QR codes and iPads in the library

You may have noticed some squiggly black and white squares when you open your newspaper or walk past an advertising hoarding. They’re turning up on T-shirts, mugs, business cards and shop windows with increasing frequency. These squares are called quick response (QR) codes, and they have a range of uses in the library.

A QR code is a type of square barcode which allows you to encode information such as text, a URL or an audio file. I first became aware of them through Scan, as well as discussion on OZTL net.

iPads trial

Our school, Pacific Lutheran College, is a Foundation to Year 12 school of approximately 800 students on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. We recently purchased two class sets of iPads to trial, with a view to possibly becoming a Bring Your Own Device school. One set of the iPads was given to a year 8 class whose core teachers were particularly interested in, and au fait with, technology. The students were able to take them home and become familiar with them and used them in the classroom. These students, their parents and teachers were surveyed at the end of the term-long trial, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

The other set of devices was available for booking by other classes and, importantly, was distributed to staff over the Christmas holidays so that they could have time to play with them and become aware of their possibilities. Teachers were encouraged to consider ways in which the iPads could be used in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning.

iPads in the library

In order to ensure that we were leading the way forward in ICT use in the school, I decided to investigate ways in which the library could incorporate iPads in our program. QR codes seemed an ideal place to start for a beginner, as they are simple to use and create.

Not having owned even an iPod or iPhone before, I was a bit bewildered by the world of apps and Apple. I purchased an iPad from the library budget and, after some initial confusion (I kept pressing the volume button and wondering why it wouldn’t turn on), and a quick visit to my tech-savvy 10 and 12-year-old nieces, I had the iPad up and running.

Library orientation and QR codes

At the beginning of the year I usually run a library orientation with our year 8 students (year 8 is our first year of high school in Queensland). I usually show them around the library and tell them about the different areas and rules. This year, I decided to convey the same information in a much more interactive way by using QR codes.

Creating the QR code

A Google search for ‘QR code generators’ revealed an array of options. I decided to use Kaywa (, but GoQRme ( ) is also very good. QR Stuff ( prints QR codes in colour and QR Voice ( allows you to link audio files to your QR codes. They all do a similar job. Find one that works for you.

QR code being used by student with iPad

QR code being used by student with iPad

I created the codes by typing the text or URL into the generator. I printed them out, wrote a description on the back of each one, and laminated them. I had the IT staff put a free QR reader app on the class set of iPads – I used QR Code Engage, but there are many others out there. With this app, the students just press the screen to start the scanning, hold the iPad up until the QR code appears in the viewer window, and the text or video or website appears on their screen. I stuck the laminated codes around the library, issued each pair of students with an iPad and a question sheet and sent them off on a treasure hunt. Afterwards, we debriefed together.

Most of the QR codes contained just text – information about that section of the library and a question the students had to answer. Depending on the generator you use, only about 250 characters can be used on any one QR code. Some codes contained links to websites such as the library catalogue or home page, and a couple, such as the one on our DVD section and the one on our Sherlock Holmes display in the foyer, contained YouTube clips.

Review of using QR codes and iPads

The kids enjoyed the activity (even the teachers got involved), and it mostly went very well. I did encounter a couple of problems – the iPads had problems reading two of the codes which I’d printed out in too large a size (a 3-to-4 cm square worked best). Also, I hadn’t realised that the iPads couldn't recognise Flash, so a website I’d created that used Flash and a Voki didn't work.

I am planning a similar activity for our upcoming Open Day. I will issue prospective parents with an iPad or ask them to use their iPhones when they tour the library.

Further uses of QR codes

QR code inside a book, linking to more information

A QR code inside a book, linking to more information

I've also started placing QR codes in the front of our fiction books, with a link to book trailers or the author’s website. I purchased a box of laser labels, and have started printing these out and sticking them inside the covers. Exploring these using the iPads will form the basis of another library activity later in the term.

I have also started incorporating QR codes, containing with links for parents to find further information on the library homepage or relevant websites, in my weekly newsletter piece.

I'm sure there are many other exciting ways that QR codes could be used in the library. I'm looking forward to discovering and exploring them.

Narelle Keen

Narelle Keen
Teacher librarian and chair of the ICT Committee
Pacific Lutheran College