QR codes

23 May

Have you recently seen something that looks like the image below in stores, on signs, and on product packaging?

An example of a QR code

From Wikimedia Commons

These are called QR codes (QR = Quick Response) and are a type of barcode. The data encoded in a QR code is usually a URL (though it can be text or other data) and they have become increasingly popular as more people carry around mobile devices whose cameras allow them to “read” the QR codes.

For example, I was in Best Buy the other day, looking at laptops. On the shelf, a sign displayed the usual information: price, warranty, brand name, model number, and special features of the item I was looking at. At the bottom of the sign, there was a QR code that, if scanned with a mobile device, would take me to customer reviews of the product in question. So, this QR code was serving as a very quick link to customer reviews, a feature to which we’ve become accustomed when shopping online.

Some libraries are also using QR codes. How? In one example, a library posted QR codes on its study room doors that linked students to the study room availability calendar and reservation form. In another example, a library posted QR codes in the stacks that linked that linked to subject guides and e-resources about the Library of Congress subject heading the student was browsing (for example, a QR code in the “M” section might link a student to subject guides about musical topics or to a list of e-books or online databases relating to music).

Using QR Codes

To read a QR code with your phone/mobile device, you need a special app that will let your camera act as a barcode scanner (just taking a picture of the QR code won’t do anything). There’s several free ones out there, whatever type of device you have. I use i-nigma on my iPod touch. When you run into a QR code, you open the app, scan the code, and it will (usually) take you to a website.

Creating your own QR codes is simple. There are several websites that will generate them for you. One of the most popular is Kaywa.

Pros and Cons

One of the big advantages of QR codes is the ability to link physical and electronic resources (as in the example above, where the library linked its physical collection on online resources). Another significant plus is the ability to provide point-of-need information.

A disadvantage of using QR codes is that they are useless if your users don’t have the mobile devices to capture them (or, if they have the mobile devices but don’t know what a QR code is or how to use it). It seems to me that you wouldn’t want to disadvantage users without a mobile device by only providing information via QR code.

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