While QR codes (also known as Quick Response codes) have been around since 1994, it took nearly 26 years to reach the mass adoption of them across industries that began when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Between 2018 and 2020 alone, there was a 94% growth in QR code interactions as the touchless systems reentered public consciousness and surged in use across industries. One such area where adoption of QR codes is continuing to grow and change is within museums.
Using QR codes to solve problems old and new
Museums, as well as similar institutions like historical societies and other cultural organizations, were significantly altered by the impacts of COVID-19, particularly with their processes. Faced not only with extended closures and limited staffing but a consistent access to collections for both public as well as internal team members, museums had to adapt and plan for a new normal. As things started to reopen, museums were also challenged with finding new ways for visitors to interact with their objects and displays in a touchless matter.
At many organizations, the timely need to problem solve pandemic-related issues was compacted by other challenges with origins prior to COVID-19. For example, the California Historical Radio Society, a San Francisco Bay area based non-profit educational organization, was struggling to internally organize their collection while also striving to make them accessible to those at home. They, among countless other museums and like-minded organizations, found success implementing QR codes into their processes.
Improve internal organization and ease of access
When the California Historical Radio Society relocated to Alameda Island, California in 2014, they struggled to keep their sizable collection properly cataloged. “During the chaos of our move to the new location, some of our previously documented information was disconnected from the artifacts,” said Walter Hayden, an organization member who helps manage their collection. “If the tags we used to label our items got lost, it became very difficult to identify what information went alongside that piece.”
To organize their collection and ensure it remained easily accessible to their internal team, the California Historical Radio Society turned to QR codes. Through their implementation of CatalogIt, a collections management system, the California Historical Radio Society gained the ability to utilize the on-site production of QR codes to reorganize their entire collection. “Now, all our object tags include a QR code, a brief description of the object, and the object’s identification number,” said Walter.
Boost virtual interactivity, internally and externally
Implementing this process made the entirety of the California Historical Radio Society’s collection easily accessible to their members who can easily view and update an object’s information from their mobile devices. In addition, QR codes have made it significantly easier and more efficient for the organization to track and manage their collection items as they are internally moved around, inventoried, donated, etc.
Aside from providing a way to easily access more information about objects, QR codes can also be linked to a museum’s website, event schedule, donation collection, and social media platforms to create virtual exhibitions and browsing options. Now, any organization’s physical collection can extend to the digital world, offering a rich and engaging virtual experience for visitors.
Enhance the visitor experience beyond the gallery environment
Given the ability to access object information through a single scan, QR codes allow museum visitors to experience a collection’s content beyond the physical items in front of them. For example, after scanning an object’s corresponding QR code at the California Historical Radio Society, one can learn more about it online as their collections have been published to the web. “It’s super convenient for anyone to scan our object’s QR code and immediately view the object’s information on their phone,” said Walter.
QR codes have proven to be an efficient and – bonus points, contactless – way for museums, historical societies, and other organizations to organize their collections and share them with the world, both physically and virtually.