I wrote about QR codes and their possible role within libraries about two years ago. I also discussed QR codes at the 2008 Medical Library Association conference on the Tech Trends panel and more recently discussed how they were being used at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show.
I thought I needed to bring up the topic once again when Educause sent out The 7 Things You Should Know About QR Codes the other day.
While conventional bar codes can store about 20 digits of information, a single QR (quick response) code is capable of handling 7,089 characters including numeric and alphabetic characters, symbols, and binary data. One can store just about anything as a QR code, including images. QR codes are quite durable since the allow up to 30% of the code to be obscured or removed by dirt, marks or damage and still readable. The nice thing is that there are many online services which generate QR codes and they can be printed as a graphic image. The QR code is an established ISO (ISO/IEC18004) standard.
Another emerging high density bar code technology is the Microsoft Tag, which uses up to eight-different colored triangles which are aligned left to right with each shape placed from point to base or vice versa. That combination of colors and orientation of the triangles creates distinct patterns which can be read by piece of software which deciphers the data. Up to 3,500 characters of information can be held in the Tag.
High density bar codes like QR codes and Microsoft Tag can both serve a similar function: linking the physical to networked resources for either objects or locations. Librarians could put these bar codes on handouts could direct customers directly to databases, a journal article or a current bibliography. Codes on various physical services could lead customers to help and tip sheets. Codes on promotional and marketing materials could lead customers to library resources.
As Educause points out, the greatest importance of high density bar codes like QR codes may not lie not in their specific use, which may be superseded by newer codes and interpreters, but in the opportunities they offer for moving away from keyboards as input devices in learning environments. This will grow in importance as library users rely more and more upon mobile devices.
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