Q-ing Up Data on Your Phone

You have probably seen QR codes in all kinds of places and, if you even noticed them, either
wondered what they were or simply thought they were part of some new design trend. You may be surprised to find out they can help you in a number of ways, from taking you to a website that offers more information about the object to which the code is affixed to offering a coupon for the store you are visiting. The example to the right is a code you will see in our library branches and it will take you to the library catalog.

What is a QR code and why do we see so many? The codes are like a barcode, they are a unique set of symbols that connects to some form of online data, such as a website, photograph, video clip or audio clip. The codes can be read by barcode readers or apps on a cell phone or tablet using the device’s camera. QR codes have been around since 1994 and were used primarily in manufacturing and warehouse applications where barcode readers were already in use. Around 2005, they started to become more widely used by advertisers and businesses as more people adopted smartphones. Now they are pretty common on product shelves, packing and even in museums.

The simplest function for a QR code is to serve as an inventory link, for keeping track of stock and also helping consumers get more details about a product. In this case, you may see them posted on a store shelf or a product package. They may also appear on a printed ad or poster. In the library, we have the code above on some book shelves so patrons can quickly go to the catalog on their phone without having to type the full website address. You may also see codes that we have put up to direct you to the hoopla downloadable music and video service or eLibraryNJ, our downloadable eBook and audiobook service. Both codes take you to a page where you can download an app to use the service. But in addition to helping shoppers and library patrons, codes also pop up in places like museums, where there might not be enough wall space to give full details about artwork, artists or historical facts related to the artifacts on display. The QR code in this case will likely direct the user to a website with a more in-depth article on the subject. One recent example of this type of use was the Hopewell Stampede oxen display put on by the Hopewell Valley Arts Council. The oxen were part of an outdoor public art display and had a plaque with a QR code that directed to the HVAC website for more information about the particular piece of art and the artist. One of the oxen even had a QR code as part of the design and directed to a website about Hopewell Valley history. The good news is, using the codes is actually pretty easy and free. To get started, you need a smartphone and an app that reads QR codes. The most popular app is simply called QR Code Reader and it is available for iOS, Android and Windows 8 phones. Others exist and you can find them by searching for QR code in your device’s app store. Once you pick one, they all work pretty much the same way, you tap the app and when it is ready, hold your phone’s camera up to the code so the app can read it. Most apps will cause the phone to vibrate or beep once to let you know it has captured the code. Somewhere on the display will be a link you can tap to go to the online resource. In the QR Code Reader app, this appears as a bar at the top of the screen. The page simply opens in your phone’s web browser without you having to type in any long addresses or do a search. Now that you know just what the heck those strange squares are, try a few out and see what happens.

- Laura N.


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