Tuesday, November 8, 2011

QR Codes: Are Libraries Doing It Wrong?

I've been seeing QR codes in more and more places lately. Like this one, spotted on a sidewalk near New York's Union Square neighborhood:

photo credit: author of this blog

This form of barcode is meant to be scanned by a smartphone. Once scanned, it can produce coupons, web links for further information, online demos, and lots more.

As someone who doesn't own a smartphone, I'm intrigued by QR codes and their increasing ubiquity. It is possible for libraries to capitalize on the rising popularity of QR codes; some have already taken steps in doing so. But according to Emily of the blog Emily's Notebook, some libraries are doing it wrong. See her post below.

Emily's Notebook * November 7, 2011

Libraries and QR Codes: You're Doing It Wrong

So, after listening to the talk about QR codes and libraries for a while, here are my thoughts on the matter. Feel free to disregard them entirely.

Basically, I feel like a lot of the libraries who are experimenting with using QR codes are sort of missing the point. And the boat.

It’s all good and fine to get enthusiastic about the possibilities for placing QR’s all over your library building: leading to online resources for the topic shelved in that area, for ebook versions of the classics on the shelves, for placing a hold on the book you see on the hold shelf for someone else. All good ideas.

But isn’t the whole point of QR codes that they are used with mobile devices? And doesn’t that mean that they have many more practical applications outside of your library buildings?

Something I run into a lot in LibraryLand is the tendency of librarians to think inside the four walls of their buildings. It’s an easy trap to fall into, since most librarians I know spend most of their time there. In their experience, the library building is their world, and the services offered center around what they can do there with and for the people who visit the building.

But what about those community members who never or rarely enter the building itself? It’s a question we need to ask constantly.

I think a lot of the retailers using QR codes have it right… or they’re getting there. Consider these uses I’ve seen recently:

  • On retail item packaging or displays: links to product demos, adds, more information, related information.
  • On advertisements: instant coupons to the phone, even a direct link to buy the advertised product online NOW.
  • On catalogs (see the Christmas Toy catalogs coming out about now!): For ordering the advertised item immediately, adding to a wishlist, reserving an item with a limited quantity
  • At Point of Purchase: Links to join customer loyalty clubs, mailing lists, coupons for next purchase
  • On something you take with you: Receipts, coffee cups, shopping bags
  • In the bathroom (or other high traffic areas): reaching a captive audience for many purposes.

It seems that these sorts of applications could translate nicely into a library situation, but many require taking the message on the road.

A few ideas off the top of my head:

  • Why not partner with local businesses to provide further information about the products they sell? The local nursery might happily place a library-branded QR leading to information on growing the plants on sale near a display. Grocery stores might be persuaded to place a QR link to recipes near the ingredients for seasonal dishes. Great advertising for the library and its services, good information for the community, and maybe prompting a sale for the local business. Win-win-win.
  • Next to your newsletter listing for an interesting program, place a QR code that takes one straight through the online registration process for that event. Or, if registration isn’t required, the code could add the event to their Google Calendar. Do the same with recommended reads or book club picks in your newsletter – just have the link lead them through the process of placing a hold on the title.
  • Advertisements and promotional materials have the potential of becoming a point-of-purchase if a QR code is attached. Advertising your ebook downloads service in the local paper? A QR to the mobile version of the service provides instant access. Those READ posterslibraries love so much? Could they include a QR to place a hold on the title the celeb is holding? (Hey! Rupert Grint likes “A Clockwork Orange!” Maybe I should read it!) How about a QR to the patron’s online account on those bookmarks you hand out – with instructions on how to renew the book they’re holding online? Or on the checkout receipt?
  • Try focusing your QR efforts in places within the community where smartphone use is probably high. The high school might be a great place to put QR codes to your online tutoring/homework help service. Moms of small children are really heavy smartphone users… why not have QR access to appropriate children’s services resources at Mommy and me, daycare centers, or grocery stores?
  • Another good place to put an access point is any place where people might be looking for information. We’ve all heard about the growing trend of people using Starbucks or Panera as their office. Might they need some info while they are there? Want to encourage them to use the library for this info? Might be time to have a conversation with the store manager.
  • I recently went to an art display of local historical photos set up at a community center. The photos had been enlarged to poster size, and were focused on the theme of amateur baseball teams that were active in our area in the 1800’s. Fascinating pictures. Wish I had more information about the subjects, places, teams, etc. Could have used a QR code next to each photo leading to well researched related information. It seemed like a missed opportunity to me. Are you missing opportunities like this within your community?
  • Alec Baldwin just donated $250,000 to one of the libraries in our area. YAY! While donations to your library might not always be quite so generous, it never hurts to make gifts to the library easier. Could an artfully placed QR code leading you an online donation form help? Maybe if it were presented as an opportunity to give a loved one a gift donation?

What other creative ideas can we come up with? Let’s get the QR’s out of the library building and into the world where people and their smartphones actually live!

~ Emily

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