FRIC taps into QR codes



by Christopher Kratzer
Air University Public Affairs


3/23/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center has embraced the 21st century in several ways. For smartphone-using patrons, the center is disseminating information with Quick Response codes, or QR codes, the distinctive square codes made of black patterns on a white background that keep popping up all over.

"We started a FRIC mobile focus group with the intention of brainstorming new developments for our mobile users and making recommendations to increase usage. Almost everyone has access to mobile internet on their phone," said Ron Dial, the chief of the reference branch of the FRIC.

The QR codes are matrix bar codes that store data in large capacities. While a standard bar code can only hold a few digits, QR codes can carry up to 7,089 unique digits, according to recent data from a automatic data capture equipment company. That flexibility is key for FRIC.

"The greatest advantage QR codes can give the Fairchild Research Information Center, or any other business or agency, is the ability to move information very, very quickly and inexpensively," Dial said. "Downloading a file from a computer or database can consume quite a bit of time. By adding a QR reader (application) to your smart phone, one can download the information in seconds."

As technology shifts more to the mobile space, he said he hopes the QR codes will provide value to patrons.

"As mobile telephones have become smarter and the market for computer applications (apps) has expanded, the focus of business, as well as learning, will be how to get the information to students wherever they are," Dial said. "The smartphones are tools that library databases and e-books will try to exploit to enhance the Air University student access to resources."

The main use of QR codes at the FRIC is to complement a library database called Transparent Language Online, which allows students to learn a language and practice language skills from anywhere, including their mobile devices. He said the FRIC is testing other applications as well.

"We are testing a QR code on our 'ask a question' portal. A student comes to the library and scans the code. Then they are able to pull up our ask a question portal at any time and email us any questions they need answering. Expect to see posters in the library with a QR code for this purpose," Dial said.

"Several databases that we have purchased for the Air University student population has QR codes embedded in their mobile web access technologies," he said. "We also expect that as the mobile device e-book readers like the iPad become more popular, QR codes will be added to our selection of e-books."

While the technology is still new, he said he is confident patrons will come to recognize its value.

"While we admit that patrons are not very familiar with QR codes, especially at libraries, we know several Air University colleges are experimenting with learning involving mobile devices," Dial said. "The library is intent on keeping pace with new ways of enhancing learning."