The QR Code Taskforce at Senate House Library


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I presented this talk on how Senate House Library is using QR codes as part of our mobile strategy at a CPD25 event "Mobile technology: lending it, using it and what to do next" held at the London Mathematical Society on 4 July, 2012

I describe how we set up a small working group across our Information Systems, Library Services, and Academic Liaison teams working to improve the experience of our library for users with mobile devices by implementing QR codes for various aspects of the service.

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  • The central University of London is an administrative body of ourfederal university of 18 colleges & 10 institutes.Senate House Libraries (plural) contains: Senate House Library itself, spectacular collection of about 3 million items concentrated in the arts, humanities. The libraries of the Schoolsof Advanced study add another 1 million items. These are specialist libraries of the institutes of the central university.We support research and teaching at our federal University as well as for researchers from about 900 universities around the world.That URL ( is an online exhibition for our 175th anniversary which includes this picture of chancellor Lord Beauchampin 1930.
  • A QR code is a two dimensional barcode that can encode information and actions or “responses” to act.Here are some examples: Grant Museum QR code that links to a Web site.
  • Rail ticket. This QR code links to a landing page with various options.
  • Sillier examples:QR codes to “like” your bottle of wine on Facebook.QR code on your cake to link to visit McVitiesFacebook page.
  • My experience is most QR codes are a bit boring, these examples are all just URLs that point you to a Web site.At worst you find a corporate Web site you’d never visit, that isn’t designed to be responsive to mobile devices anyway.
  • However there are more types of “responses” – actions built into the QR code that your phone can act on.
  • You will need an app to read QR codes and might need extra software to do something with it and response mightn’t always be appropriate. E.g. if your device isn’t a phone, you probably can’t send a text message.URIs are interesting because you can have a URI schema that does something unexpected. E.g. you can create a URI that opens Skype and places a call – if you have Skype installed.That sort of response won’t be completely cross-platform.
  • This is a weird URI exampleThat QR code encodes a URI for spotify
  • I scan that on my Android phone and open it, as I have Spotify installed my browser will open the URI in Spotify.So I go from QR code to listening to Utah Philips in one step. That’s quite good.
  • The QR code task force is small team to cook up ideas and get things done. The team is:Systems Librarian - meHead of Library Services, Mary CordinerHead of Research Librarians, David Clover
  • We’ve used our own review of the professional literature and biblioblogosphere to find out what is being done elsewhere.However, we also wanted to look beyond what libraries are doing.Rapid deployment of ideas to test things out.Let’s not talk it to death by committee – hence a small team.The things we’re doing are low-risk and will not cost very much to implement.Looking at ways of deploying QR in the electronic and physical library space.
  • We have Encore from Innovative interfaces, a next-generation discovery interface.Why dot this:We get readers bringing phones to the enquiries desk to show us a bib record.We wanted to create a quick way for a smartphone user link between bib record and the Mobile Catalogue.Our Encore mobile use is quite small, about 3.3% total visitors so use will not be spectacular. But it’s easy to do and very low risk.
  • Here’s the zoomed in version of the QR code, and this is what it links to on Mobile Encore, and the URL it expands to.Just a few points here:I shorten that URL with for a less complex QR code which easier to read on older phones. I include tracking parameters for Google Analytics as a “campaign” in the URL. That’s the stuff on the end of that long URL. More in a second... I used to use the Google Chart API to render the QR code. I have actually changed that since then as that API is deprecated.
  • This is where we end up on our phone,now you can wander off to the stacks.Or scan multiple codes leading to multiple browser windows for your ‘few good books’ you’re using as a starting point for your research.There are other approaches to using QR in the catalogue:For example University of Glasgow include text about the item – title and shelfmark – as a QR code. University of Bath do the same.
  • I include tracking parameters for Google Analytics as a “campaign” in the URL.There are these three parameters which make Analytics register hits and include this information in your dashboard.You can just make things up for these, you don’t need to configure anything in Google Analytics.But it’s a good idea to make them short and memorable.
  • This is where you actually see it in Analytics – go to Traffic Sources then Campaigns on the left and you can see usage for our “mobile” campaign.Google Analytics can of course also tell you stats on mobile use of our sites in general.Note that “Campaigns” here has nothing to do with Adsense advertising.
  • There is a case study about our use of QR on the m-libraries site – that’s part of the JISC Mobile Infrastructure for Libraries programme.And my blog post explains the technical side in more detail
  • Our membership desk is a bottleneck at busy times as everyone who comes here needs to register with us. Anything we can do to speed this process up is good.We introduced a way of allowing you to register while you queue in the library.
  • A few things to consider – it’s OK if you have 3G data and it’s working, but what if you don’t or what if our thick walls mean you don’t have a good signal?Steven Baker on my team worked with our IT service to create an open network that allowed access to only to one Web page. So you can’t use it to browse the Web.
  • This QR code allows you to quickly connect to our open network. It’s set up so that when you connect your browser is directed to our landing page.This page is responsive for mobile devices.
  • You can then register while you queue. This is a realistic option given queuing times much of the year.
  • You can also browse our catalogue and mobile catalogue.Our catalogue is also a proxy server, so we have actually restricted access to just that address. From there I allow unauthenticated access to a few Web sites.
  • We used to print subject guides on paper.There was some justified management concern about the paper bill... we phased these out.
  • We replaced them with online guides at first.
  • We wanted to offer these are the point of use – in the stacks – and wanted to provide a way of pointing readers to them.Signage including QR fit this requirement.
  • Signs appear on the end of our shelving bays. These are fairly sign-heavy already – you can see here a browsing guide to classmarks and where to find individual authors.The QR code sign replaced a plastic wallet that contained a few sorry-looking old subject guides.
  • Close up version of the same.We included a short URL and an explanation of what’s going on – what you will find at the other end.
  • If you scan this QR code you get to our subject guide online.This site is not responsive, we are relaunching a new responsive Web site later in 2012.We didn’t want to hold off until then so our signs are as cheap as possible, they are not even laminated.
  • A little about I thought I would explain why we’re using it.We have a custom URL but I wasn’t confident the hosting is robust is a quite short URL & customizable – didn’t want to use the full supports generating a QR code just by including .qrcode on the end of a URL.It includes analytics information for clicks and the QR equivalent in one place in the dashboard.Problems:This is a bit of a branding issue here but I am willing to live with it for now. We’ll replace these with URLs later in the year.“OMG what if goes away?!” - we will reprint a few cheap posters and labels. I am happy with uptime and reliability having started using them on our most intensive application – the catalogue – and haven’t had any problems with them.
  • A real mix of leaflet holders and stands had built up over years, it was untidy and ugly clutter.An alternative way to get readers through to subject guides online allowed us to remove this.
  • We promote e-resources with posters our vendors send to us.They have various features and problems.They sometimes include the vendor’s URLThey often include the URL of the resource that will not work because it doesn’t go via our authentication system.They often include helpful suggestions like “speak to a librarian to find out more” which could be a fair trek just to find out how to get access to a database.
  • It is ridiculous to have posters for e-resources that didn’t even tell you how to access it.So we customised our posters to include a URL, and a QR code.
  • I took a very low-techapproach.Printed some Avery labels with info from a spreadsheet.
  • Here’s an example for Victorian Popular Culture. That’s a pretty nice poster but doesn’t tell you how to access the resource!Sticker is on the right-hand side.
  • We include an explanation and a URL as well as the QR code.Space is a bit limited by my Avery label size.
  • If you scan it you get to our catalogue. You don’t go direct to the resource but to our catalogue bib record that gives you a jumping off point to find the resource in a way that authenticates you properly.The catalogue detects your device and because I am using my phone I’m directed to the mobile interface. Laptop or tablet users would get the regular catalogue.
  • Further example: Academic Search Complete.
  • Problems:These posters are bad in general and difficult to alter – adding our URL to the page is good but we can’t always remove the existing one or cover up the “helpful” advice.Their placement is not well thought out - we should probably re-think how we use them from scratch.
  • I had already done some stuff with QR by adding it to my business card. When scanned my phone will ask to import a contact into my phone, or dial my phone number or send me an email.This one is actually a bit “dense” for some cameras or low light.
  • Our current doorsigns were a bit of a mess post-refurbishment so we wanted to do something about this anyway.
  • At this point we thought to include QR codes as standard to give an easy way to get contact information into your phone.
  • This is how it looks on a two-person office.We still include regular contact information.
  • If you can that this is what I get on my phone.Note the app interprets the content of the card and offers a few choices to add contact, phone, or email Andrea.
  • Now some comments on lessons learned from doing this and tips for best practises.
  • We included a call to action with each QR code - except on our door signs which may need revising.This is to make it clear that you can do something here with this QR code.Think of a QR code in terms of the actions you can perform with them. A QR code is no better than a URL on a sign or a piece of metadata in your catalogue. It encodes information that you can use to take actions – it is not a “thing” of itself and you need a clear purpose in mind.
  • Not everyone has a device that can read a QR code or wants to install an app to do so, or know how to use any built-in QR reading ability their phone might have.I don’t mind if our QR code just catches someone’s eye and they note down the URL or type it into their laptop. So:We include a short URL, if we’re are encoding a URL.We include instructions for connecting to a network.We don’t want to give the impression that our mobileapproach only applies to smartphones.At the same time I don’t want to include exhaustive instructions on what a QR code is and how to use it – there isn’t space to do so.
  • Where possible we include tracking. We have done that using Google Analytics and built-in tracking itself. Both work.Obviously not all codes can be tracked so monitoring that is going to be a bit more difficult.
  • I made sure we linked to something that won’t go away too soon.We link to the catalogue record for an e-resource as this ensures the reader will always get pointed in the right direction regardless of any changes to resource access.We are re-launching our Web site later in the year so some of our URLs will change, but we can deal with this. At that point we’ll probably be using our own URL shortening service anyway.
  • QR codes are not human-readable and not very distinctive when you compare one to another.You should check and re-check them to ensure you’ve got the correct QR code and correct content for your purpose.We found a few mistakes with posters as we were deploying them and they had been carefully checked.
  • Where possible we link to a mobile-friendly or responsive Web page, or at least a Web page that isn’t a bad experience for a phone user.Our Web site currently isn’t responsive and we need to address this.Our catalogue is good for this as it directs you to a mobile version based on detecting your device.
  • The QR Code Taskforce at Senate House Library

    1. 1. The QR Code Taskforceat Senate House LibraryAndrew PreaterSenate House LibrariesUniversity of London
    2. 2.
    3. 3. What I’ll talk aboutHow we did itHow we’re using QR codes
    4. 4. Summary1. Mobile catalogue2. Library pre-registration3. Subject information4. Promotion of e-resources5. Contact information
    5. 5. QR code basics
    6. 6. QR code basics
    7. 7. QR code basics
    8. 8. QR codes ‘in the wild’are almost always URLs
    9. 9. ResponsesURITextContact informationPhone numberSMSEmail addressCalendar eventGeolocationWiFi network
    10. 10. Relies on your appinterpreting the QR code
    11. 11. URI example spotify:track:7KceJcaQ tZC771rL34GVFC
    12. 12. Senate House LibraryQR code Task Force
    13. 13. How we’re working
    14. 14. 1. QR codes in the catalogue
    15. 15.
    16. 16. QR codes
    17. 17. QR codes
    18. 18. QR codes
    19. 19. Tracking source (utm_source): encoreCampaign medium (utm_medium): qrCampaign name (utm_campaign): mobile
    20. 20. m-libraries case study: posts:
    21. 21. 2. Library pre- registration
    22. 22. Connect to our opennetwork
    23. 23. Registerwhile youqueue
    24. 24. Browse catalogue
    25. 25. 3. Subject guides
    26. 26. Paper subjectguides phasedout...
    27. 27. Replaced with onlineguides
    28. 28. QR to offer guides at thepoint of use
    29. 29. bit.lyCustom link: codes built in:
    30. 30. Tidying up
    31. 31. 4. Promotion of eresources
    32. 32. Vendor eresource postershave:• their URL• no URL• “helpful” suggestions
    33. 33. We customised themwith• a URL• QR code
    34. 34. 5. Contact information
    35. 35. Had already done this:
    36. 36. Door signs ‘mix andmatch’ post-refurb
    37. 37. New standard signsincorporate QR vCard
    38. 38. Best practices andlessons learned
    39. 39. 1. Call to action
    40. 40. 2. Alternate formats
    41. 41. 3. Include tracking
    42. 42. 4. Link to somethingpermanent
    43. 43. 5. Double-check!
    44. 44. 6. Be mobile friendly
    45. 45. Thank youMe: @preater