So you want to use QR codes. QR stands for Quick Response and they were invented over twenty years ago. The reason why they are more common now is not because they were invented last year but Smartphones make the technology practical. They are very common in Asia and they have been seen as marketing gimmicks in America and Europe. I believe some of the earliest use in Museums was in the Powerhouse Museum in Australia several years ago.
QR codes were rediscovered at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in February 2011. The museum had agreed a partnership with Wikimedia UK on the 10th birthday of Wikipedia. As a result of this one maverick curator at the museum, Nick Moyes, agreed to let us play with QR codes in the natural history section. In three days we had achieved it. There are lots of QR code generators on the web and it is simple to drop in a Wikipedia url. We chose to do rocks and natural history as there were lots of existing articles available. The creation was very simple as we just printed out the QR codes, cut them out, laminated them and then used blu-tack to hold them in place.
Derby Museums had agreed that we would hold a backstage pass like we had done at the British Museum in June of 2010. We then wanted to hold a challenge event but we had decided that we wanted to support non-English articles. The QR codes that we has only supported one language. We were going to look a bit silly as the ideas we had launched were incompatible. We needed to drop the multi-lingual challenge or the QR code idea or make them compatible. Roger Bamkin approached Terence Eden and as a result the two created a new type of code called QRpedia. These codes linked to a website called QRWP.org that receives the request for the wikipedia article and also reads the users preferred language from their phone. Using this information the web site tries to deliver a Wikipedia article written in the correct language.
As a result we ripped out all the phase one codes and replaced them with QRpedia codes. We now understood more about this and we did not laminate the new codes as we did not want shiny codes that bounce off misleading reflectyions. Wherever possible we did mount the new codes behind glass as this ensured that they could not be fiddled with. The only "vandalism" we had was children moving codes - as they were only stuck down with blu-tack then this was not surprising. For phase 2 we chose rocks as we discovered that these were already supported in several dozen languages. QRpedia codes give you Wikipedia articles ready for a mobile, they increase the gebability of a given code and they allow users to read articles in any given language. If you are going to link to Wikipedia then there are no known disadvantages over a conventional QR-code. Do not use Microsoft tags or any other type of bar code. QR code readers are included in some phones and are the de facto standard.
Having established confidence in the museum that QR codes worked we were able to extend their use to the whole of the museum. We tried printing onto pre-cut labels which was not worth the effort of aligning the images. We did use sticky back paper which worked but we had to cut each label out. The main problem was colour. Some exhibits had cream labels, others had green or yellow pastel shades. We found the best solution was to order clear sticky back A4 sheets. These had to be ordered specially for either an ink jet or a laser printer. The latter sounds best, but we actually did the former with no regrets. Using clear labels meant that we could add them easily to existing displays and frequently it was imperceptible that they had been added later.
Size - there are two issues over size. The first is what size are you going to use. The original QR code standard talk about 35 mm square but we never went that large except for showmanship. About 25 mm square works OK and you can go smaller but these are going to be tricky to use if they are behind glass. We have read 25mm square codes that were 20 cm behind glass with poor light and where the code was partially obscure, but I suspect the average visitor would not have that level of confidence or patience to make that situation work. The second problem of size was to make them consistently the same size. We cheated and used the "Print" option in ?Microsoft Windows file manager. i.e. You save the images of all the codes you want to use in a directory, select them all and choose "Print". One print option is to have 35 images per A4 sheet. These were the correct size and consistent.
Confusion In phase one we put the url of the QR code below it to add confidence. Eventually we abandoned that idea and just gave enough information below the code to tell the visitor where they were going.... where it wasn't obvious. So instead of writing www.wikipedia/wiki/Mona_Lisa we would write "Mona Lisa" or just leave it blank it is right beside the painting in question. The other confusion is forgetting which code is which. We saved the images in file names that gave us a clue. Then if we printed them out with the Microsoft Windows Print option (see above) that gave 35 pictures to the page then they arrived clearly labelled. You could then decide to cut off the label just before you applied it to the object's museum label.
In phase four we included the QR code in the design for the objects label and it was printed out as part of the design.
We haven't achieved this yet. Phase five would be where every new label was automatically given a QRpedia code and where it didn't exist then the curator would add a new wiki article. Maybe one day in your museum?