With a QR Here, and a QR There…

Imagine getting the whole community involved in a live, real time scavenger hunt.  Starting at the library, patrons scan a QR code that leads them to a local business.  At the business, they search for a second QR, which leads them to a third site.  And on and on they go, visiting local landmarks and patronizing community businesses, all the while interacting with new and familiar faces and connecting over a common book.

That’s just what the library staff from Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library (TSCPL) in Topeka, Kansas did in 2013.  As part of The Big Read initiative––a grant-funded fall reading program–TSCPL chose The Maltese Falcon and created a lot of fun events around it, including a communitywide scavenger hunt, done via QR Codes. Michael Porter and David Lee King describe the event:  “TSCPL partnered with several area businesses on this event including a chocolate store, two art galleries, a cupcake shop, and a bookstore. Participants began the scavenger hunt at the library. The first stop was to scan the QR Code by the Maltese Falcon display. Doing that gave participants a name and address of the next stop in the game. Patrons had to drive to the next site and find the QR Code” (2013, para 2).

Sounds fun, right?  But what exactly are QR codes, and how can they be used in the library?

QR Codes Explained

Quick Response (QR) Codes–also known as 2d codesj, 2d barcodes, or mobile codes–are a type of matrix barcode that can be read by smartphones and mobile phones with cameras.  They are typicaly small, black and white square codes with geometric shapes, although they can be colored or even branded.  QR codes can hold far more data than a barcode, including URLs, phone numbers, SMS messages, V-cards, or text.  Developed in the early 1990s, they are referred to as quick response codes because they can be decoded at a very high speed (Ashford, para. 3).

Creating QR Codes

QR Codes can be generated quite simply via free code generators.  Generators differ in the types of QR Codes that you can create; for example, they may allow URL, text, phone number, or SMS and provide a range of options for code sizes.  Batching is generally quick and easy, so printing codes can be as simple as a single large print job.

QR Codes and Libraries

QR Codes are convenient, low-cost, easy to implement, and easy to use–a great value for any business or library looking to get a lot of bang out of their buck.  Libraries are using QR Codes in a variety of ways, by:

  • Linking QR Codes to library audio tours for orientations,
  • Adding QR codes to printed handouts for additional information,
  • Linking to websites,
  • Affixing to media cases to link to online media,
  • Placing on books/book cases to link to author interviews or book reviews,
  • Snap and go mobile library services,
  • Tagging bookshelves to point to subject guides,
  • Creating games,

and more!

The Topeka Experiment

How did the TSCPL Scavenger Hunt end?  Admittedly, the end participation was a little bit underwhelming–only eight library patrons finished the contest in full.  But with more than 300 initially responding, library staff still considered the experiment a win.  They learned more about their user community and brought people together.  They also learned how to use–and how not to use–QR Codes in their community.  They also drew attention to the book selected for their project

The Lowdown

What new knowledge, skills or understanding have you gained?  (Description)

This week, I learned about QR codes and how they can potentially be used in libraries.

How can you use what you have learned?  (Application)

I think that QR Codes can have a variety of applications in a library environment.  From using QR Codes to provide information and links in house to creating opportunities for patrons to interact with the community, QR provides a quick, easy, and inexpensive means of connecting with patrons.

How does it relate to library work?  (Reflection)

QR Codes relate to library work because they present an opportunity for libraries to use current, popular technology in the library in novel ways.  For the technologically inclined librarian, QR presents almost endless possibilities for connection with patrons and the community.

What resources (activities) have helped you to understand and/or have been interesting to use?  (Activities/Resources)

Ashford, R.  (2010).  QR codes and academic libraries: Reaching mobile users.  College & Research Libraries News.  Retrieved from http://crln.acrl.org/content/71/10/526.full

LibSuccess.org.  (n.d.).  QR codes.  Retrieved from http://www.libsuccess.org/QR_Codes

Porter, M. & King, D.L.  (2013).  QR codes in libraries: Some examples.  Public Libraries Online.  Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2013/04/qr-codes-in-libraries-some-examples/

Princeton University Libraries.  (2015).  QR codes demystified:  QR codes in libraries.  Retrieved from http://libguides.princeton.edu/c.php?g=84271&p=543284



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