Barcode and QR code fun - Jo Alcock Consulting
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Barcode and QR code fun

Barcode and QR code fun

[picappgallerysingle id=”4505285″]A little while ago, I was involved in a very interesting discussion about utilising newer mobile technologies within libraries which began on Twitter (with @ijclark, @aarontay, @ostephens, and @chriskeene) and sparked experimentation and further discussion in the office.

1. Using your mobile phone as a library card

The first idea was prompted by this blog post from Aaron Tay. It introduces the Cardstar app, which allows users to enter their loyalty/membership card details into their iPhone (they are also developing an Android and Blackberry version) and use the barcode on their phone instead of their cards. I’d seen this in the App Store but hadn’t thought about its potential for library cards, but it seems some libraries have already started using it in this way.

Initially I was a little unsure about this as a colleague raised concerns that there was no way to check the identity of the owner. However, it was then pointed out that many public library cards have no photo ID and even libraries that do have photo ID on the card often have a self issue option so in theory anyone who found a lost card could use it to borrow material. As an aside, I later found out that our self issue machines could have added functionality to ask users for their PIN before allowing access to the account, which would overcome these problems (so long as the PIN was not recorded on the card of course and only given to the cardholder upon proof of identity – at my place of work we email the PIN so that only the true cardholder can get this information).

Anyway – on to the fun part! I decided to test the app to see if it would work with our systems. It took a bit of configuring (many thanks to Ben our systems guru!), but I eventually got my barcode on there and it worked! I tested it on my own PC and the issue counter (CCD barcode scanners), both of which worked fine, but I couldn’t get it to work on the self issue machines. I later discovered that this was because the self issue machines use laser scanners which can struggle to read barcodes from the iPhone as the surface is too reflective.

As Aaron points out – whether or not we encourage this app, we need to be aware of it as our tech savvy users may start using it and we will have to be aware of it and know our institution’s policy (which will likely depend on security measures currently used).

2. Using QR codes in libraries

We got chatting in the office about these sort of new technologies (I have an iPhone, my colleague has an Android phone), and the discussion turned to QR codes (watch this YouTube video for an introduction if you’re not familiar with QR codes),which you may have seen on products recently. Below is a QR code which should direct you to the homepage of the Joeyanne Libraryanne blog, try it out on your mobile (you’ll need a QR reader which are available for most camera phones, just google the model and QR reader):


QR codes are already appearing in some library OPACs. We decided to have a play, and created some QR codes to redirect to particular areas of our website. We tested it on both our phones with success, and then began thinking about possible applications for this. Some things I thought about were (not an extensive list, these are just some very simple ideas):

  • Including the QR code to electronic books/journals on the shelf near print books/journals which have an electronic equivalent
  • Including QR codes of useful websites/online reports/resources near the print stock (e.g. curriculum, education/health reports)
  • Including QR codes of relevant sections to our website at appropriate places in the building (e.g. to get up-to-date instructions for using equipment/facilities, or online bookings if we had them)
  • Using QR codes instead of URLs on guides/tipsheets and for advisors to share with users who have enquiries. This could maybe be developed to be included on clothing, like QRazystuff are planning. Many libraries use t-shirts for those helping with enquiries – maybe these could include QR codes to commonly accessed sections on the website?

I really enjoyed finding out more about these technologies. I think it’s really exciting to think about the future of libraries – both with the technologies such as QR codes, RFID and who knows what next; and also about innovative ways to develop our resources and services. There’s so much more to be done and it’s a great time to be part of the profession – I love keeping up-to-date on all the latest ideas from different areas (globally now, thanks to the improved online communication channels) and investigating their potential within MPOW (my place of work). I don’t know if either of these ideas in particular are going to become something that we use within MPOW at the moment, but the potential is there and it was really good to test the feasibility and see if it’s a viable prospect. There are a lot of ways we can definitely improve, and I’ll certainly be mentioning these ideas with other colleagues.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone is currently using either of these ideas or something similar, or if there are other similar uses we hadn’t considered? Please let me know in the comments. 🙂

  • Nick Jackson
    Posted at 12:36h, 11 February Reply

    On-phone barcodes would be great, except (as you mentioned) a lot of self-issue machines and barriers use laser scanners (which the iPhone doesn’t play nicely with). CCDs will work perfectly though.

    QR codes are a great idea in principle, as long as you remember that most readers are mobile. Adding QR codes in places of URLs on help sheets isn’t going to help anyone, since they need to whip out their phone, open the reader app, scan the code and then work out what to do with it. Unless your library services are mobile optimised, QR codes aren’t going to help anyone.

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 12:45h, 11 February Reply

      Thanks for your comment. My thinking was that a QR code on a help guide could be used to take you straight to the correct webpage on your mobile, which you could then bookmark for future use. In my experience, many people always have their mobiles handy so it wouldn’t take too much effort to read a QR code, although I agree it would probably not be widely used.

      I see more potential from OPACs though, many students already use their mobiles whilst at the OPACs to note the classmarks.

      • Nick
        Posted at 14:20h, 11 February Reply

        Here’s a good one – Horizon has the ‘My List’ feature for getting together a list of books you want. Have it generate a plain text QR Code with a list of all the call numbers. One snap and you’ve got your list with you.

        • Jo Alcock
          Posted at 14:55h, 13 February Reply

          That’s a great idea. You could create QR codes for module reading lists which could be inluded in module guides the students get in paper format.

  • Aaron Tay
    Posted at 12:57h, 11 February Reply

    Love your idea of QRcode tags to electronic journal at the physical locations of the hardcopy. We currently have a card slotted in that says electronic copy available. But qrcode makes sense

    Nick does have a point abt our sites having to be mobile friendly to be effective though.

    • Rachel
      Posted at 15:19h, 11 February Reply

      I really don’t get this – surely we’re at the stage now where our users *expect* journals to be online, and the only reason they’d be in the physical stacks is because there was no other way to get the article they needed? I would’ve thought any library user web-savvy enough to “get” QR codes wouldn’t need reminding that journals are online! And those that did need reminding, wouldn’t know what to make of a QR code!

      • Jo Alcock
        Posted at 17:03h, 11 February Reply

        I personally don’t think we’re yet at the stage where all our users expect journals to be online, although I agree that many do (I certainly do with my student hat on!). I do take on board your point that QR savvy people are likely to already be using e-journals though, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt to alert them to the electronic versions and help them get straight to them? I think it could be useful for highlighting e-books and particularly government reports as they are often difficult to find and students frequently come to the helpdesk asking if they’re available online.

  • Anne Robinson
    Posted at 11:30h, 12 February Reply

    Sorry to be stupid – but what is a QR code? This all sounds very interesting, but without an explanation I am totally stumped!

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 11:40h, 12 February Reply

      So sorry Anne – I had intended to add in a link to explain what QR codes but it completely escaped my mind. I’ll edit my post now.

  • Sue Lawson
    Posted at 22:29h, 13 February Reply

    Sacramento Public Library has ‘a QR code posted on the sidebar of its library blog, Grand Central, that, when scanned, will load the contact information for the library SMS reference service directly into the user’s phone.

    At Manchester we’ve been playing with QR codes & thinking of ways to use them in the library buildings and books. We can’t link to our website yet though as it’s not mobile friendly 🙁 We’d thought about adding a QR code to certain books. The code would link to the online catalogue record for that book – where you’d leave a book review.

    There are quite a few other suggestions in this blog post from the LoneWolfLibrarian and a link to Bath Uni Library’s use of QR codes.

    • Jo Alcock
      Posted at 17:25h, 18 February Reply

      Thanks for sharing these ideas Sue. I like the idea of having the QR code from the physical book link to the OPAC record where you could then leave a rating/review, unfortunately we don’t yet have this functionality in our OPAC (or a mobile friendly site).

      I came across a great example of a QR code yesterday – on a poster advertising EBSCO’s mobile interface. I really liked this as it’s publishing a mobile source which is the ideal use for QR codes. We have the EBSCO mobile interface, might have to consider adding the QR code to it on future printed promotional guides.

  • Graham
    Posted at 10:10h, 19 February Reply

    We’ve been considering using QR codes to publicise our (this is going to be confusing) mobile libraries – ie libraries on wheels.

    Maybe sticking up a poster in a street on the mobile route (‘Did you know there’s a library here?) with a QR code and url linking to a map / timetable of the mobile library’s routes.

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    Posted at 22:18h, 30 March Reply

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