QR Codes: What are they good for?

26 Oct

I have to be honest, I have not personally had great experiences with QR codes. I’ve had an iPhone for a few years now, and I do have a QR code reader. I usually feel that the dependence on network connectivity (3G or wi-fi), which can be really inconsistent, can make this a frustrating experience when QR destinations take a long time to load.

The other bad experience with QR codes is that I have rarely encountered one that really saved time over a process that is just as easy to do by typing a shortened or vanity URL into my browser in most cases. If it isn’t really improving the process it is creating, it is less compelling. For example, the most I ever used QR codes was at New York Public Library’s Find the Future “Write All Night” Centennial event this past May. The idea was that a game app on our smartphones would direct us to artifacts throughout the library. At the artifact, we would scan a QR code that gave us a writing task to help collectively complete 100 hundred stories overnight. However, throughout the night, the smart phone app had some glitches and some artifacts were mislabeled or omitted accidentally. At this point, we realized that by clicking a button under listed artifacts on the game’s website, we could “activate” the artifacts for the game the same as if we had walked to the artifact and scanned the QR code. As the night wore on, the motivation wasn’t compelling, so many people just skipped the QR step.

I have to believe, though, that it doesn’t have to be this way!  To try to improve over my own experiences, my ideas for using QR codes in the school library assume:

  • the network connectivity is stable and fast for all smart phone users (thus minimizing frustration and fulfilling that “time-saving” requirement)
  • All of the library users have access to a smart phone with a QR reader (alternatively, destination URLs should also be listed below the QR code image so users without smartphones can access them by writing down the URL and navigating to it on a library computer).

Advisory – Book trailers throughout the stacks: This idea evolves from something my well-loved local bookstore does.  The bookstore has staff (and customer!) recommendations that are indicated by index cards that are attached to the shelf below the titles recommended

WORD Bookstore Recommendation Card

From WORD Brooklyn's flickr photo stream

E-book links on the physical shelves: To follow along with the electronic-content-in-the-physical-stacks idea, how about QR codes right underneath a physical book that indicates an e-book version is available of that title? The QR code could link directly to the place in the catalog the e-book can be checked out, and the e-book can go straight onto a student’s reading app on their smart phone.

Project display enhancement: Imagine that students work for a month on dioramas, posters, or artwork related to a research project. They then need to present this product to their class and teacher at the culmination. Many times, the library is a great place to display this work for parent nights, end of the year celebrations, or during related themed months. How about letting students give context to their projects for passersby that check out the display? Each project on display could have a related QR code that could lead to a blog with a write-up about the students’ research or a video or audio recording of their oral presentation. It could be like having those guided tours at a museum right in your own library!

More ideas from some of my grad school colleagues:
Adventures at Grad School
Joy Edition
The Word on the Shelf

Check out this tutorial: How to create QR Codes in 3 Easy Steps from The Daring Librarian (h/t Erin Carey)

What are your experiences with QR codes? Do you have any ideas for how to use these in your workplace?  Please share in the comments!

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7 Responses to “QR Codes: What are they good for?”

  1. Stacey October 27, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    I am not really a fan of the QR code being used in the library. Why? Well, simply stated, not everyone has the phone with the app needed to access the QR code. So, if you use QR codes for something like book recommendations than only the library members with the phone and app will be able to see the recommendation. Unless, of course, the hard copy is displayed with the QR code. But if both are displayed, what is the point of the QR code? Isn’t it just more logical to have the recommendation displayed in the old-fashioned, handwritten pen and paper way so everyone has access to it?

    Anyhow, in my opinion, QR codes are a bad idea for libraries because in theory, libraries are supposed to be about ACCESSABILITY for ALL. QR codes are about accessibility for those that have the dough to afford a phone that uses the app needed. If we get QR app gung-ho we actually help to increase the digital divide. Unless we start lending cell phones with the app installed, QR codes are just wrong in libraries. I wish there was more conversation about how librarians can decrease the digital divide, rather than contribute to it…

    • bkbiblio October 27, 2011 at 11:49 am #

      Stacey, thanks for coming by and sharing your concerns which are all important things to think about. I should say that this post is really an exercise in brainstorming and idea generation. If you’re going to use them, how can you do it in a way that adds to the user experience and creates motivation? That’s what I was going for here. This may not be right for every library, and that’s OK.

      “Unless, of course, the hard copy is displayed with the QR code. But if both are displayed, what is the point of the QR code?”

      To this, the “point” is just a nice-to-have kind of enhancement. If library users are there with their smartphone, this can add a multi-media/ interactive touch to the stacks which can add motivation and interest, particularly with middle school/ high school students, whose motivation for pleasure reading can tend to wane from the levels shown in elementary school. These kids love media and love to use their devices. We shouldn’t just do things because they are “cool”, but if it is cool and does add something, why not?

      It is also a nice way to demonstrate your library’s relevance and capabilities to people who think libraries are “only for books” and that we won’t need them anymore before long.

      However, displaying the URL copy below the code still gives other users who do not have this capability the opportunity to see the enhanced content either on a nearby library computer or by writing it down and checking it out when they get home if they’d like. This is a small gesture to try to bridge the divide for some.

      I don’t think that providing technological content and digital access to those who want it is a bad thing or that on the other hand, we should hold back our capabilities and offerings until 100% of our users can use them. It doesn’t mean we can’t also do our best to address this divide in our other efforts. Would you say that libraries should avoid creating web sites until everyone has broadband Internet access in their homes? That may never happen. Should we not provide e-books until everyone has an e-reader? Some people will never want to use them. But those who do shouldn’t be prohibited from accessing these media in the meantime, in my opinion.

      I do hope you come again and keep sharing your comments and questions!

      • Marilyn Arnone October 27, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

        I enjoyed reading your response as much as your original post, Mary. I agree with you what you said about not waiting until everyone has a particular device or access to a service before making it available. I struggled with this myself when we first started the SOS for Information Literacy resource. Not everyone had broadband and we tried to make videos of librarians in action available on the site. It was stressful at first because we had to make the videos very small and then sometimes try and provide larger sizes for those who did have broadband. I think when anything is brand new, we should try to meet the needs of those who haven’t yet adopted or can’t afford to buy the new device or service, as well as the early adopters (and those who can afford the purchase). It is more work but eventually things level out. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  2. bkbiblio October 27, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    @Marilyn, it’s so true. I believe that while we stay relevant we need to struggle to consider a wide spectrum of needs. I feel in this profession, people are constantly trying to reconcile what’s best with what’s affordable, what’s right with what’s doable, and what’s interesting with what is valuable. If it was easy, everyone would be a librarian, right?

    • Marilyn Arnone October 27, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      Absolutely. It’s a balancing act when things are still on the bleeding edge, that’s for sure.

  3. joyedition October 27, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    Hi Mary –
    I have a hard time with QR codes for reasons that you mentioned, plus in NYC students are currently not allowed to use their own electronics at school. Students can take a QR code to the computer, but that doesn’t help them practice searching skills.

    However, I also like the general idea “but if it is cool and does add something, why not?” Students would find it fun (at least at first), or the QR codes might be helpful for a young student who doesn’t have the skills or patience to write down a URL. Also, just thinking of how to use QR codes gets the wheels turning about sharing information and what information to put out there. I would love to see more advocacy and awareness projects in schools.

    I don’t feel the need to use QR codes, but I am glad I found out how easy they are to make! I think students might feel the same way. I might want to use the QR reader more if your e-book idea were in place!

    Joy

    • bkbiblio October 27, 2011 at 11:48 pm #

      Thanks, Joy. I think it’s good to be familiar with the technology and how it can support instruction so that when a learning opportunity arises, we can recognize it and implement it. It seems like just a good development exercise when evaluating new technologies to think about how it could be used – both in an ideal world as well as the reality in which we are currently operating.

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