Thing #89: QR Codes

This month’s Thing has been borrowed and modified from the ANZ 23 Mobile Things program, run by the ALIA NGAC (Australian Library and Information Association New Generation Advisory Committee) and New Professionals Network NZ.

They’re popping up everywhere! Those little boxes that you can scan with a mobile phone. Welcome to the world of QR Codes – Quick Response Codes.

QR codes are useful IF your library patrons know what to do with them and if your staff knows how to generate them to connect your physical and online spaces.

So what do these boxes/codes look like? Here’s one:




If you know how to scan QR Codes, why not find out what this links to?

Let’s find out a little more about these boxes – but don’t look too closely, as you might start seeing pictures in them. 🙂

What are they? What do they do? Who invented them?

QR Codes were originally invented in 1994 by Denso Wave, a Japanese company that is a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corporation in their quest to track car parts during the automotive assembly process. They are 2 dimensional barcodes that provide substantially more flexibility than standard barcodes. Standard barcodes can only contain 20 alpha-numeric characters. QR Codes can contain 7,089 numeric or 4,296 alphanumeric characters, including non-alphabet characters, such as Japanese and Chinese characters. This gives much greater flexibility. QR Codes boomed throughout Japan in the 1990s, as people recognised the marketing potential of them. They then gained huge popularity in the USA and other parts of the world through the 2000s.

They can provide links to company web addresses, competition pages, information sign-up pages, email contact forms etc. Unlike barcodes, they can be read from any direction. Some QR codes even interact with your smartphone so that your phone automatically dials a certain number. QR codes in magazines and/or books often take readers to additional online content.

Here’s a great video introduction to QR Codes:

You can see QR Codes anywhere where a company, organisation, or person wants to market a product to, provide more information to, or connect with, other people. Possible locations for QR codes include marketing posters, billboards, static displays, items of mail, business cards, QR code tattoos on skin, a wide range of products, product packaging, labels, information signs for tourists, t-shirts, stickers, wine bottles, on teachers webpages and worksheets etc. etc. They’ve even been used on tombstones, to provide information about the person interred!. (I’m sure there are more places where QR codes are seen… where else have you seen a QR code?) QR codes can also be generated on your smartphone for discount vouchers, tickets and other entry documentation, then when you arrive at the place the voucher/ticket etc. is for, the shopkeeper can scan the QR code on your phone. This can be used for store discounts as well.

How easy is it to create QR codes?

QR codes are REALLY easy to create. You just have to post the web address of whatever you want the QR code to link to into one of the hundreds code creators on the Internet, such as:

  • Kaywa
  • QR Code Generator
  • QR Stuff
  • Use QRpedia to create a QR code to link to a Wikipedia article of your choice.
  • URL shortener site can also generate QR codes, and it also tracks viewing statistics. After your short URL has been created, click “Details” to see the QR code.

How can you read QR codes?

There are many QR reader apps available for all the varieties of smartphone that are out there. These are just a few of the options:

What possibilities are there for libraries in the use of QR codes?

A number of libraries are already using QR codes very successfully in meeting the needs of their customers.

Dutch libraries use QR codes in a project encouraging kids to read more – QR Codes in books link to videos of kids recommending the book.

Immersive Library project at NTU Libraries – QR codes provide streamed audio biographies as well as bibliographies of business leaders.

QR Code Christmas Display – QR codes on books link to related videos and information.

QR Code Quest: a Library Scavenger Hunt

Where in the Library is Carmen Sandiego?: An Interactive Library Mystery Game

A public library that only uses QR codes – An Austrian city without a public library plasters QR codes with free books throughout its streets.

There are even more stories of libraries using QR codes in the Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki.


  1. Use one of the QR Code Generators to create your own QR Code.
  2. If you have a smartphone, download one of the QR Code Readers and use it to scan any QR codes you can find.
  3. Create a blog post about your exploration of QR Codes. Include a QR Code you created in your blog post, so we can see what you came up with. Some ideas to think about:
    • Are QR Codes just a passing fad or a brilliant marketing and outreach tool?
    • Are they easy or difficult to create and use?
    • How can libraries get more creative with QR Codes?
    • Do you have any stories of trying out QR Codes in your library that have either worked or not worked?
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4 Responses to Thing #89: QR Codes

  1. Pingback: Nebraska Learns 2.0: QR Codes and Cyberbooks - Nebraska Library Commission BlogNebraska Library Commission Blog

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