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December 2011

QR Codes – What Are Those Strange Things?

December 12, 2011 | Mary-Beth | Comments (1)

Picture1Have you noticed how these funny square codes with lots of dots in them are appearing in a lot of places – like on a subway advertisement or beside an article in a newspaper?

QR actually stands for quick response, and the codes were originally created in 1994 to track vehicle parts during the manufacturing process.  QR codes are a kind of matrix barcode which encodes any kind of information – up to 4,296 alphanumeric or 7,089 numeric characters.

How do you read them?  Most smart phones come loaded with software such as “ScanLife”, or you can download the software from your favourite app store – I’ve used “Scan” on my Apple product.  With the software, you then need either a wireless connection or a monthly data plan with your phone company.  Once set up, activate the software, hold it up to the code, center it and wait for it to scan the information.

How are libraries using them?


  • Scan the QR code to reserve a study room
  • Scan the QR code to view computer availability in the branch
  • Use QR code on your signature file or business card


  • Quickly find the day's programs at a library
  • Put QR codes on event posters – can link to information – audio or visual, sign up form, contact information etc.

Readers Advisory

  • Place codes on physical books to be taken to something like Book Buzz or book reviews about the item
  • Tag popular books with QR codes that point to read-alikes


  • Implement email or SMS reference service by placing the codes around in various locations
  • Make bookmarks with QR codes leading to a research assistance page on the website
  • Place QR codes on end of bookshelves to point to subject guides
  • Put QR codes on print journals or books to point to online versions [e.g. Gale Virtual Reference Library]


  • Link to online tutorials – vodcast links via QR codes
  • Place QR code on a device that frequently needs explaining [e.g. microfilm reader] and the code leads to a vodcast explaining how to use it
  • Create a game – such as a QR code scavenger hunt game to orient you to the library - each code leads to the next location


  • Have codes on website points to the mobile version
  • Place the QR code on the item record in the catalogue get a call number, title and floor where the book is located
  • Partner with the local bus company to provide free access to e-books and library services via QR code

Nancy L phone number.phpAgincourt Library was used as a pilot location to use QR codes and they used them for things like the contact number for Spyders when having trouble accessing wifi, the schedule for the Toronto Public Health flu vaccination schedules, and much more. 

If you are interested in trying something in your library, contact Nancy Lee or Mary-Beth Clark  for more information and tips on what works and what doesn’t.  

IST Fall Conference - Trends in Reference Service

December 4, 2011 | Diana | Comments (1)


(Conference speakers left to right: Rebecca Raven, Director, Public Service, Hamilton Public Library; Debbie Green, Head, Research and Reference Services, Robarts Library, University of Toronto; and Gail Richardson, Consultant, Libraries Moving Forward)

The annual fall conference was held on November 22 and the first guest speaker of the programme was Debbie Green, Head of Reference and Research Services, Robarts Library, University of Toronto.  Green's presentation was titled 'Watching Trends in Academic Reference Service'. She covered a lot of ground in her talk- including  service innovations at Robarts Library, the need to measure the value of reference service as opposed to simply assessing the needs of users, the role of mobile devices and pilot projects in providing reference services, and much more.

Not surprisingly, reference service at Robarts Library shares some trends we see in TPL.  In-person reference questions have shown a continous and significant deline over the last 15 years.  The demand for virtual reference services however, increases with each year. There is a high demand for remote access and users at Robarts want maximum self service.  Ask a Librarian Chat use is very high and is rated as an excellent use of staff resources.

We heard about the embedded instruction model used for teaching information literacy at the University of Toronto, where library instruction is a part of a course requirement and tailored to the course.  Pilot projects launched using smartphones, Kobos and iPads were popular with students and helped staff to gain a lot more expertise with the devices.  QR codes were employed to get users to contact the Chat service.  Some services such as the opportunity for a student to have an hour long consultation with a librarian were not so successful.  Students wanted a shorter version and this effort proved to be a poor use of professional time.

Several other pilot projects were highlighted by Green such as Librarian with a Laptop, Librarian on Location and Feedback Fridays- all designed to get library staff out from behind the reference desk and interacting directly with library users.  Green reported that students did not always catch on to the purpose of these pilots, though they generated a lot of excellent press. All in all, the pilots were a good learning experience, easily foldable if they did not reach their full potential and a lot of fun for staff.  All food for thought in any library environment.  Stay tuned for further blog posts on the fall conference in upcoming weeks.

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