Monday, October 11, 2010

QR Codes: an Overview

Since QR codes seem to be one of the hot new technologies in the library and museum world, I decided to do a little research on them (I am a librarian after all!) Here's a brief introduction into the world of 2D code technology:

QR (quick response) codes are two-dimensional images used to represent data, similar to a barcode. They were originally developed by Japanese auto parts manufacturer Denso-Wave in 1994, for tracking parts. Denso-Wave still owns the patent on the technology (which has its own published ISO standard) but allows for their license-free use.

QR codes are an improvement over barcodes mostly because of the amount of data they can encode. While barcodes can only hold 20 digits worth of data, QR codes can hold up to 7000 digits and 4300 alpha-numeric characters and can be as small as 2 centimeters square (although the more data encoded, the larger the resulting image will be).

Originally QR codes required dedicated scanners to read them, but the advent of smart phones with built-in cameras have recently brought the technology into much greater usage. Currently, they are commonly used to link print and broadcast media to online content (usually by encoding a URL), but can also be used to share simple text data such as a phone number or text-only message, or more complex information like a command that can play a song automatically if you have it on your computer, or bring you to a site that prompts you to purchase the song if you do not already own it.

Similar technologies to QR codes include open source Data Matrix codes, used by the U.S. Department of Defense, and the proprietary Microsoft Tag (which features color codes that can store more than the other, black-and-white ones.)

Although non-Asian countries have been slow in adopting QR code technology (Pepsi launched what is now acknowledged as the first large-scale QR code marketing campaign in 2008), it has recently gone mainstream, with companies such as HBO and Fox launching QR campaigns. The museum and library world have also found use for the technology, linking their physical collections with their expanding online offerings.

Also helping to launch the tech into the mainstream was Google’s recent launch of a URL shortening service which also provides users a simple way to create QR codes from any URL.

“UKOLN | Briefing Documents | An Introduction to QR Codes.” (

ISO - International Organization for Standardization, and ISO. "ISO/IEC 18004:2006." 01 Sept. 2006. (

Lardinois, Frederic. “Microsoft Tag: The CueCat Returns on Your Mobile Phone.” ReadWriteWeb 8 Jan. 2009. (

Milliot, Jim. "QR Codes Tie Print, Online Marketing." Publishers Weekly 256.38 (2009): 4. (

Nguyen, Maria. "What you need to know about QR codes." Sydney Morning Herald, The 05 July 2008: 2. (

Perez, Sarah. “The Scannable World, Part 3: Barcode Scanning In The Real World.” ReadWriteWeb 26 Sept. 2008. (

Perez, Sarah. “iCandy: Make QR Codes That Play Music.” ReadWriteWeb 16 Jan. 2009. (

Siegler, MG. “’s Awesome Easter Egg To Instantly Turn Any Link Into A QR Code.” TechCrunch 30 Sept. 2010. (

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bridging the gap from Wikipedia to scholarly sources: a simple library bookmarklet

So I know I have been alluding to a fancy-shmancy "project" for awhile now, and it's finally at a point that I can show it off! Barbara Arnett and I (mostly Barbara, but I set the project in motion, so that counts for something I guess) have created a javascript bookmarklet that can be used in any browser to execute a search in Ebsco Discovery Service from any web page.

The impetus for this project was a tendency for novice researchers to rely on internet sources that may not be up to the standards required by their professors for college-level research (read: Google & Wikipedia). Unfortunately, those users were not only beginning, but ending their search with those websites, without ever trying the library’s subscription databases, or even making it to the library’s website.

Stevens is currently undergoing a trial of Ebsco Discovery Service (EDS), a federated search tool which includes the library catalog data. To make it easier for students to search the library resources, we decided to create a bookmarket that eliminates the step of having to go to the library website first before searching library resources.

The bookmarket provides an important bridge between common search behaviors (especially among undergraduates), and the "deep web" content located in library-funded, proprietary databases, thus easing their transition into scholarly research. You just drag-and-drop it into any browser, after which a search can then be initiated from any webpage the user visits. When the bookmarklet is clicked, the search terms default to the title of the page (so it works especially well with Wikipedia articles), and a prompt is displayed that allows the user to edit the terms, if so desired. When they press the OK button, the search is automatically executed in the Discovery tool and the results are displayed in a new browser window.

The bookmarklet is written in simple Javascript code, which resides on the library’s server, so it can be edited or updated without the user having to reinstall it. It works on all major browsers, and can also be edited to work with various search tools, such as specific databases, library catalogs or competing federated search tools (such as Serial Solutions’ Summon.)

A short demo:

Barbara and I will be participating in a webinar for the Metro New York Library Council in December, demonstrating various tech tools for libraries. See here for details:

11/19/10 - NOTE:

Ken Varnum at the University of Michigan has used our code to create an ArticlesPlus bookmarklet for their users. To make it easier for other developers to adapt our code for their projects, here it is, in its entirety. You'll have to edit it to use whatever search tool you want it to run, and change it to link to your own Google Analytics account (or just take that part out if you're not using GA), and we ask that you keep the attribution statement in there.