What are QR codes?

Close-up of a QR code, which is two dimensional barcode.

A QR code is a type of barcode that can hold more information than the familiar kind scanned at checkouts around the country. The "QR" stands for "quick response," a reference to the speed at which the large amounts of information they contain can be decoded by scanners. They were invented in in Japan and initially used for tracking shipping. As the code can be easily decoded by the camera of a BlackBerry, iPhone or other smartphone, this technology is increasingly accessible to the average person. Instead of tracking car parts and packages, the codes can work with the phone's Internet browser to direct the visitor to online content quickly and efficiently. A QR code acts as a link embedded in the real world, integrating it with the virtual computer world. Currently they are being widely used for advertising campaigns, linking to company websites, contest sign-up pages and online menus.

QR Codes and Museums


It is increasingly common to hear about museums developing smart phone applications. Many large, well-known museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Canadian Museum of Civilization are releasing standalone applications—or "apps"—which give iPhone users more information on museum exhibits and access to multimedia content like audio tours and short videos. These apps, however, can cost many thousands of dollars to develop, putting them out of reach to all but the largest institutions. Additionally, standalone apps can only be used by the types of phones for which they are designed. That means that only visitors with iPhones could use an iPhone app, even though other phones such as Androids and BlackBerries have similar abilities.

QR codes have the potential to deliver similar content with very little to no overhead cost. They can be scanned by a range of devices, increasing the audience which can access them. By using this technology, even small, volunteer-run community museums can take advantage of new technology to provide a more interactive museum experience: granting virtual access to artifacts not on display, oral history interviews and deeper information that may not fit on labels or be interesting to all visitors. This information can be uploaded to the Internet on free sites like YouTube or Wordpress, and then linked through QR codes placed around the museum. For museums with online artifact databases, a link can be provided to the catalog record for each object on display.


A number of museums have already been experimenting with the use of QR codes.
See Appendix A for an overview of museums and cultural institutions that are currently using QR codes.

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This resource was published by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). For comments or questions regarding this content, please contact CHIN directly. To find other online resources for museum professionals, visit the CHIN homepage or the Museology and conservation topic page on

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