Cracking the Code: Using QR Codes

We all know that life is sometimes all about being in the right place at the right time. It is making connections and linking diverse elements. Likewise, we all want to make more connections for our students, particularly in terms of providing quality resources for them. One of these connections is a simple tool that creates easy access to print materials, library promotions, book reviews, podcasts, instructions, or websites for students and their families. It is a tool that is quick to create using free software applications and reader apps. How can we effectively use the tool of QR codes in the library?


Quick Response (QR) codes are two-dimensional barcodes that can be read by mobile devices equipped with a QR code reader. Why use a QR code and not the barcodes used on books? Barcodes used on books and other products are limited to 20 characters. A QR code is more versatile and can hold up to 4,295 alphanumeric characters. They can be read from left to right as well as up and down. They can provide a scanable link to almost anything available online.

What is involved in making a QR Code? The following steps can be used for a variety of resources:

  • Open a browser window. Search for “qr code generators” or use one suggested in this article.
  • Paste in the URL as indicated in the generator.
  • Follow the instructions provided by the generator. There will be a “create” icon, a “download” button, or a similar function link to generate the QR code.
  • Save the code as you would any image or document. Since all codes look alike, make sure to save it with a distinctive name so it can be identified for later use.
  • Insert the QR code into a document or site as needed.
  • Print and post the QR code wherever appropriate.

How do you use a QR code? Any mobile device that has a QR reader can be used to scan the code. Both Android and Apple platforms have free readers available. A reader needs to be downloaded and installed before a code can be scanned. Directions are as follows:

  • Use a mobile device with a QR code reader application installed.
  • Open the QR code reader. This opens the equivalent of a camera window. The reader can then scan the QR image.
  • The device will open to the resource that has been coded to access the information.

The creation and use of QR codes is a delightfully simple process. But, what can a school librarian do with QR codes? Before going code-aholic, consider what function they could best serve in a school and library setting. Use them judiciously. Start by looking at what’s in place already and link that information with QR codes. Here are some other ideas to consider.


Do you have materials used in orienting students to the school library? Create a new version, adding QR codes. Post QR codes around the library. They can take students to online descriptions about the areas described: How are the books organized? What happens at the circulation desk? How does the catalog work? Put a code on equipment to lead users to instructions on its use. Link to your library Web presence.


Is there a bookmark for subscription databases, a flier about the online catalog, an upcoming book fair? Create a QR code to alert students and their families. Using a QR code is particularly helpful if the URL is so long that it makes finding the site difficult.


How are books being featured in the library? Both the librarian and students who create book reviews online can use that URL to create a QR code. That code can then be attached to the featured book. Other students can then link to the book. This review could be anything from a scanned PDF of a hand-written report to a podcast to a book trailer created with Animoto or Glogster. A library display could feature a poster that includes the book cover and any QR code created for it.


Want to share the latest additions to your collection? Sharing information with families in a school newsletter? Use QR codes to give easy access. Lead them to online features, whether a list of titles, the specific instructions for an assignment, using a database, or a video created by a class.


Librarians often create pathfinders for students. Once one is created, a QR code can be produced and shared to take students to those resources. Link to a website to illuminate the content of the book. Create a webpage with links about a topic and put the QR code for this online pathfinder on any books related to the topic.


Is there a library scavenger hunt or a Web quest that has been used with students? Add QR codes for those who have mobile access. As students go through the research process, have them create QR codes to resources that they find useful. This would be especially helpful for a project that has everyone working on a similar topic, say a career project, or a resume building experience. Fill a bulletin board with QR codes to share with others. Help students post QR codes to their homework, or to an online portfolio of their work.


Use a QR code on your business card to link to your online presence, including everything from the library website to a blog, Twitter, Facebook, and more. Include it on your resume to highlight specific projects and activities.


QR codes have been around since the early 1990s. Like most technology tools, new features and new uses constantly spring up. Some generators now build in color choices, not just the standard black and white. There are tools that create images within the QR pattern, and others that embed the QR code within a photographic image. My state’s annual school library conference included a vendor QR quest. In the realm of professional development, QR codes are being considered as a way of documenting activities like reading blogs and online journals, attending online conferences and webinars, and more.

So try your hand at QR codes, as they are a tested tool and used frequently in school settings. While not every student has a mobile device, this is still an additional tool to make connections with students. Not every school allows students to use mobile devices during school hours, but more are doing so every day. Make the connection. QR codes are another way for school librarians to link resources to student learning, merging the physical and online worlds students inhabit.



Gwyneth Jones helps readers better understand QR codes.

Jones, Gwyneth. “A Daring Librarian Comic Tutorial: QR Codes at a Glance.” 57625298744518/. Daring Librarian QR Codes at a Glance

Jones, Gwyneth. “QR Codes are NOT all Hype- So There! “ Daring Librarian post on QR Codes


Bee Tagg.
QR Stuff.
QR Treasure Hunt Generator.


Further Reading

Black & White and Scanned All Over.; Cybrary Man's Educational Web Sites: QR Codes.; Eckart, Donna. "Tech Tips for Every Librarian." Computers in Libraries 31, no. 3 (April 2011): 38-39.; Educause. "7 Things You Should Know About…QR Codes."; Hopkins, David. "QR Codes: In the Classroom." elearning Blog Don't Waste Your Time.; QR Codes in the Classroom.; QR Codes; What Are They?; Tucker, Al. "What Are Those Checkerboard Things? How QR Codes Can Enrich Student Projects" Tech Directions 71, no. 4 (November 2011): 14-16.; Williams, Courtney. "Using QR Codes in Education" District Administration (November 29, 2011).

About the Author

Kathy Fredrick is the Director of Libraries and Instructional technology for the Shaker Heights City Schools in Ohio. She has worked in library media centers at all grade levels in Ohio, Wisconsin, Australia and Germany. Email:

MLA Citation Fredrick, Kathy. "Cracking the Code: Using QR Codes." School Library Monthly, 29, no. 5, February 2013. School Library Connection,

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Entry ID: 1967452

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