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Are QR Codes in Exhibits a Good Idea?

credit-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_code

credit-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_code

If you’re thinking of including QR codes in an upcoming exhibit as a portal for the students (in the streaker-stroller-student visitor continuum), this post is for you. NC’s own Michael Scott, Curator of Education at the High Point Museum has added comments from his past experience at the NC Museum of History to a fascinating discussion of the QR code issue that appeared on the AAM Registrar’s Committee listserv last week.

The QR codes that we used for the Watergate exhibit saw very low use…the highest usage numbers were for the codes at the edges of the exhibit and very little for the ones inside the exhibit.There [are] also some QR codes outside of the museum for garden plants. One of them had a song attached to it and had received higher use than some of the others, but it was still a low number.

[However,] I still like them. Not a lot of institutions can afford to buy devices or to build an app or to even redesign a full web site to be mobile friendly, but they can still link to a page either on their servers or to something that they have stored elsewhere online. There is a large bar of entry to using them (device, wifi, time, etc…) but I think that just means that whatever you’re wanting to link to needs to be very compelling material. Some information just might not be [attractive] enough for a QR code and not a high enough priority to be in the physical exhibit. Until the use of NFC/RFID becomes more widely used, I see the QR code as really the only tool available to [provide more in-depth information at the point of viewing]. Generally, it think that it’s a matter of finding a balance between content, access, and resources available to an institution. For the same cost (time, money, etc..) as generating a QR code that links it to a video you shoot on a iPhone that’s hosted on Youtube, what other options are there?

Tracey Berg-Fulton, Collections Database Associate & Provenance Researcher at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, is more critical of QRs:

Let me be the anti-QR code curmudgeon here. Think about the last time you scanned a QR code? If you can’t remember, or you don’t have an app to do so, that should tell you something. As an iPhone addict, I haven’t scanned a QR code in…maybe three years? The last time I did it was because I was forced to in order to get the information I needed, and then the connectivity was miserable and the experience was ho-hum. If the institution [which] created this situation had just provided a short URL, I would have just opened my browser and gone there, without having to:

  1. Think about what I’m going to use for QR scanning
  2. Think about where that QR code is going to take me (and is that page safe to look at- nightmare scenariohere)
  3. Decide that yes, I want to take the time to connect to wifi, accept the wifi policy, connect, scan, go to the site, and then dig for whatever it is I’m looking for.
  4. Do all of the above.

QR codes work brilliantly for machines. They’re designed for machines to read quickly. Their applications for humans are, in my personal opinion, small. There’s a lot of maintenance that goes in to making them, a lot of vigilance needed to maintain good links to content, not to mention the creation of the content itself, and the hurdles of bad wifi- particularly if your building is a granite or marble bunker. Let’s add to that the hurdles of privileging content to those who have access to smartphones, and are savvy enough to understand the “scan QR code, get info” mechanics (of course, having on-campus devices to loan helps lower that barrier, but there’s another thing you need to maintain and track and charge, and train non-native users on how to get the content from the QR code).

Tracey suggests creating a web site with additional content and including a shortened URL on the exhibit labels.

You can also use an app to do this if you have one, but that requires a lot of hoops with iOS/android development, and again pushes out those edge cases. A responsive web site works on any device (tablet, phone, laptop, desktop) and can give more people more access (and provide loaner devices to get more people more access). Thus ends my rather long winded treatise against QR codes.

Nathan Stalvey, Director of the Clarke County Historical Association in Berryville, VA, reported mixed results when testing the effectiveness of QRs at the Louisville Slugger Museum.

Pros:

  • Tracking numbers:  “QR codes let you see what people are the most interested in, which objects draw more attention, where people are coming from and what devices they are using.”
  • Shortening label text:  “Studies have shown that beyond a certain word count, people move on.  ([Microsoft] recently did a study that shows the average human attention span is now 8 seconds, one second less than a goldfish and four seconds less than five years ago).”

Cons:

  • Lack of meaningful insights: “What kind of people use their devices for QR scans?  Does it really identify what you want to know about your audience?”
  • Logistical problems: “If the QR code is too small, people will lose interest if it is difficult to scan.  If it is too large, it can be distracting.  You would have to find a balance.  Too many QR codes in an exhibit can be overwhelming.”

In the end, Stalvey’s museum gave up on QR codes, in reaction to the low proportion of users to visitors. Tablets that the museum provided were more effective. “The app was built with layers and did not need a wireless connection.  It was incredibly time consuming for IT to put together, but it was rare to NOT see people using those devices.  We also had them locked so that was the only thing people could access.”

Has your institution experimented with QR codes? When was the last time you used one?