by Aaron Tay
“Always in motion, the future is” — Yoda, Jedi Master
QR codes are 2D barcodes that can be scanned by phones to provide a link between the digital and the physical world. A typical example would be to scan a QR code with your smartphone and be brought immediately to a relevant instructional video. With mobile becoming increasingly common and the possibility of QR code adoption going mainstream, any future ready library or librarian should be prepared to adopt this technology to serve their community.
As such, recently a co-worker asked me whether we should consider going into QR codes given that there is intense interest about QR codes in the library community (I summarized some ideas here). More importantly a recent Mobio report suggests QR codes usage has increased by 1200 percent suggesting that possibly a tipping point is approaching for usage. With powerful companies like Google seemingly throwing their support behind QR codes , it seems to be a good time for libraries to explore them.
With Google adding NFC (near field communications) to their Android phones and persistent rumors that Apple is doing so for their line of iPhones (but not iPhone 5 it seems), it seems that QR codes could be a short lived piece of technology that is destined to be replaced by the far more efficient and capable built-in NFC scanners built-into future smartphones. Not everyone agrees of course since the number of phones supporting QR codes will always exceed NFC equipped phones in the near term.
So should libraries go ahead and spend time and effort trying to promote QR codes? Or should we adopt a wait and see attitude? In general, dilemmas of this nature aren’t new and are constantly faced by libraries that are “future aware” and aim to be future ready.
One example: Consider the situation a year ago, where it was clear that Facebook would eventually weigh in with location based check-ins which they eventually did with Facebook Places. Being aware of this, libraries were faced with the dilemma, should we support FourSquare knowing that Facebook Places is just around the corner and may perhaps crush the opposition? Or even further back MySpace versus Facebook.
by Aaron Tay
I don’t have any pat answers, whether a library chooses to support cutting edge technologies is a function of their risk appetite, available resources, strategic focus etc.
I would add, however, while the exact implementation of technology may change, the trend itself is often pretty clear. While QR codes may or may not catch on, no one doubts the fundamental idea of creating a quick link between physical objects out in the real word and digital objects will pay off. Similarly, FourSquare may or may not survive (though NYPL seems to be doing great on it) but the idea of adding location based data is definitely sound.
No one can reliably predict the future, but that’s the price of being future ready: you make your bets and see how it turns out. Maybe you might decide to hold off on QR codes, or maybe you might decide to try since it requires no investment of money. Whatever you do keep thinking of how the future might be which will have you well posed to take advantage of any sudden shifts in environment.
Aaron Tay works as an academic librarian at the National University of Singapore. He was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker for 2011. He blogs at http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/.