This week I learned about QR codes, thanks to a mini-session by one of our site librarians after I missed the Digital Library Services Roadshow, where library staff were introduced to Open Access, QR codes and statistics (not sure what kind of statistics). I already knew a little bit about QR codes, because they’ve been around for a few years now, but what was interesting about this session was the ways in which libraries can use them.
First of all, the basics: What is a QR code? QR codes are “Quick Response” codes. They’re called that because they’re very quickly readable by digital scanners, such as the camera in a smartphone. They’re a sort of square barcode, essentially. You can encode a lot more data in a QR code than in a standard barcode, though, and that’s what makes them so useful.
QR codes allow you to get your video, URL, text, PDF or whatever else onto someone’s smartphone or tablet in a matter or seconds. They’re therefore a pretty handy way of getting help and information to people at the point of need – and that’s where they tie in with libraries. We can use them to hook people up with the information they need, without them having to go and find someone to talk to, which could be tricky in a large or busy library. At our library we’re using QR codes in a variety of ways – if you’re unsure of how to use the catalogue, there’s a QR code with a link to our podcast to show you how. If you’re not sure how self-service machines work, we’ve got a QR code for a video on that too. We’ve put one on the floorplan of the library, which links you to the website listing our opening times. We’ve got codes that link to our Facebook and Twitter pages, too.
There are tons of other uses for QR codes in libraries – apparently some libraries even use them in a noise-reporting system: if you’re in a room that’s too noisy, just scan the code and it’ll generate an email to the staff detailing your location, and they can come and deal with it. I found a webpage that lists some of the uses libraries have found for QR codes – check it out: http://www.libsuccess.org/QR_Codes I like the idea of using them for (self-)guided tours.
There are of course rules to using QR codes in libraries – the first is that obviously not everyone has the necessary equipment to use QR codes, and so in order to cater for them as well it’s a good idea to provide alternative ways of accessing the information they’re providing. Our catalogue help posters say something like “scan this code or visit YouTube and type in ‘xxxxx’”, which not only gives you a second method of getting to the video, but also provides transparency, making the poster more trustworthy than if it just displayed a QR code with no further information.
The other main rule is – as with a lot of things – less is more! This is to combat information overload. In the same way that most students seem to ignore the hundreds of posters cluttering up our walls, if you put a QR code on everything then people will stop noticing them. Therefore, at our library there is a dedicated inter-site team who decide what gets a QR code and what doesn’t, to maximise the impact of our messages.
An interesting point raised during our mini-session was whether you can actually tell whether QR codes are being used or not – and you can, sort of. If you’re willing to pay (and the prices are quite steep), you can use the analytics provided by QR-generating websites to track usage statistics. If you’d rather not, then you can make use of some free services, for example if you’re using your code to link to a YouTube video then you can use their analytics to see how many views came from a mobile device.
If you want to have a go at creating your own QR codes, there are loads of websites that will do it for you, for example qrstuff.com. The Android app I use to scan codes, QR Droid, also creates them for you on your phone, and has options that include creating codes for a geolocation, a PayPal payment or your business card! While looking around the internet for bits and pieces about QR codes, I came across some interesting stuff about their commercial uses in big marketing campaigns. For example,did you know you can get custom-made QR codes that incorporate logos or pictures? Maybe you did, but did you know you can also get chocolate QR codes? I’m imagining using these at a conference or fair as a marketing tool, although there’d have to be an allergy-free alternative too. Finally, here’s an article about some of the creative ways QR codes were used in advertising last year.