Saturday, February 27, 2010

QR codes for libraries - some thoughts

QR code stands for "quick response", it's basically a 2D barcode that can be used to store urls, text etc.

QRcodes can be used to quickly pull data from the physical world into  mobile phones which are equipped with free QR code readers (many free ones exist,but Beetagg supports quite a few phones) automatically. Simply scan the QRcode with your phone's camera, and the QRcode reader will pull the information into your phone.

QR codes are not new and are popular in Japan, Bonnie Peirce talked about QRcodes in libraries as far back as in 2008, but was probably a bit ahead of its time. With the rise in the use of smart phones, there has recently being a spate of interest in QRcodes usage in libraries and education.

Like my earlier post this is just a blog entry to pull together all the ideas I have seen on the use of QR codes in libraries.

Andrew Walsh , University of Huddersfield  and Andy Ramsden, University of Bath have good  presentations on this. Particularly interesting all photos of use cases. I have also looked at ideas  from various blog posts (including Joeyanne , Lonewolf librarian, here also  and  tweets from the Hand Held Librarian 2). 

Thinking about usage

There are many blog posts that simply list numerous QRcode ideas for libraries, so I think it is helpful to step back and try to come up with some framework to classify the different uses.

There seems to be 2 main uses,

(1) Embed QR codes in the virtual world (e.g. blogs, online catalogues, webpages,)

(2) Add QR codes in the real world (e.g. At book shelves, checkout machines, posters)

The other aspect seems to be what data is embedded in the QR codes, again there seems to be two main choices

(1) A URL (maybe even to a RSS feed)

(2) Some other data (Text, SMS, Phone number, email)

I think there are other more exotic data that can be encoded? (Vcard formats? geolocations?) using various QRcode generators , but this suffices for now.

I think is that while you can easily embed a url for QRcodes, if the destination (OPAC, blog etc) is not mobile friendly, it might not be such a good idea to link to the site?

For example, the University of Bath Libraries, embeds QRcodes to each library catalogue, scanning the QRcodes yields you text - The title , the author and the call number/location, rather than bringing you to the Online catalogue.

I suspect this is because the university of Bath Libraries' catalogue is not mobile friendly. Even if the library has a mobile friendly catalogue is it really better to link to the online record itself? I'm not sure.

In any case, the more mobile friendly your site is, the far more use you get out of QRcodes, because you can directly them seamlessly to a mobile friendly site. Without mobile friendly sites you can still of course embed urls, it just wouldn't be that effective, as the user would need to struggle to surf on a site that isn't suitable for mobile surfing.

Embed QR codes in the virtual world

This seems a little counter-intuitive, QR codes have being described as a way to link the physical world with the digital world, so why would one embed a QR code on a webpage? Simple, a QR code that appears on a computer screen can be scanned as well as one in the real world! 

It seems to me though, that the use cases for this category of QRcodes, rests on the assumption that users are surfing on a regular desktop/laptop and then want some fast way to get information from the screen to their mobiles. 

Libraries are currently betting that mobile surfing will become huge in the future, so the importance of these use cases might diminish in the future. 

  1. Online catalogues
  2. Library Blogs
  3. Other Library webpages & virtual material

Online catalogues

This is the most obvious use case. These days, it's very common for users to show me library catalogue records (call numbers, titles) on their hand phones when I'm at the desk. This seems to be quickly replacing scribbled notes on paper. I'm never worked out the courage to ask them though, how they got the information onto the handphones. 

I suspect, most of them used desktop/laptop computers (either at home or used the ones in the library) to look up the book they want, and then they entered it into their handphones manually, where in the past they would write it on their notebooks. 

As a side note, another way would be to take a photo of the record online (bonus points if they used Evernote which has text recognition capabilities), but  this probably hasn't occurred to most users yet. 

This is obviously very awkward and slow ,compared to just scanning the QRcode. As mentioned earlier, the University of Bath Libraries, allows users to scan the QRcode, and information about the item is pulled into the phone.

So far, we have being talking about library records for physical books, but what if the record is for a online database or electronic book? Perhaps in such cases, it makes more sense for the url to be pushed to the phone.

Since many databases like EBSCohost are beginning to make mobile friendly interfaces, this works well. For ebooks, can I imagine a day, where scanning the QRcodes checkouts the ebook and desposits it into your phone? With Overdrive being supported on Android phones this might be possible one day.

One wonders though with mobile friendly catalogues and the rise of mobile surfing, would the need for QRcodes (at least for this use case) diminish, since one could directly view the information on the webpage? Probably not, since it would still be awkward to save the page or copy and paste the information from a mobile friendly OPAC. Also sometimes you want the information to be on your phone without relying on wireless connections. 

Library Blogs
This one is obvious, simply generate a QRcode that goes to your library blog url. Since most blogs are automatically mobile friendly, this works well. Many libraries today are on Facebook, Twitter etc, and almost all social networking sites have mobile friendly versions as well, so linking to these accounts work fine as well. 

Other Library webpages & virtual material

You can basically embed QRcodes on any webpage you control. LibGuides has a mobile friendly page (though it doesn't auto-detect) so you can link to that as well on any instructional material or on LibGuides itself.

Besides urls one could embed

(1) Phone numbers, emails or contact numbers
(2) SMS for textalibrary type services,
(3) Text or geolocations of the library location (sends you to Google maps?)

Anything else?  Could one embed QRCodes in powerpoint presentations? This could work fine in sessions held in computer labs, where everyone has access to the powerpoint presentations on a desktop, though one wonders how easy it would be to scan QRcodes off a large slide projector!

Add QR codes in the real world

This class of use cases are probably more interesting. The problem here is that you can add QRcodes to literally any real world location both within and outside the library, hence there are many  possible ideas. Add the fact that QRcodes cost nothing to generate (except maybe a bit of ink), and one can go crazy with them.

But when should one embed additional information in a QRcode and what information should be added? The paradigm example could be a real-world object, say an object on display, and a QRcode to meta-data. Perhaps links to constantly updated information such as schedules, interactive media that work well on computers.

But one must be careful not to leave out users who do not use QRcodes. It seems to me in most cases you must include information in both normal text form as well as in QRcode. Sure you could add QRcodes to promotion material say link to your webpage, but you definitely need the text as well.

But should one provide equal access to information and interactivity to users who use QRcodes and non-users? Sometimes it's not possible.

Some ideas here

(1) Posters and promotional material

The usual things could be added here, QRcodes to urls (see here), contact details of librarians etc. If it's an event it can be a link to the events calender booking system, or just the event details if no booking is required, or geolocations to googlemaps etc

(2) Book/Journal shelves

QRcodes at print journal shelves, linking to electronic versions?

As for book shelves, perhaps each book shelf could be embedded with QRcodes linking to catalogue records, reading lists/recommended books in the specific shelves. Special collections could link to metadata, video, podcast, feedback, interactive game etc

(3) Individual books or journals

Could QRcodes totally replace barcodes? QRcodes could possibly be linked to RFID tags, so users could do self-check outs. Even if they did not, librarians could be armed with Itouches and roving librarians could quickly check status of books.

If this is too much effort, one could this for

(4) At self-check machines or various locations of interest

Create instructional views on how to use self-check machine on YouTube? Add a QRcode that goes to the YouTube video. Want to book a discussion room or computer? Scan a QRcode that sends you to the online booking system.

Have a book display? Add QRcodes to the book covers!

(5) Direction/Signs

Makes signs more interactive. Instead of just a sign that says "Level 5 : Reference" , perhaps the user could scan the QRcode and be sent to a webpage describing the level? Or Flickr pictures? How about a treasure hunt/library orientation?

(6) Others

QRcode on business cards? Use QRcontacts to generate QRcodes of your contacts on Iphone screen. Frequently asked videos or podcasts on pads at the reference desk? or even on Librarian shirts? QRcodes to location based sites like foursquare? Use in classrooms? Or totally wild ideas like augmented reality.

Other issues

Okay I was trying not to make this just into a list of possible uses, but I failed.

One issue is that it's unclear how many of our users are aware or willing to use QRcodes but this Bath University survey indicates about 14%  know what a QRcode is, but only 2% have used one.

Another issue, how do you ensure QRcode you add are not tampered with?

Monday, February 15, 2010

iPhone apps for librarians

Due to the popularity of this post, I have created a separate page , which I will keep updated with new entries. This post will remain unaltered for the record -- Aaron 20/3/2010

Got your IPhone recently and want a quick overview of what innovative librarians , library or library vendors have done with IPhone apps?

I was in this situation about 2 months ago and did quite a bit of research, so to save you all time, I offer the following list plus commentary .This is not meant to be a complete guide on what are the best general interest Iphone apps  (typically this involves picking a Twitter client, IM Client, RSS feed reader, online storage service like dropbox etc). Such lists already exist , but rather this is list of apps that are of interest to librarians, or have being used by Librarians in library settings.

I've decided not to link directly to the App store, mainly because the link has to be country specific?, and this blog serves an international audience so there is no one best link. To find the app, just do a search in the appstore with the app name. Do note that in some rare cases (e.g. WorldCat), the app might not be available depending on your location.

Database/vendor apps

These are search apps offered by specific database vendors that make searching such databases on Iphones easier. Most of this was found via Mobile libraries blog

Mobileabstracts (PubMed)
Naxos Music Library
iResearch (American Institute of Physics iResearch
Questia Library

Search related 

What if you want an Iphone app of a database that isn't included above? The next category of apps, allow you to set up custom search engines to use quickly. You can add your library catalogue, custom database searches (with Ezproxy built-in) etc. I've covered this idea here . 

I find myself using this a lot on the go.


Barcode related apps

One interesting idea is to use Iphones as barcode readers. By using the Iphone camera, you can capture  ISBNs, and then send to search for the item in library catalogues, bookstores etc. Similar apps, are those based on capturing the book covers, and recognizing the book (Google Goggles for Android is the most famous example).There are many such apps including snapshot, pic2shop  Snaptell, Kooaba, but they typically send you to Amazon, Google books etc

Below are two apps that allow you to customize the search to be sent to your library catalogue. I've covered this idea here

CardStar - This allows users to store barcodes on their Iphones. Some users are using this for their library cards

Many libraries are experimenting with QR codes, which are 2D barcodes that can encode urls, so users can snap the barcode, and be instantly sent to a url. (see guide ) .This is particularly useful since it's difficult to type in a url in a smartphone. Among many ideas, in theory the online catalogue could generate QRcodes along side barcodes, and users could just snap the qrcode on the screen into their handphones. One could embed Qrcodes to posters, blogs with the appropriate urls encoded.

I haven't yet blogged on QRCodes, but among many other posts on this you can have a look at Jo Alcock's post.(See comments as well)

QRcode readers

QR app
Many more just search for QR code

University/library apps

These are apps that have being created by libraries or universities (with a library related mod), worth taking a look at if you are tasked with creating one. I covered this here

UH Library
HK libraries (searches consortium of HongKong Libraries
Library Navigator (Tokyo) (similar to above but for Tokyo Libraries including National Diet Library)
Dukemobile (Part of University IPhone app)
iUsask (Part of University IPhone app)
Northwestern (Part of University IPhone app)

NC State "Wolf Walk"

Ebook reader app 

Stanza - Also have a look at Calibre

Kindle for iphone

Presentation app

These class of apps can be used to convert your Iphone into a slide controller. Use your Iphone to move slides forward and backwards with one flick! Some apps will allow you to see the next slides and/or your notes, either in split screen or full screen mode.


Personally I think it's between Mypoint or i-Clickr, but the free version of Mypoint is pretty functional, while the free version of i-Clickr is limited to only 15 slides.

Mighty Meeting - This is very interesting app, that allows you to control web presentations using your Iphone.


BlackBoard learn - Use this to keep in touch with assignments posted on the popular courseware BlackBoard! 

Local books - App that can locate closest bookstores and libraries that have an entry on LibraryThing  

Prowl - Use this for roving librarians who are equipped with Iphones/Itouches, users can summon librarians for help. See here  

Tungle - Use this for scheduling appointments - covered here

Foursquare and other location apps - Libraries are using this to offer prizes to "mayors", Covered here and here  

GoodReader - Tom Boone suggests using this to make it easy to download PDF of articles and to email them.  


Hope this list has being helpful.

Library Success wiki , also has an excellent section on mobile libraries that goes beyond just Iphone. apps. Anything else I missed?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Does embedding search widgets increase usage? Using Google analytics to track this


There are two "movements" in librarianship that I'm quite interested in, one is of course "library 2.0" , the other which doesn't show as much because it's hard to blog about is "evidence based librarianship". I always liked figures and statistics (I enjoyed analyzing the heck out of LibQual+ data last year) and being able to "prove" that some initiative is worthwhile always makes me happy.

Some have suggested that Library 2.0 and evidence based librarianship is on

"opposite ends of the innovation scale. EBLIP is concerned with using the best available evidence, researching where possible, and making informed decisions to achieve best practice. Library 2.0 on the other hand challenges us to look beyond standard practice, ‘play’, and give new things a go."

EBLIP and Library 2.0 - Friend or Foe



One thing in particular I loved was embedding search boxes, in theory, search boxes would encourage users to try the search as opposed to a page with a simple link since they don't get instant gratification. But this is theory, I have no evidence to back this hypothesis.

As such I was happy to see this tweet, by Gale about libraries using the Gale Widget


 I was curious to say the least, since I'm a big fan of search widgets, but clicking through, gave no information. I asked, and Gale responded

and they promised to blog more about this in the future.

I suppose other databases that provide search widgets like EBSCOhost, CSA probably provide usage statistics as well. And in theory, they could provide similar statistics, or you could run experiments yourself.

But still it did not solve my problem because

(1) I want to create search widgets for any and all of the databases we have access to , regardless of whether the database vendor provides one

(2) I want usage statistics for each search widget i.e number of times the search button was clicked.

Problem (1) , I solved by using a basic javascript template that creates a basic search widget/box for pretty much any database as detailed in my post last year Creating custom search box , followed by a slight improvement here for stability.

Go take a look, it isn't difficult, just basically doing a search, taking the resulting url and replacing 2 lines. No understanding of Javascript needed.

Problem (2), was harder - how could I track how often people were using the search box?

I could think of only 2 ways. Either you detect this at the destination (database end) or you detect this at the source (search box end).

Taking statistics at the destination was possible. My institution like most libraries are using EZproxy for authentication, and logs are stored. So in theory, you could look at the referrer to figure out where it came from. This is an elegant method that allows you to track what is driving traffic to all your databases but can be a massive undertaking to analyse for a large institution like ours.

The other method would be to keep track at the source.

Using Google Analytics to track usage of search boxes.

One day I noticed that Google analytics allows you to track outbound links from your site.The idea is that whenever someone clicks on a outbound link that has being specially modified on your webpage (obviously Google analytics code needs to be embedded) , the click will be recorded in Google Analytics.  

The idea here is to modify not just for a normal link but also for it to work for the search box, such that each click on the search button will be recorded in Google analytics.

With help of JC from SpringShare (thanks a million JC! SpringShare indeed has excellent support!), I managed to get it working for LibGuides, which means it almost certainly works for search boxes in normal pages as well. Besides the normal Google Analytics code that you should put in the header the javascript should now be

<script type="text/javascript">
function JSTORSearchGo(){

var url="";
var url2=""
var searchInput
JSTOR = document.getElementById("JSTORSearchInput"); + encodeURIComponent(searchInput
JSTOR.value) + url2);


<div id="enterText" style="position: absolute; left: -1000em; width: 20em;">Enter your search terms:</div>
<input type="text" id="
JSTORSearchInput" size="30" onKeyPress="handleKeyPress(event,this.form)" />
<input type="button" value="Search" onclick="


nter your search terms:
ter your search terms:

The only change you need compared to the past is to insert the line in red. The characters in bold is what will appear in Google Analytics, under Content--Top content.

If you are doing this in Libguides, you need to split the tracking code given by GoogleAnalytics.  Under system wide setting..., you need to add one part to the custom header

If you want to use Google Analytics for normal page tracking as well, add the page tracker code.


An interesting question would be whether this could work in Netvibes, I'm not quite sure whether you can insert custom headers into NetVibes page. If not the Google analytics code will not work?

Direct links vs search boxes - which is used?

With this trick you can get custom search boxes with usage tracking. So you can now measure how useful your search boxes are by the number of times they are clicked. In fact for each database, you could track 2 usage statistics...... See example below

The link text above, EconLit is hyperlinked to EconLit database. Users could click on that (call it A), or they could enter a search in the search box and click the search box (call it B).

Using Google analytic codes, one could track usage of the two.

Here's a interesting question, what do you think the ratio of B (pushing search box button) to A (clicking on hyperlink) is? about 1?  Greater than 1? Less than 1?

What do you think?

To further complete matters, how about a third link that adds the opensearch plugin to the users' browser?


A slight improvement would be to use I think two different Google Analytics codes/acounts, one for tracking normal pageviews and one of outbound links only. For the later, one could possibly filter other results to show only those triggered by clicking on outbound link for more elegant results?


So what do you think about this idea? Have you tracked the amount of traffic driven by search widgets? How effective are they compared to a direct link to the resource?

On second thought, the comparison above isn't fair, you probably need two seperate pages with identical content, except in one you have a straight link, in the other a search box. What type of experiments could you do at the library level to determine how much if at all embedding search widgets help compared to a straight link?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Scheduling meetings - Tungle & Doodle

I'm pretty bad with dates and appointments, so I rely heavily on my online Calender to keep track of my meetings.

My main calender is Google Calender (for the sms updates) synced to Outlook Calender (because we are on Exchange server) to keep track of my appointments using Google Calender Sync .

I know many librarians embed their Google Calender into webpages or even LibGuides, to show times they are not busy and available for an appointment.

The idea here is that people look at your schedule, so they can send you an email proposing a time where you are free to meet.

Basically through you still have to go through a negotiating phrase  (time not marked "busy" could still be not ideal to meet), moreover this doesn't scale when we are talking about meetings of 3 or more people. And of course, once you agreed on a date, you still have to manually mark it on your online calender.

This is where I turn to solutions like Tungle & Doodle (see others)


Tungle, is my current favourite.It integrates well with both Outlook (via plugin) or Google Calender

There are two modes.

You can create a widget/button, place it on your website, and people who want to book an appointment with you , can click on the button, go to an online calender and they can then "paint" the time blocks they want to meet with you.

Time blocks where you are busy (drawn from either your Google Calender or Outlook calender) will automatically be disallowed.

They enter their email, some details and send the request. To prevent spamming, they will need to check their email and click on the verification link, but otherwise no registration is required. You will then confirm which if any of the time blocks chosen are acceptable, and Tungle will automatically book the appointment and send an email to both of you. The nice thing here is that if either of you are on Outlook or Calender, you can add the appointment to your online calender with one click.

While I have placed this widget on my contact page, no-one has used this to contact me. Realistically speaking, the widget has this unfriendly "Tungle me" message on the widget and as I mentioned to a Tungle  representative before nobody would ever click on that, since they had no idea what it was!

That said, you can use Tungle to schedule appointments, even with people who do not have Tungle accounts. It's quite intuitive to use you set up the meeting name, duration of meeting and other details. Enter the email addresses of people you want to meet, propose the time blocks you are free to meet (the calender also has details about your other events drawn from Outlook or Google calender, so you don't book a time you are unavailable) .

Lastly, you can either get Tungle to send the email or you can send the appointment url manually. I personally prefer to let Tungle send the email. Participants will get an email, with a url. They are told explicitly that  no registration is required (otherwise many don't bother), clicking on the link, shows them the by now familiar calender and they can pick the time blocks they are available (Tungle Users will be able to see their schedules superimposed over the proposed time/blocks).

They can even see what others have chosen (they can change their minds). Once everyone has chosen, the system can either automatically pick a time that is good for everyone, or you can manually pick a time. If no common time is available, you get a email informing you of that, and you can either pick new times, or overwrite and just pick any time you feel is best anyway and an email will be sent and as before the appointment will be automatically placed on your online calender.

This is the basic idea, the system is very sophisticated,  you can amend participants attending, change time slots, duration etc at any time (it is smart enough to prompt you whether to inform any or all participants if necessary), if you schedule multi-meetings, it notes "Tentative dates" you have blocked out for another Tungle meeting etc.  You can send reminders, emails if people aren't responding and more

There's even an Iphone app (not free)

The only thing missing I can think of is someway to indicate essentially a "maybe" option (Doodle has this)- basically saying "this time isn't ideal but I can make it, if I really have to"

I have successfully used this to schedule one on one meetings with students (they don't even bat an eye most of the time), and the occasion team meeting. TimeBridge which I have tried briefly is also very similar, with the paid version giving you the ability to text-message participants, arrange web conferences etc.


By comparison Doodle is a much simpler system. Which doesn't mean it's bad, it's in fact very popular. This study shows it has reached over 20% use among the respondents in the Australian study. Not bad for a niche product.

It's basically an online poll, you select dates, then enter time blocks , the rest you know.

I personally find it less easy to use then Tungle because you have to manually enter times as compared to "painting" it.

One advantage Doodle has over Tungle is that one can select the "Yes-No-IfNeedbe" option, this results in participants being able to choose between "have time", "could make time if absolutely necessary" and "do not have time", rather than just a binary "yes"/"no" as in Tungle.

It supports online calenders like Outlook and Google Calender, but in a different way.

Above we can see a Doodle poll sent to a Doodle user (me) who has linked his account to his Google calender. I click on the "suggest" button and it tells me the last proposed date is not possible due to an appointment clash. Hovering over the cross or check icon, you can see your appointments for the day.

Similar to Tungle there is a Iphone app (not free), but it also has a free mobile site.

Creating rosters?  
One area that I'm trying to figure out is what is the best way, to handle rosters say duties at information service points. Anyone has any clever ideas on how to do this? Use shared google calenders?But what if you only want to see your duties and nobody's else? Is there any software that can set up rosters and then send appointment requests to each person?

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