Participatory Service Plan: Implementing Google Forms

As a lifelong resident of San Mateo County in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have also been a lifelong patron of the libraries of the Peninsula Library System. One of the benefits of being a member of the Peninsula Library System is that residents have access to 35 libraries in the county. Unfortunately, individual libraries within the consortium are of varying size, age, and overall quality. This means that your local library could be quite run down and sparse in terms of community services but the library two towns further south could be modern and spacious, with a full calendar of events. Each library maintains its own website and social media accounts, some offer feedback forms to fill out and some even have customer satisfaction surveys.  While community members can reach out with feedback via these avenues, I feel that this is not enough. What the libraries all have in common is that their central hub is the Peninsula Library System website–this is what we visit when we want to search the entire system catalog, find out about events, and more. Feedback outlets are buried in this website: their contact information, ways to request book purchases, and more, are tricky to find.  For this project, I have chosen to plan for the adoption of a system-wide and uniform feedback method via Google Forms, with the intention of it being featured on the PLS home page and potentially shared on individual library websites and social media accounts. Results gathered by the Peninsula Library System staff will be distributed to all member libraries for evaluation and consideration in their planning meetings.

This seeds of this plan were planted during my examination of Hyperlinked Communities and inspired by Aaron Schmidt’s (2016) article, Asking the right questions: The user experience. To summarize Schmidt’s main points, asking our communities for suggestions and generic survey questions about their library experience will likely only produce generic answers that tell us very little. As a counter to bland surveys, Schmidt says, “Instead of asking people about libraries, we need to ask people about their lives.” By asking questions with more depth, “the rich results will expose patterns and help your library learn about the lives of the people it serves. Only with this information can you then brainstorm and prototype relevant and meaningful new library services.”


  • Goal: To adopt the usage of Google Forms on the Peninsula Library System website, in a highly visible front page location, as a way to continuously ask thoughtful questions of our community members, solicit feedback on specific topics, and further open up the flow of communication between libraries within the consortium and the people they serve.

    • Objectives:
      1. Ask thoughtful and/or specific questions to understand more about:
        1. Community interests
          • Information about age and home library in addition to interests would help individual libraries fine tune programming for various age groups, develop new displays, add to our collections, and consider new uses for our existing spaces.
        2. Public perception of specific library services
          • To better understand which services appeal most to our patron groups
          • To better understand what services are not working as well as they could.
          • To refocus some staff efforts on events and services that our patrons express interest in, instead of events and services we think will interest them.
      2. Find inspiration in community suggestions:
        1. Consider changes that can be addressed/implemented immediately.
        2. Plan for changes that can be developed over time/in the future.


The Peninsula Library System is a consortium of 35 public and community college libraries serving residents of San Mateo County in California. This plan is intended to engage all users of the Peninsula Library System within the cities of San Mateo County. For more information about San Mateo County residents, see the infographs below:


Convince Peninsula Library System leadership that by adopting Google Forms to get regular feedback on a variety of topics from community members they will have access to greater insight into the lives and opinions of their patrons which will help member libraries develop and fine tune current/future services, and remain relevant to their users because it will offer a fresh perspective on specific library services and provide information about their patrons that member libraries may not have considered before.


Feedback and Participatory Service

Michael Casey and Laura Sevastinuk (2007) explain in their book, Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Library Service, that, “user participation in the creation and maintenance of services” is a large component of library service in the Library 2.0 model (p. 12). For this model to be effective, Casey and Sevastinuk (2007) believe, “we must build mechanisms into our structures through which both users and nonusers can participate in the service creation process” (p. 62). In Meaghan Edelstein’s (2010) Mashable post on evaluating social media plans, she emphasizes to the reader the importance of giving your supporters (patrons) a voice. “Make sure to ask questions and listen to opinions. When appropriate, implement and share your community’s ideas. This can result in not only great content but even stronger brand loyalty. Popular brands do this regularly and with much success.”  Although this plan is not about social media, it does involve providing our patrons additional opportunities to speak their minds and connect with their libraries.

To achieve this, libraries can always turn to the reliable old comment card, but more and more, libraries are moving beyond that format and instead asking users and nonusers alike just what it is they want from their local library (Casey & Sevastinuk, 2007, p. 62). To go above and beyond, Aaron Schmidt (2016) believes WE should be the ones to answer that particular question for our patrons, after learning as much about them as we can. “[Let’s] answer the question of what people want in their libraries, but let’s go about it in this more oblique way. When we can then successfully answer this question, we can create library services that people had no idea they needed. Anticipating people’s needs will surprise them, delight them, and make them feel welcome” (Schmidt, 2016). Learning more about our patrons involves, according to Schmidt, asking more unique questions that will incite thoughtful feedback from users and, in turn, give libraries new data to evaluate.

Real world examples of the importance and impact of feedback:

  • Google Forms: A Real-Time Formative Feedback Process for Adaptive Learning
    • Details the process and success of adopting continuous feedback via Google Forms in a college course to support an adaptive, learner-centric classroom. Though the college environment is different that a public library, the principle is still applicable in that it is important to hear what works and does not work for the people you’re aiming to serve.
  • Using student feedback to re-shape library services
    • 2014 interview with Nicholas Lewis of the University of East Anglia (UK) in which he discusses the positive impact that student feedback had on the implementation of new operating hours and improvements and additions to digital literacy skills training in the library.
    •  “While the quantitative data is helpful in identifying trends and priorities year on year, the qualitative data articulates the ‘student voice’ more clearly.”
  • Crowdsourced design: Why Los Angeles is asking the public to create the library of the future.
    • Candice Mack (2013), Teen Services & Outreach Librarian at the Richard J. Riordan Central Library in Los Angeles, speaks to the importance of community feedback in her write up discussing future development at the Los Angeles Public Library. Mack (2013) explains that they “need to know whether people still want quiet areas, study rooms, meeting rooms, multipurpose rooms and performance spaces. How should the services and information in the library be organized? Would you charge late fines or offer a fine-free amnesty period? Do people still want cafés at the library?” Their plea to their patrons exclaimed, “There are so many exciting possibilities—we are full of ideas—but we need your help honing our focus. We can’t design the library of the future without your help—no city can. Answer our brief 2-minute survey and tell us your vision” (Mack, 2013). Asking patrons for their help and input shows users that the library exists to be useful to their patrons, that the library values their opinions and needs (and wants) to hear from them.
  • Lesson’s From Seattle’s Failed Bid to Rebrand its Public Library.
    • Brian Kenney (2015) reports on what can go wrong when feedback/enough feedback isn’t solicited from the public or isn’t considered carefully enough. In this case, Seattle Public Library lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on a failed rebranding effort. Kenney (2015) explains, “SPL administrators did not invest nearly enough time in communicating the need for its rebranding, and the public was not given much of a say in the yearlong process until the very end, when the survey [on the proposed rebranding] went out.” At that point, the public learned about the large amount of money spent on the effort and were outraged. The most important lesson from this case, Kenney (2015) says, is that “librarians must always keep in mind that whatever it is we are proposing, it has to be about creating a better library for the public. When patrons learn about a new library initiative, they’re not interested in how our work is changing, or how libraries are transforming. They are looking to see their needs, hopes, and dreams reflected back to them.”




The mission of the Peninsula Library System is as follows: “The Peninsula Library System strengthens local libraries through cooperation, enabling them to provide better service to their diverse communities” (“About PLS,” n.d.). Taking this mission into consideration, I also would like to highlight the first article of the American Library Association’s (1996) “Library Bill of Rights,” which states, “Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves.” Further discussion of this article is found in the ALA’s interpretation “Library-initiated programs as a resource,” which affirms, “Library staff select topics, speakers and resource materials for library-initiated programs based on the interests and information needs of the community” (American Library Association, 2000).

If topics, speakers, and resource materials for library-initiated programs are to be based on the interests and information needs of the community, the use of surveys and feedback analysis will provide greater insight into the particular interests and information needs of the diverse communities that the Peninsula Library System serves.

Taking this into account, the overall mission of the adoption of Google Forms as a feedback system for the libraries within the PLS is to discover what engages our users and to find inspiration for our current and future services and resources through their voices.


  • PLS home staff assigned to monitor and respond to feedback will be responsible for composing a monthly survey in Google Forms. For the development of questions:
    • Reach out to staff, librarians, and volunteers at member libraries via email.
      • Solicit questions from member libraries — What would they like to discover about their patrons?
        • Request indication if they would like a question featured ASAP.
        • Accept suggestions on a rolling basis
        • Keep a record of all questions suggested.
      • Member libraries must assign a contact person to whom survey results can be distributed to.
  • All member libraries will receive all survey results, regardless of the user’s indication of home library location.
    • Member libraries may filter results based on library location once feedback is received.
  • Publish the survey on the 1st of each month.
  • Export all data into Google Sheets and distribute to member libraries on the last day of the month.
  • Regularly monitor all feedback for issues needing immediate attention; forward to appropriate contacts.
  • Google Form survey content must always include:
    • Question that requires users to indicate their home library branch (for later sorting purposes).
    • Questions that allow users to submit feedback on general concerns (but do not require users to answer)
    • Opportunities for users to indicate if they wish to be contacted about concerns and a place to submit contact information.
    • 3-6 Unique questions each month.
  • Survey questions must be written and used in accordance with the PLS Privacy Policy.


  • PLS may choose to publish/promote surveys on social media accounts.
  • PLS may ask member libraries to promote the PLS surveys on their individual websites and social media accounts.
  • Member libraries may also choose to create and promote their own surveys using Google Forms.
  • Questions selected from the master list may be chosen at random, gathered in themes, or prioritized if specifically requested/indicated as urgent.
  • Member libraries are not required to participate in question submission or review of survey results, but all member libraries will receive the results.


Google Forms is a free tool available for anyone to use, so the only costs to consider will be related to staff time.

This undertaking will require PLS staff time for question development and gathering, form creation, regular feedback review, and monthly distribution of results. It will also require time and attention from contacts at member libraries that normally review and respond to feedback.

Because PLS and member libraries review feedback normally, the additional time that this service requires is minimal. The biggest impact of time would be on the point person at PLS that normally monitors and responds to patron messages. This employee would need to find time to contact member libraries asking for questions and compiling question lists, compose the monthly Google Form survey, and export the results for member libraries to review. For the PLS, this would replace current feedback review procedures. Additional time would also be required of those employees at member libraries who are in charge of managing patron feedback, as they will be receiving additional information to review. This information, however, could be reviewed and assessed when time permits. Immediate concerns will be forwarded on a rolling basis.


This service is simple to develop and roll out, but we desire cooperation from all member libraries. The libraries of the PLS will see the biggest benefit from the survey feedback if all member libraries are active participants and open to reviewing additional feedback through our survey results. However, if some libraries do not want to participate and prefer to receive their own feedback via their own methods, it will not disrupt this process.  

A trial survey can be composed in a short amount of time and be placed immediately on the Peninsula Library System home page. I composed a brief survey to serve as an example, which can be found here.

Action Steps:

Initial trial period: One month.

  1. Develop survey prototype using the policies outlined. [First day of the month]
  2. Contact all member libraries with trial survey announcement and distribute survey prototype.[First day of the month]
    • Ask for question suggestions.
      • [Ongoing. Send bi-monthly reminder emails]
    • Request member libraries assign a contact person to receive the monthly data.
      • [Send on Day 1. Allow 1 week for responses – Send 1 reminder email]
  3. Publish survey to PLS homepage on the 1st of the month.
  4. Ask member libraries to share Google Forms survey on all social media accounts and on their websites.
    • [Once per week throughout the month.]
  5. Monitor results throughout the span of the month
    • [recommended minimum: twice weekly]
    • Take action on any immediate concerns submitted.
  6. Export all data received into Google Sheets (another free tool, connected to Forms) and distribute to member library contacts.
    • [Last day of the month]
  7. Time for assessment: One week.
    • Contact all member libraries post feedback distribution
    • [Last day of the month]
    • Ask libraries to share any comments, questions, concerns about the Google Form survey and the distribution process.
      • Via email or via a Google Forms survey
      • [Ask for responses within the following week]
  8. If member libraries’ response to this undertaking is not positive, we can scale back certain efforts. For example, requesting that the link be shared just on social media accounts instead of also on their websites, or vice versa. Or, scaling back on the number of times the link is shared on social media accounts.
  9. If this effort is unsuccessful (not valued by member libraries, few responses) PLS can refocus its feedback efforts on just the PLS homepage using Google Forms to ask users about PLS features, resources and the catalog, and incorporate purchase recommendations.


Tutorials on the use of Google Forms and the exporting of collected data into Google Sheets are widely available as short write ups and video resources. Some have been included above in the Resources section. 


  • Survey links can be shared on all member library websites and social media accounts.
  • Member libraries can create and display posters/flyers to inform patrons about the surveys.
  • If computer stations, laptops, or tablets are available, they can be set up as in-library feedback stations.


In creating and sharing Google Forms feedback surveys, the goal is to hear more frequently from our users. We can evaluate the performance of this service by comparing the number of responses to the surveys to the number of “Contact Us” emails that the member libraries and PLS in general has received in an average month. If our number of responses to the to the forms are higher than our general customer comment emails, we can justify the amount of additional time spent working on these surveys.

This service could be expanded upon by individual libraries seeking more specific feedback from their communities. Once they see how simple Google Forms is to use and the interesting facts they can learn about their patrons, they could be motivated to eliminate the old “Contact Us” sections on their websites in favor of a feedback form that offers additional opportunities to hear from the public on various topics.



About PLS. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2017, from

American Library Association. (1996). Library bill of rights. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from

American Library Association. (2000). Library initiated programs as a resource. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2009). Library 2.0: a guide to participatory library service. Medford, NJ: Information Today.

County of San Mateo 2015 – 2017 Profile. ([2014]). Retrieved March 19, 2017, from

Edelstein, M. (2010). HOW TO: Evaluate your social media plan. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from

Haddad, R. J., & Kalaani, Y. (2015, July 02). Google forms: A real-time formative feedback process for adaptive learning. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from

Kenney, B. (2015). Lessons from Seattle’s failed bid to rebrand its public library. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from

Lewis, N. (2014). Using student feedback to re-shape library services. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from

Mack, C. (2015). Crowdsourced design: Why Los Angeles is asking the public to create the library of the future. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from

Schmidt, A. (2016). Asking the right questions | The user experience. Retrieved March 19, 2017, from


2 thoughts on “Participatory Service Plan: Implementing Google Forms

  1. @eglybrand : Smart! When Stephens, M. (2008) talked about technolust, he warned librarians not to get too absorbed in “flashy, sexy technology” for which we have higher expectations of success than the technology can actually provide. Your Google Forms solution seems so simple to implement, and so obvious a need for your library system, I could hardly imagine administrators declining to try it. Your rationale and the benefits to patrons is so clear and accessible in this outline. Thank you for sharing.

    Stephens, M. (2008). Taming technolust: Ten steps for planning in a 2.0 world. Reference and User Services Quarterly, 47, 4, 314-317. Retrieved from

    • @astjohn Thanks, Amanda! I thought for a long while about what service or technology could be implemented without an added cost and would be practical enough to use for years to come. I’ve used Google Forms many times and I’m so impressed with how simple it is to use and gather data with. To utilize a service, asking interesting questions about the patrons while also providing space for the current “comment card” feedback method that many of the libraries within the system have in place now, would really bring about so many opportunities for the community to share their thoughts on a variety of topics. To be able to look at all of that information and potentially develop or enhance new services because of that? I think it’s exciting!

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