Applications for QR codes in archival settings?

This week I’ve been participating as a guest in Kim Anderson’s online course, “Archival Outreach: Programs and Services,” offered through the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The class has been using A Different Kind of Web as one of their core texts, so it’s great for me to see how the book works in the classroom. (Short answer: apparently very well.)

In the discussion board, Susan Garwood mentioned attending the AAM meeting recently and hearing a lot about the use of QR codes. So I asked her about how she thought they could be used in archival settings, and here’s her answer:

We’ve been exploring all ranges of archival outreach including exhibits so, although traditionally a museum function, QR codes can help augment archives outreach in an exhibition as well.  Another area could be on a take away piece.  A brochure or bookmark that might link to the archives on Facebook, a map to the institution, or the museum’s website or blog.  Or perhaps on the outside of the archives (below the hours sign that might link to a contact form).  Within an exhibit, as you know, you can’t put a full transcription of a document within the exhibit and a QR code could link to that.  Anywhere that visitors interact with a document or artifact. I suppose, however, it could be an internal management tool.  I’ve heard of some artifacts being barcoded and having a reader allows you to scan the object and see its documentation which might be helpful in collection retrieval and management within the storage space.

Some of those applications sound very promising. I’ve been skeptical about QR codes, so I thought I would throw it open to the readers. Have any of you used QR codes or know another repository that is using them? What has the response been?

UPDATE: It has been called to my attention that I neglected to cite an important resource in the discussion on QR codes in archives, so here, with my apologies for the omission is: “Put a QR code on it!” Thanks, Rebecca!

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11 thoughts on “Applications for QR codes in archival settings?”

  1. Libraries have been hot on the QR codes for a while now, so I feel we’ve been playing a bit of catch-up (although I work in University Archives, we have not really been a part of the library). Still, we’ve been able to use them for a few initiatives over the past year.

    The first time I posted one was for a physical exhibition on Royal Visits to Kingston in our exhibition space. Since I had more content than space, I decided to post the extra material on the online version of the exhibit (, and provide a QR code to direct viewers to the additional content. Since then, we’ve also used QR codes in advertising for our blog ( and Twitter feed (@queensarchives). As far as response is concerned, I haven’t had the chance to analyze the web stats – but since QR codes are simple to produce, I figure even one hit will have been worth the effort.

  2. We have a QR code on our takeaway sheets that directs to our project website. I wish there was a way to see if people have used them (a hit counter for QR codes) because I really do not know they are an effective use of space on a small piece of paper.

  3. Thanks for sharing your examples, Jeremy and Alison.

    Here’s another via @K4arkive on Twitter: “QR Codes Reveal Hidden Messages in Maps” (

    “Though it explores the myriad techniques that cartographers have employed for centuries to encode messages into maps, Going for Baroque: The Iconography of the Ornamental Map, the current exhibition at the Harvard Map Collection also employs new technology. It is the first Harvard College Library exhibition to use QR codes, a type of two-dimensional barcode that links visitors to additional information. …”

  4. We used a QR code as a teaser for our event Eating the Archives It provided a link to the website, and was quick and easy to produce (important in these fiscally straitened times). We also used it on bookmarks promoting the event. In a sense, though, the QR code was also acted as marketing for the event – something that was a little left of centre, and more technologically advanced than expected if you followed the traditional sterotype of dusty archives.

    QR codes provide a quick and easy way to share details of a website or online exhibition, in a physical location. They print well to an adhesive sticker or magnet sheet and can be put in unexpected places. They reach a different audience.

  5. I incorporated QR codes into an exhibit last summer so visitors could link to online sound recordings that couldn’t be incorporated into the exhibit due to insufficient equipment.
    It was a difficult process because the online exhibit that hosted the sound recordings had not been tested for the range of mobile interfaces that would be used by the public (it worked for iPhones but not for Androids etc.) so viewers had to zoom in and out and fiddle with their phones to actually get the sound recording to play.

    The Google Analytics related to the sound recordings I linked using QR codes was not encouraging. The bounce rate was really high (which indicates to me that people didn’t stick around to listen long) and the items that I linked didn’t really have significantly higher access rates than other items that were of similar content that I had not included in the exhibit.

    On reflection, it wasn’t the QR codes that were the problem, it was the mobile interface of the online exhibit, and the demographics of the visitors to the physical exhibit. It was a worthwhile experiment however, and I’m glad we tried it, if only to demonstrate to visitors that there was additional content available elsewhere. After complaints from some visitors to gallery staff, I ended up forwarding a pdf printout that staff could give to visitors with all the links written out so they could go home and type in the links to access the content. Go figure.

  6. Alison – you could have the QR code point to a redirect page (like /exhibit/qr.html) and count hits on that. You can also estimate based on user agents on the exhibit page, as any QR users will be on a mobile browser.

    QR seems very powerful – 4096 characters can hold a full catalog record in one square inch – but I can’t think of any good use cases for it. It’s like a solution without a problem. I’m curious if anyone uses them to hold data, versus as links.

  7. We recently used them in a presentation to an undergraduate history course. The purpose of the presentation was to introduce the students to some archival materials that could be useful to their research w/in the specific context of the course (and help them gather sources for their term paper!) We pulled boxes from collections that were particularly relevant and put a QR code that linked to the full finding aid for that collection on each box. Not sure if any of the students actually scanned them…

  8. Our archival tech put one on the glass door of our reading room, right under the three official languages of our region and hours of operation. It directs you our web site.

  9. We have started putting QR codes on the cover of Alumni Reunion programs. The University uses the classes original yearbook cover as the cover of the program, so we include a QR code that will link people to the complete digital copy of the yearbook from that year.

  10. Since we’re doing a big cataloging project and getting all of our finding aids up through Archon, we’re going to be using QR codes to link boxes to the catalog to help with location management and browsing nearby boxes without having to open them. Our archives bought an iPod Touch to use.

  11. Here’s the view from the small public library: we are using them in the stacks to promote related (and underused), on flyers to link to full descriptions of programs, and (my favorite) QR code temporary tattoos for our teen summer reading program that links to our teen web page. The teens can scan each other!

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