Tuesday, February 08, 2011

QR Codes in Libraries

QR code created using goQR.me

After reading about them for years, QR codes (i.e. quick response codes) have finally picked up traction here in the states. QR code's potential lies in automating information retrieval and bridging the physical world to online resources. By using the camera on one's smart device loaded with the appropriate software, users can take a picture of the code and automatically gather Web addresses, location and contact information, small amounts of text, and other important pieces of information.

Video: QR Codes at the Library!

Through QR codes, libraries are beginning to experiment with new ways to improve user experience and broaden users' information gathering capabilities. Examples includes linking to catalog records, reader advisory services, marketing/resource discovery through scavenger hunts, and other inventive uses. Contra Costa County Library's Snap & Go project has even partnered with the WestCAT busline to offer audio books via a download to the user's cell phone. From this perspective, the library is able to extend into non-traditional locations with minimal capital. The opportunities for libraries also include increased positive impressions and usage frequency. QR codes could be a powerful reinforcement of the library's commitment to the communities it serves.

With all the potential for QR codes, I can't help but ponder how their usage further increases a mobile divide. Librarians in the 90's rightly questioned how to provide services for those who do not own computers. The digital divide is still a concern, but less so now in the U.S. Libraries have, especially in urban settings, negated issues of the digital divide through computer acquisitions. However, mobile devices, in particular smart phones capable of reading & translating qr codes, can not be treated the same. The cost of acquiring smart devices just for additional resource discovery does not outweigh the benefit. Thus, the usage of QR codes is an added benefit for those who have the means to own the devices.

Libraries would also be diverting resources to a small, but admittedly growing, population. In 2010, CNN cited Forrester Research indicating smartphone ownership is only 17% of the 82% of Americans that actually have cell phones.

Personally, I would not let these issues deter me from incorporating QR codes within a library. The opportunity to increase information discovery, community touchpoints, and add greater value to users' experience outweigh the costs.

It will be interesting to see additional uses as well as how well QR codes are received and adopted--not only in our libraries but throughout our communities.

Further Reading

College & Research Libraries News: QR Codes and Academic Libraries
QR codes - Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki
Musings About Librarianship: QR Codes for Libraries - Some Thoughts
That's GREAT!: 101 Uses For Quick Response (QR) Codes: Creating Audience Engagement With The Next Killer US App
Mashable: HOW TO: Use QR codes for Small Business Marketing

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