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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.  


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