can easily  keep track of the no-shows. If certain patrons keep registering but not attending, you can mentally count them out or make it a policy that three no-shows means they can't register anymore.


  1. Some communities refuse to register but still come for the program. If you find that program attendance is higher for non-register programs, you might want to go that route.
  2. No-shows. Not everyone who signs up will actually come. A few ways you can remedy this: 
    1. Opening registration really close to the program date (2 weeks before or the Friday before) can help decrease the odds of no-shows.
    2. Or, if you see a pattern, you could register 20% over capacity, knowing that you'll never be 100% full.
    3. Another option is to require a $5 deposit when people register to dissuade anyone who isn't willing to commit from signing up. At the program, you can return their $5.
  3. What to do about late patrons? Should they be allowed in after 30 minutes? Should they lose their spot after 10 minutes? Make sure this is written in your advertisement.

The Big Question for Registration: Wait List or No Wait List?

When registration space is filled, some libraries allow patrons to sign-up onto a Wait List. When people cancel, the librarian will contact those on the list and offer them the coveted spot.


  1. It allows you to not have to officially turn anyone away. A spot may open up!
  2. If you see many names on the Wait List, you could make a second session and offer it to them.


  1. It is labor intensive. If someone cancels and you call the first person on the Wait List, what do you do if they don't answer the phone? Keep calling people or leave a message? What if the cancellation is a few minutes before the event, do you make phone calls then? Is it worth your time to do that?
  2. It also complicates things when it comes to those who came to the event but did not register. They are willing to wait for openings, but should they be given the opportunity if they didn't join the Wait List?

1 Hour Early Tickets

Instead of requiring people to register, you can tell them to come to the library an hour early to get a ticket. Once tickets run out, they are out of luck.


  1. Everyone who gets a ticket will hang around, so you will not have any no-shows.
  2. Because they have to come early, this gives them an opportunity to walk around your library, hopefully check out a few items or see how cool the Children's Area is!


  1. It'll be a bit crazy the hour before the program as everyone comes for a ticket at the same time. This can be managed, though, with careful planning. Maybe you'll want someone at the door to hand out tickets instead of letting a line form in front of the check-out desk? 
  2. You'll have an influx of people hanging out at the library, which may not be ideal if your library doesn't have the space for people to wait. If you do have the space, maybe plan a few passive activities to keep the kids entertained?

Targeted Registration 

This is something I had done at my previous library that worked well. I used a Google Form for Summer Reading Registration, and after all of the usual questions, I listed all of the programs and asked them to mark which ones they might be interested in. Then, a week before the program, we emailed only the patrons who had shown interest to tell them that registration is now open. 


  1. Find out people's interest in your programs right away. We found the responses were a good guide for how popular the program would be... And if there weren't a lot of interest in a program, it was best to cancel it.
  2. Allows you to target your advertising to only those interested so you don't become "noise" to the patrons and they start ignoring your emails.
  3. People are more likely to follow through with attending when they register close to the date.


  1. Can be time intensive. We had weekly programs, so we had to send out specific emails every week.
  2. Harder to buy materials ahead of time since you open registration close to the program (though you could open registration two weeks early to prevent that).
  3. We had to create our own form on Google Forms since none of the big Summer Reading programs offered this option for listing programs. It was easy to make, though, and easy for us to later group emails together by interest.
  4. It may not work for Summer Reading, if you want them to use an official Summer Reading program like Wandoo Reader. (Who would sign up twice?) It worked for us because we used our homemade Scratch Tickets program.

Do you have any other suggestions on this topic? We'd love to hear them in the comments! Unfortunately, there is no one right answer. Try them all out and see what works best for your community. It might be a combination. The good news: you have options!


  1. Great all-around look at the question of Registration/no registration. Thanks for putting it together!

    1. Thanks for your feedback. We love to hear from our readers. :)

  2. This summer, we learned a new "con" about having programs with no registration: We kept hearing from patrons who thought it meant registration was full! So now I'm determined that even though we don't NEED registration at certain programs, I'm going to have that as an option. Sigh.

    1. It is really interesting what people assume. I hope it helps!