QR codes

What is a QR Code

A QR or Quick Response code is a two-dimensional bar code which can be interpreted by any phone, tablet or mobile device with camera capabilities. Unlike traditional barcodes, which feature a series of straight lines these QR barcodes are laid out in a matrix and can hold a massive amount of data. By ‘scanning’ the small black and white square, you can access the information behind the QR which might contain images, website links, and/ or text

History of the QR Code

QR codes were originally created in 1994 by Toyota subsidiary Denso Wave in Japan to track parts and vehicles, but the car company elected not to use their patent rights so their use became widespread. From 2002 Japanese mobile phone manufacturers started to pre-install barcode readers in all their camera phones as standard creating a marketplace phenomenon that the rest of the world is now embracing.

Getting started with QR Codes

You don’t need to be a technology whiz to use and create QR codes. All you need is –

  • A smart phone (e.g. iPhone, Android) or a mobile device with a camera (e.g. iPad)
  • A good internet connection
  • A QR Code reader/ generator app.  There are plenty to choose from and the majority are completely free!

How Do You Scan the QR Code?

Once you have installed the app, start up the reader and snap a picture of the required QR Code. Make sure that your hand is steady and that you are able to fit the entire code into the picture. There will be some instances when a scan fails, do not worry, just keep snapping! Depending on your software, it may take from 5 to 30 seconds for the application to display the writing behind the code.

How to read QR codes with a Webcam                                                                                                                                           

The vast majority of QR codes are scanned on mobile devices, but if you have not got one of these you may want to use the standard webcam on your laptop or desktop computer to decode QR codes – this is not particularly easy and not always successful but can be done! Of course your computer webcam must be connected and working on your laptop or desktop computer. If you use a website to decode your QR code, you won’t need to install any software. If you are using a computer program or app to decode the QR code, you’ll first need to download it and install it. QR code scanning programs have two methods of capturing the QR code image. The more difficult to use is when you must take a snapshot of the code. The QR code reader programs that automatically capture the QR code from a live video image are easier to use because you can simply move the QR code in several positions in front of the camera until it automatically processes a readable image.

Making your own QR code

Of course if you want to use QR Codes you need to be able to generate them! There are numerous code generators on the internet that you can use for free to produce your own QR Codes. The process is very simple. Just enter the data you want to use – a web address (URL), some text or a text message – into the QR code generator and in just a few minutes it will be converted into a ready-made code. See How to create a QR Code in 3 easy steps. Scan the code to see it works properly before you print it out and when positioning it make sure it’s on a flat surface. It won’t work if it’s folded or on a curve. The glare of a book cover or shiny tape can also cause problems.

Useful tip: When generating your QR code, shorten the URL, by using a service such as Bitly. Sites such as these also allow you to monitor usage of your code, so you can see how often someone has scanned it. Great potential here for school library promotions

Using QR Codes in the school library

QR Codes are free to create, flexible, fun, and a great way to add an exciting new dimension to your  library’s resources and services. So how can QR Codes be used in a school library? The possibilities are endless but here are a few suggestions to get you started

  • Use QR codes pasted on to the covers of popular books to recommend further reading, list other titles in the series,  link to websites containing author interviews and book trailers
  • Revise your library brochure and place a QR code on the front that links to your library’s website
  • QR Codes on the covers of  DVDs and audiobooks could point users to video trailers of the films and lists of readalikes
  • As for book shelves, perhaps each book shelf could be embedded with QR Codes linking to reading lists/recommended books.
  • Liven up library induction lessons with a scavenger (‘scan-venger’) hunt where all the clues are on QR Codes posted around the library
  • Let pupils create their own QR Codes to recommend books to their peers
  • Make library posters and notices more interactive – QR Codes can link to websites, Flickr pictures, floor plans, maps etc.
  • In Information Literacy lessons let pupils use QR codes to cite the page references they have used for their research. This is a great idea as you can check for plagiarism issues on the spot!

But as exciting as all this may be, one must be careful not to exclude those users who do not use QR Codes. Information must be included in both normal text form as well as in QR Code.


Nothing that has to do with technology is ever seamless. So here are some useful tips:

  • If you do decide to use QR codes in your library you may just want to be sure that users know what to do with them by affixing a little note under or beside the code that says something like “Scan me  for more information”
  • Be sure to scan QR codes every so often to check that they are still linking to an active website, video or blog.
  • Decide whether or not you want to include videos that link to YouTube since on YouTube, you cannot control what ads might pop up
(Last updated by Denise Reed on  20 May, 2017)

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