Barcoding the Library’s Future

How many of you have a phone that accesses the Internet?...

How many of you have a phone that accesses the Internet? And if you do have a smartphone, how many of you have left that phone further than 5 feet/meters away from you right now?  I'm guessing that if any of you answered yes to that second question, you are now patting pockets and enduring mild panic attack symptoms as you try and remember where on earth you left it. Smartphones are small, portable, have instant connectivity and are always close at hand. This is a super advantage that libraries and librarians are well positioned to make the most of.

For example, mobile phones can help us provide situated information spaces by linking the physical and the virtual. It would be hard to provide library help at all times in all your campus' buildings, departments, dorms and study areas. Smartphones can provide this point of need help; help when the user actually needs it rather than just-in-case help. These are not new ideas but have been made scalable and achievable by the advent of smartphones, and in particular Augmented Reality, Geo-location tools, and QR codes, which I will cover in this issue.

QR Codes, also known as quick response codes or barcodes, are small 2D barcodes that can be scanned by a smartphone and link to webpages, videos, contact details, maps and more. Most new smartphones have built-in QR code readers or scanners, but it is also easy to download QR code apps. Similarly, many programs allow easy creation of QR codes; try Kaywa.  So what can you link to? Try the following for size:

Wayfinding: Put QR codes in hard to navigate areas. Patrons can link to a map that shows people how to get to the circulation desk, or a map of the stacks, which can then be carried around and bookmarked.

Help: QR codes can link to phone numbers (i.e., the Research Desk) or contact details (i.e., a librarian's e-mail address) in the stacks or mobile friendly chat reference windows.

Advertising: Posters with QR codes could link to promotional videos, mobile calendars, the library's twitter feed, mobile web/catalog, and mobile databases; one click and the user is at the webpage without having to type in the long URL.

Outreach: Provide a link to your contact details or your departmental office hour information. Include a vcard QR code on all your outreach posters and users can save your contact details as a contact in their phone.

Collections: Link to digital copies (or records of the microfilm) of periodicals and newspapers in your reading room, online versions of reference materials, or reviews/recommendations of new books. Link to digital exhibits or videos around campus or in the library.

QR Codes are flexible, easy to use, and do a great job of providing more return on investment from our electronic and physical resources. If you bear in mind obvious accessibility issues, such as non-smartphone users and disabled patrons, as well as planning for user education, it is easy to create effective, enhanced links between your building and community.


Alison Hicks
University of Colorado, Boulder