Finding the Right QR Code Generator for Archival Research

Finding the Right QR Code Generator for Archival Research

14:09 10 November in Digital Research Tricks

I used to dread coming home from successful archival research trips. I returned with with thousands – or even tens of thousands – of photographs of documents that were critical to my research knowing that I would have to spent hours, or even days, mechanically grouping them together to match the hard copies I’d examined.

When we were developing Confero, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to automate this process. We eventually decided on QR Codes because software can reliably recognize and read them. Confero comes with it’s own QR Code that users can print out and re-use like a bookmark, but most of our users prefer to create separate QR codes for each file and use Confero to sort and name all of their groups automatically. There are lots of free apps and websites that generate QR codes but, depending on your workflow, some can be quite cumbersome.

After doing a lot of work in archives with Confero, I’ve learned the following lessons:

  1. Most archives offer open wifi, but there are still exceptions. If you don’t have a good data plan, it’s important to select a cellphone app that functions offline.
  2. Apps that save QR codes for future use are irritating for archival research. If you’re creating distinct QR codes for each file, saving them is a waste of space.

With these criteria in mind, I scoured the internet for free Android and iOS apps.

For Android, I prefer Barcode Generator / Reader. This app’s simple interface allows you to immediate input the text for a QR code and click “Generate.” The displayed QR code is large and easy to display under your camera. Best of all, if you’re photographing multiple files that have similar citation info (ex. when all of your files are from the same box), the app’s “Edit” button allows users to return to the input screen and make minor changes to their original text.

Barcode Generator / Reader

On iOS, I use Easy QR 2. After selecting “Text” from the menu on the left-side of the screen, the app functions the same way as its Android counterpart. Simply type the text, click “Generate,” and photograph the QR cod with your camera. To make minor changes to the text, just click “Back.” Feel free to check out the demonstration video below.

If, on the other hand, you use your cellphone to photograph your documents, you can generate QR codes on a tablet (using the above apps) or on your computer. There are a host of websites that do this (I like Create QR Code because I can enlarge the code’s to 500×500 pixels and take a photo that isn’t cluttered with additional content that might confuse Confero). For offline use, QR-Code Studio is the way to go for OS X and Windows. Note: for best results – increase the “width/height” as well as the “module width” so that the QR codes fill your device’s screen.


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Dan Heidt

Dan obtained his history PhD from Western University in 2014, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Trent University. His studies led him to innovate new and efficient techniques to economize academic research. As a co-founder if WI he continues to hone photography, organizing and analyzing strategies for social science, humanities, and science researchers. Over the years, he worked or co-supervised half a dozen Research Assistants. His research to-date has taken him to over a dozen archives located across Canada, the United States and England.

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