Thing 9: QR Codes

8 Jul

They’re popping up everywhere! Those little boxes that you can scan with a mobile phone.  Welcome to the world of QR Codes – Quick Response Codes.

So what do these boxes/codes look like?  Here’s one:

ANZ 23 Mobile Things

(If you know how to scan QR Codes, why not find out what this links to?)

Let’s find out a little more about these boxes – but don’t look too closely, as you might start seeing pictures in them. 🙂

What are they?  What do they do?  Who invented them?

QR Codes were originally invented in 1994 by Denso Wave, a Japanese company that is a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corporation in their quest to track car parts during the automotive assembly process (“QR Code”, 2013).   They are 2 dimensional barcodes that provide substantially more flexibility than standard barcodes.  Standard barcodes can only contain 20 alpha-numeric characters (Struyk, 2012).  QR Codes can contain 7,089 numeric or 4,296 alphanumeric characters, including non-alphabet characters, such as Japanese and Chinese characters (Gazin, 2011) .   This gives much greater flexibility.  QR Codes boomed throughout Japan in the 1990s, as people recognised the marketing potential of them.   They then gained huge popularity in the USA and other parts of the world through the 2000s (Pitney Bowes, 2012).

They can provide links to company web addresses, competition pages, information sign-up pages, email contact forms etc.  Unlike barcodes, they can be read from any direction (Denso ADC, 2011).  Some QR codes even interact with your smartphone so that your phone automatically dials a certain number (Allen, 2013).  QR codes in magazines and/or books often take readers to additional online content.

Here’s a great video introduction to QR Codes:

Or the QR code for this video:

QR Codes

Where might you see them?

You can see QR Codes anywhere where a company, organisation, or person wants to market a product to, provide more information to, or connect with, other people. Possible locations for QR codes include marketing posters, billboards, static displays, items of mail, business cards, QR code tattoos on skin, a wide range of products, product packaging, labels, information signs for tourists, t-shirts, stickers, wine bottles, on teachers webpages and worksheets etc. etc.  They’ve even been used on tombstones, to provide information about the person interred! (Santos, 2013). (I’m sure there are more places where QR codes are seen… where else have you seen a QR code?) QR codes can also be generated on your smartphone for discount vouchers, tickets and other entry documentation, then when you arrive at the place the voucher/ticket etc. is for, the shopkeeper can scan the QR code on your phone.  This can be used for store discounts as well.

Here’s some interesting places that QR codes might be found:

20 Interesting Things: QR Codes (Slideshare presentation)

QR Code:
20 Interesting Things

26 Creative Ways to use QR Codes

QR Code:
26 Creative Ways to use QR codes

Are New Zealanders using them?

QR Codes are hugely popular in the USA and in Japan.  However, they have been relatively slow to take off in New Zealand (Harris, 2012).  Having said that, the use of QR codes is increasing rapidly.  International tourists recognise QR codes instantly, so it’s a potentially great marketing method for the tourism industry.  The potential is there in many other environments as well, including in libraries!

See this article from Debbie Mayo-Smith on the potential for QR codes in New Zealand.

How easy is it to create QR codes?

QR codes are REALLY easy to create.  You just have to post the web address of whatever you want the QR code to link to into one of the hundreds code creators on the Internet.  Here’s a very basic New Zealand based QR code creator.

Kaywa is another popular option

I also like

Do you have a favourite?

How can you read QR codes?

There are many QR reader apps available for all the varieties of smartphone that are out there.  Some of the most popular are:

Quick Scan Pro  Quick Scan Pro

Scan  Scan

Red Laser  Red Laser

Bakodo  Bakodo

QR Droid  QR Droid

Some interesting things about QR codes

Here’s some interesting facts about QR Codes and their use.

10 Cool Facts about QR Codes


10 cool facts about QR codes

What possibilities are there for libraries in the use of QR codes?

A number of libraries are already using QR codes very successfully in meeting the needs of their customers.

Sarah-Jane Saravani from Wintec gave an interesting presentation on their use of QR codes in the Wintec Library at the LIANZA Centenary Conference in Dunedin – December 2010.  Her slides are here:

Saravani presentation on QR Codes

The library at Waimea Intermediate School in Richmond, Nelson, used QR codes during the Rugby World Cup by putting codes on some rugby books so that school pupils could come to the library, scan the codes and learn more about the rugby teams.  This was so successful, that the school librarian, Annette McKitrick, used QR codes again for a Christmas display.

See QR Code Christmas Display.

Turning overseas, here’s a recently published article on the use of QR codes at the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library of the Harvard College Library.

QR Codes have also been used in public libraries overseas.  Here’s a video of how the Skokie Public Library in Skokie, Illinois, USA is using QR Codes in their library. 

Here’s a web link that gives examples of a range of libraries have done with QR codes.

Really thinking outside the box, here’s an article about QR codes replacing a library in the Austrian town of Klagenfurt.

What about your libraries, 23 Things peeps?  Share your experiences with QR codes in responses below.

But is this just a passing fad, or a brilliant marketing and outreach tool?

There are views both ways.  Here’s the view of someone who definitely believes that they are a passing fad.  But this blogger still says that we should use them as part of a mobile marketing toolbox.  This blogger is also quite critical of QR codes.  A number of other people feel that QR Codes are already being replaced by new technology.  However, there are others who think that they are absolutely here to stay and offer a huge amount to anybody wanting to connect with other people, particularly in a promotional environment.  For example, see Game Changer or Passing Fad and QR Codes – passing fad or here to stay?

What do you think?  Why do you think they haven’t taken off in New Zealand?


1) Are QR Codes just the latest fad?

2) Do you have any stories of trying out QR codes in your library that either have or haven’t worked?

3) Are QR codes too difficult to scan?  What problems have you had?

4) How could libraries across the board get more creative with QR codes?

5) What do you think of the ‘QR codes replacing a public library’ concept in Klagenfurt, Austria?

6) QR Code links are just as susceptible to broken links as stand weblinks.  Is this a problem?

Why not put add a response below to tell us all!


Allen, M. (2013, January 21). 6 awesome ways to use QR codes (call tracking is one;) [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Gazin, G. (2011, June 21). A QR code tells a much story than a barcode. Troy Media. Retrieved from

Harris, C. (2012, July 24). Consumers crack the QR code. Retrieved from:

QR Code. (2013). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from

Pitney Bowes. (2012). Getting ahead of the emerging QR Code marketing trend: A Pitney Bowes report into current levels of QR Code usage across Europe and the U.S. Retrieved from

Santos, S. (2011, March 15). 10 things you’ve always wanted to know about QR codes [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Struyk, T. (2012). Introduction to QR Codes. Retrieved from


Thanks Adrian for a great introduction to QR Codes.  We are having another twitter chat this week, and will post information about it this afternoon.

3 Responses to “Thing 9: QR Codes”

  1. Raewyn The-Librarian July 10, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    I have been experimenting with QR codes and created a bookmark advertising our e-books as well as a children’s reading program based around a blog site. Both of these services lend themselves to ipads and tablets therefore the QR code is a natural entry point.


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