Guided by Barcodes
Thu, 07/22/2010 - 10:21
QR codes link patrons to the library
Whenever I’ve created an instructional handout for students, I’ve struggled with what to include. For everything that ends up on the sheet, there’s usually five times as much that would be useful to students in the class. I include the URL to a web page with more content, but URLs are often long and I wonder if students will take the time to enter a long URL into their browsers.
Imagine if students could simply scan a barcode at the bottom of your handout with their cell phone and be taken to a website or tutorial you’d created. This sort of seamless access is now possible with QR codes. Also known as Quick Response codes, QR codes are 2D barcodes that any camera-enabled mobile phone can read. There are many free websites where you can generate QR codes. You can program the barcode to take users to a website; dial a phone number or send a text; or pull up text, image, or video content. To scan a QR code, mobile users need to download one of the many free QR code readers available.
There are many potential applications for QR codes in libraries. In addition to linking students to additional instructional content, librarians could use QR codes in instruction to link students to a quick survey, to a page with their reference service’s contact info, or even to a page where a student can text or IM a librarian. If your library owns a device that patrons frequently have trouble with—like a microfilm reader—you could put a QR code on the device, which will link patrons to a video demonstrating its use. Libraries could also orient new patrons to the library by having a QR code scavenger hunt. Each barcode would contain a clue that would lead patrons to the next location.
QR codes could also be helpful for guiding patrons to useful books and articles. Contra Costa County (Calif.) Library received a grant to put QR codes on popular books that link the user to read-alikes. QR codes on books could also take patrons to an online book-review page or to a list of other books cataloged under the same subject headings. The University of Huddersfield Library in the United Kingdom posts QR codes next to print periodicals that links the patron to the electronic version of the journal.
Links to the past
I see the most promise for QR codes in special collections, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions. An academic library with a collection of historic campus photos could post QR codes at sites around campus. Each barcode would link users to historic photos of that location. A museum could provide additional information about an artifact with a QR code at the end of the item description or could even use it to link patrons to related content such as videos or primary source material. These barcodes could connect people to history in much richer ways and within their daily lives.
QR codes are heavily used in Japan, where they’re on buildings, products, advertisements, and more. Most people are still unfamiliar with QR codes in the United States, but this will change as more high-profile companies promote their use. Google encourages retail establishments to place a sticker on their storefronts advertising that they’re a Favorite Place on Google. This sticker contains a QR code that will direct a mobile device to the company’s entry in Google Places. While QR codes hold great potential for linking patrons to content and services, only a small portion of our population will probably take advantage of them until they become more mainstream.
Meredith Farkas is head of instructional initiatives at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, and part-time faculty at San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science. She blogs at Information Wants to Be Free and created Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki. Contact her at librarysuccess[at]gmail.com.