Part 2: The Proper Use of QR Codes in the Museum Setting

Welcome back, Lori and Technology in the Arts followers! This week, I continue my interview with Lori Byrd Phillips, Wikipedian in Residence and Web Content Specialist at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis AND the US


Cultural Partnerships Coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation. Today, we discuss the proper use of QR codes in the museum setting and what they can do for your cultural institution.

Elizabeth: I discussed QRpedia in a recent blog post, but I am still curious - as a Wikipedian and museum insider, how do you define QRpedia and its benefits?

Lori: QRpedia is a QR code generation system that directs to Wikipedia articles in the user’s preferred language. Anyone can create a QRpedia code by pasting a Wikipedia link on the QRpedia site. What makes QRpedia unique is its ability to detect the language of the user’s phone and direct them to the Wikipedia article in that language. QR codes have the general benefit of augmenting experiences by providing additional information via your smart phone, but QRpedia goes beyond this to address multilingual accessibility to content, no matter where you are. It’s a clever use of Wikipedia’s strength as a central source of information, as well as its unprecedented scope through the over 280 languages it serves. You can learn more, naturally, via the QRpedia Wikipedia article (which is in a number of languages!)

Elizabeth: How did QRpedia get started?

Lori: QRpedia got its start in April 2011 with a suggestion from Roger Bamkin, the Wikipedian in Residence at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery and chairman of Wikimedia UK. He wondered how visitors in museums could more easily access the abundance of information we were working hard to add to Wikipedia about museum topics. Developer Terence Eden stepped up with a solution – and QRpedia was born. Having proved successful in Derby, QRpedia spread to the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona and The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Recent implications have included the UK National Archives, the Sofia Zoo in Bulgaria, and the entire town of Monmouth, Wales.


Elizabeth: When did QRpedia make its debut at the Children’s Museum?

Lori: The Children’s Museum had already begun the process of incorporating QR codes in exhibits to link to our newly created Wikipedia articles, so QRpedia came at the perfect time. We added our first QRpedia codes in June 2011, making us the first museum in the United States to use the tool. You can see our humorous explanation of our use of QRpedia in the recent edition of “This Week’s Wow" (below).


Elizabeth: How are the museums effected by the implementation QRpedia? And the Children's Museum specifically?

Lori: The Wikipedians in Residence in Derby and Barcelona truly took advantage of the multilingual functionality of QRpedia by coordinating massive translation efforts that spanned the globe. This gave small institutions like Derby Museum visibility within languages and countries that would have never known about their collections before. While the Children’s Museum has carried out some smaller-scale translation projects, the implications of QRpedia for our institution have had a different focus.

The Children’s Museum’s mission is focused on family learning and intergenerational sharing, and as Wikipedian in Residence I have worked hard to connect our Wikipedia projects to these goals. QRpedia was an important step in bringing our work in Wikipedia into our exhibits, and in promoting intergenerational sharing between family members. Our labels are very short in order to remain accessible to children, but QRpedia gave us a means for linking deeper levels of information to adults and teens who were interested in learning more. This is the most promising aspect of QRpedia’s implementation in our institution, specifically.

Elizabeth: Can you share an anecdote or special success story involving QRpedia use in your Museum?


Lori: I was thrilled to observe a father scan the QRpedia code for the Broad Ripple Park Carousel as he waited for his daughter to finish her ride. The Broad Ripple Park Carousel article is a Featured Article that curators have said is the most comprehensive history of the carousel that exists. The father read all about the carousel’s incredible history on his smartphone, sharing some of the most interesting facts with a grandparent while they waited. When his daughter came up to him a few minutes later, they excitedly told her some of what they had learned, all of which was not available on the exhibit labels. This was intergenerational sharing in action, made possible by QRpedia.

Elizabeth: What makes QRpedia successful? What “best practice” advice do you have for QRpedia use?

Lori: In spite of the many barriers that often lead to the inutility of QR codes, the Children’s Museum has seen an incredible level of success with QRpedia. In the first six months our four QRpedia codes were scanned 3,300 times, with 20% of the total Wikipedia article views originating as scans. While we only have four QRpedia codes now (with more to come), our large number of visitors leads to our QRpedia codes to be some of the most frequently scanned in the world; on one holiday a single code received almost 50 scans. We believe this level of engagement is due to three reasons:

• We use large, directive labels that tell the visitor how to scan the code. It was important for our audience that we provide directions for how to use the technology. This encourages visitors to give something new a try, rather than simply showing a QR code without explanation.

• We tell the visitors what they will be getting when they scan the code. In a blog post this summer, Nina Simon made the important point that QR code signage should tell visitors why they should go through the effort of scanning the code. By clearly explaining that you will be able to learn more about an object through its Wikipedia article, visitors understand what the payoff will be.

Visitors’ prior experience with Wikipedia provides the motivation needed to scan the code. By saying that they will be directed to the Wikipedia article, most visitors will know exactly what kind of information they will be getting. The average person will be familiar and comfortable with Wikipedia as a platform and may be more likely to scan a QRpedia code.

Elizabeth: How do you measure its success?

Lori: There are built-in statistics for QRpedia, which you can access by changing the path of any article that has a QRpedia code. We use these


statistics to measure the number of scans for each code and the number of languages that are accessing the articles. We also compare the total page views of the Wikipedia article to the scans in order to find the percentage of traffic that is originating from scans (as compared to typical Wikipedia searching/browsing.) This figure is important for our QRpedia codes because they are all very specific objects (“Broad Ripple Park Carousel,” rather than “carousel”) that wouldn’t necessarily receive many hits from simply browsing. In an extreme case, in December we found that Captain Kidd’s cannon had 94% of its views originate as scans (366 scans and 388 total views.) This meant that the QRpedia code was the predominate way that the public was gaining access to this particular Wikipedia article.

Elizabeth: Why should museums not be afraid to implement QR codes? How can we combat resistance to QR codes in US?

Lori: The museum technology community is certainly just as critical of QR codes as the rest of the world, but they may be credited with being a bit more thorough in their deliberations. I would admittedly mock a poorly placed QR code just as quickly as the next cynic, but museums have some great examples of QR code usage that could make even the biggest QR code critic take a second look. My personal favorite is the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities project QRator, which uses QR codes and the Tales of Things program to allow for on-site and online community curation and feedback. QRpedia ranks up there with QRator for its practical application to museum spaces, especially in making a real difference in the accessibility to information while in exhibits.

Elizabeth: How can others become involved with QRpedia?

Lori: The QRpedia team is made up of Wikipedians who have helped implement QRpedia all over the world, and we’re always willing to answer any questions. You can reach out at glam (@) wikimedia . org or leave a question on the GLAM talk page. You can also catch us at Wikimania, which is taking place this year in Washington DC.

Elizabeth: Where do you see this going? Are QR codes just temporary or do you see them having a lasting role in the museum setting?

Lori: I feel that QR codes are a useful, cost-efficient tool for the moment, but they are likely not the final solution. Museums will continue to develop innovative ways to connect visitors to deeper levels of engagement in exhibits, and this is a great way to do so now. As with anything, the museum community has figured out the strengths and weaknesses of QR codes and has learned to adapt the technology to our needs. In spite of my complacency to QR codes in general, I do strongly believe that QRpedia’s multilingual functionality and use of Wikipedia content offers immense potential for any museum, and I hope that more will seriously consider its implementation. You can read more about my thoughts on QRpedia’s implications for museums in this New Media Consortium blog post.

Lori, thank you for your time, insight and innovative work with technology in the museum setting. We look forward to following and contributing to QRpedia's progress and growth here in the United States and worldwide!

For more on QR codes check out:

QR Codes: What are they and how do you make one? [mini-nar]

QR Code Generator: The Easy Tool for Audience Engagement and Data Collection