QR Codes in Exhibits

If you don’t know what a QR code is you may want to skim the Wikipedia article about them. You may have seen them on your soup cans or postage stamps. They have been gaining popularity over the past few years, branching out from their usual utilitarian usages. If you want to take part, you’ll need a Smart Phone and a QR code reader. Shaheen QR codes

At the AANM we have talked about using QR codes in our exhibits to link to supplementary material that may be of interest to our visitors. We used one on the introduction panel to our 2010 SURA exhibit. It linked to this page about the SURA program and its achievements. Unfortunately, I don’t have the stats on how many times it was used. But I do know that at first it wasn’t lit well enough to be seen by Smart Phone cameras. We fixed that problem and also made it a little larger just in case.

The second round of QR went into our Alfred Shaheen exhibit (seen above and currently on display!). I made sure those codes were plenty big enough (almost 2 inches) and well lit. We linked to another of our own pages specific to this exhibit. Our awesome Library and Resource Centre staff created a bibliography and article on the Arab immigrant textile industries in the early 20th century. There was also a display in the LRC so visitors were encouraged to view the materials in person while they were at the museum. Again, I don’t have the stats on usage at the moment – we’re also still in the middle of the exhibit period. Hopefully I can update on this later.

Finally, we have used QR three times in our latest exhibit about Motawi Tileworks. When I research a new exhibit I am often lead on great tangents (honestly, it’s my favorite thing about my job) and I end up with this wealth of knowledge about the subjects we are exhibiting. Unfortunately, we can’t always present all of this material (because of time, budget, space limits, aesthetics, coherence etc.) but QR codes help us instantly link to the world (via the internet) using a very small amount of exhibit real estate.

Armitage Medallion

Armitage Medallion

I want to specifically talk about one of the codes we’re using because I’m really jazzed about it. Motawi has a piece they call the “Armitage Medallion” and partly seen here. It’s based off of a medallion by the Midland Terra Cotta Company. After seeing some archival drawings of the design I sort of became obsessed with finding out the whole story of this piece. I searched some archives and actually found a wealth of images on flickr of the original medallion design still in use! There are a ton of buildings in the Midwest that used this as decoration and there are a ton of people loving it and photographing it. So I used my flickr account and made a gallery of these images. Flickr Galleries are limited to 18 images so I made sure that each one was a different building to show its range of use. I then used this QR code generator to get a code linking to my gallery.

Sullivan QR code

Sullivan QR code

It was incorporated onto the panel discussing Louis Sullivan’s work and influence on Motawi. Being the person in charge of the linked-to url I know that it has been viewed 4 times so far. Hopefully it will see a spike in views during the exhibit run.


We know that viewing the web on a mobile device is sometimes hit-and-miss. With iPhones not supporting Flash media, it can be limiting with what content we can link to. Our museum website doesn’t look fantastic on mobile devices, and that’s something we’re conscious of as we add pages and do updates. We don’t have the time or budget to create a separate mobile site at the moment, but we can use sites that already work well on mobiles. Flickr is great because they have already made a mobile-friendly version of their website and it automatically detects that it is being viewed on such a device. So my gallery looks great, it wasn’t complicated to make and I can track its usage.

I say, epic win.

-Elizabeth B.

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