GLAM/Case studies/The Children's Museum of Indianapolis/QRpedia

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Jimmy Wales scans a QRpedia code during a visit to The Children's Museum.

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis was the first museum in the United States to implement QRpedia codes following the success of Derby Museum and Art Gallery in early 2011. The Children's Museum has only installed four codes, an insignificant number compared to other museums. However, the museum's high number of visitors causes the Children's Museum's QRpedia codes to be some of the most frequently scanned in the world. At a time when QR codes in general are being criticized for their usefulness in museums, QRpedia's unique functionality and the Children's Museum's accessible label design combine to form an intriguing case for QR codes in museums.

What is QRpedia?


The QRpedia website combines the efficiency of QR codes with the information already present in Wikipedia to provide more detailed content about an exhibit object in the visitor’s own language. Once the QR code is scanned, the QRpedia website detects the language set in the phone and loads the mobile-friendly Wikipedia article in that language.



Choosing the articles


At four labels, the Children's Museum has significantly fewer QRpedia codes compared to other museums (such as Derby Museum and Art Gallery and the Joan Miro exhibition, each with dozens.) The four articles that were chosen for QRpedia codes in exhibits are very specific to the museum itself, rather than linking to Wikipedia articles on broad topics. These include:

The Broad Ripple Park Carousel is the museum's only Featured Article, a distinction it received after going through a significant update and revamp by a local Wikipedia volunteer who worked alongside museum curators to gather a comprehensive bibliography on the artifact (see case study).
The Reuben Wells article was one of five articles written by teens in the museum's Museum Apprentice Program. The train has significant history at the museum and in the state and was an obvious choice for a QRpedia label.
The article for Captain Kidd's cannon was one of five articles written by teens in the museum's Museum Apprentice Program. The Cannon is the central component of the new permanent exhibit National Geographic: Treasures of the Earth, making it an ideal object for a QRpedia label.
The Children's Museum article is the only one of the four that has not had significant improvements originating with the Wikipedian-in-Residence project (due to Conflict of Interest concerns), but it was added due to the obvious usefulness of including it in the Welcome Center entry line.

Because of its focus on a breadth of topics and objects, the Children's Museum does not have a large number of uniquely notable artifacts that require new articles. There are a handful of other artifacts that could use QRpedia labels, including Dracorex, Bucky (Tyrannosaurus rex), the Dale Chihuly glass sculpture Fireworks of Glass, and the museum's water clock. There are plans to add QRpedia codes to these in the future, but the lengthy process in designing and installing our specific QRpedia labels has prevented us from making these updates thus far.


Other museums link to Wikipedia articles of more popular, general topics. Due to the large size of our labels and the means by which they're incorporated into the exhibit design, we are for now focusing on our iconic museum objects rather than broad topics. In our case, it works to have only a handful of articles that relate specifically to our museum. The articles (with the exception of the museum article) were created through projects coordinated by the museum, and we are well aware of the quality and content of the articles. However, it is completely reasonable for other museums to post QRpedia codes to more general topics. Often these could link to topics that are so popular that the articles are highly vetted by the community and are already translated into many languages. This would be an ideal scenario for staff at a museum looking to add QRpedia, but who may not have the time and resources to create or maintain new or less-visible Wikipedia articles.

The Cannon QRpedia label is located on the glass wall adjacent to the cannon.

Choosing where to place the codes


Before taking our request to the exhibit developer and designer, we have to first consider an appropriate place to install the labels near the objects. Unlike other museums that include a small QRpedia label on the casing, our QRpedia labels are rather large and include directive text (see below). This makes finding a location for the labels a challenge in some cases.

  • Broad Ripple Park Carousel: The carousel QRpedia code is the only one with two identical labels. This allowed one label to be positioned on a column facing the line that visitors stand in while waiting to ride the carousel. The other label is position on an adjacent side of the same column, and faces outward so that parents can scan the code while waiting for their children to get off the carousel. We have found the outward facing code to be more readily used, and have observed a father scanning the code while waiting for his child, reading the article, and then sharing what he learned with his child after they got off the ride.
  • Captain Kidd's Cannon: The cannon label was originally on the wall opposite the tank that houses the cannon (at the visitor's back when viewing the artifact.) The cannon is situated behind a wall of glass within a working archaeological wet lab. There is a video describing the cannon above it, and other text labels posted on the window. Later, a staff member moved the QRpedia label to be on the right hand side of the glass wall itself, immediately adjacent to the object. We noticed a significant spike in scans after this took place.
  • Reuben Wells: The Reuben Wells label is on a wall next to the doorway that separates the main Reuben Wells engine and the interactive tool car. While it is in a high traffic area, the code is scanned with less frequency than the carousel and the cannon. When observing this code, most visitors pass by it as their children are eager to walk through the tool car (a popular activity.) While families do linger nearby when the Reuben Wells' sound and light show occurs, this is otherwise not a place that adults typically stand and wait.
  • Children's Museum: The Children's Museum code is in a well-viewed, high traffic area, but it is still our least-scanned code. This is likely due to the level of multitasking required when shuffling a family through the entry gates. Another location has not yet been discussed, as the current location is "prime real estate" on Welcome Center wall space.

Designing a label

An example of a QRpedia code label for the Broad Ripple Park Carousel.

The museum technology community has frequently discussed how QR codes can be more useful to visitors.[1][2] The general consensus is that labels presenting the codes should state what the user will be getting when they scan the code, rather than presenting just a single code without context.[3] We have done this at the Children’s Museum, and have gone one step further to describe how to download an app and scan the code.

Exhibit developers at the museum designed the label text and layout. The text was based off of an earlier implementation of QR codes in a temporary exhibit that linked to video, not Wikipedia articles. In this previous QR code implementation the directions for how to scan the code were placed separate from the QR code itself. In the QRpedia label design it was decided to combine the directions with the QRpedia code on the same label. The QRpedia code was also made larger, and the text specifically stated that the code would take you "to the Wikipedia article about (this object)."

Our labels currently lack an explanation of the multilingual component of the Wikipedia articles. We have discussed possibly adding small flag stickers to the bottom of the labels to illustrate that this article is available in "English, Spanish, French" etc., however this method results in new problems of cultural sensitivity and flags/languages not necessarily matching up. This is still being discussed.

Sample label copy

Want to know more about our carousel?
Got a smart phone?
This QR code will take you to the Wikipedia article on the Broad Ripple Park Carousel.
1. Download a free QR code reader from your favorite app store.
2. Start the app, then point your phone's camera at the symbol to the left.
3. Your phone's browser will automatically open the web page for you!

Overcoming technical barriers to use

Wi-fi ensures the Reuben Wells QRpedia code works well, even in the basement.

A general concern regarding QR codes is the quality of Wi-fi and the proliferation of smart phone use by visitors. The Children's Museum had recently added Wi-fi hot spots throughout the museum, alleviating any issues with wireless connection. Two of our codes are located in the basement, where phone connections had previously been an issue. This is no longer a problem and visitors can easily access the Wi-fi and scan the codes.

The museum had already implemented mobile phone activities in event lines using interactive games such as Scvngr. While certainly not all visitors own smart phones, enough do that it makes the implementation of QR codes worth the effort.

Adding additional languages


In order to best utilize the accessibility inherent in QRpedia, it's important to have articles translated into as many languages as possible. When other museums implement QRpedia codes that go to popular, general articles, this isn't a problem as they are often translated into many languages (for example, articles on minerals such as Azurite). Since the Children's Museum's codes were predominately linked to newer and less viewed articles, we had to make an effort to increase the number of translations.

We first did this by incorporating a Translate-a-Thon (see blog post) into an Edit-a-Thon event held at the museum. The museum worked with Wikimedia:Mexico and students to translate articles into Spanish that had already been created by the museum's Wikipedia collaboration. This included articles that had QRpedia labels.

Other translations came from volunteers affiliated with the original Derby Museum Multilingual Challenge, including a volunteer from Russia who translated all articles in the museum's Wikipedia category. Collaborations with fellow Wikipedians-in-Residence from outside the United States resulted in additional translations in Catalan and French.


Students in Mexico translate Children's Museum articles that are then available in Spanish via QRpedia codes in exhibits.

Multilingual accessibility


What makes QRpedia most promising is its ability to detect the language of the user’s phone and immediately connect them to the Wikipedia article in their own language. This is especially important in increasing multilingual accessibility in exhibits, as this type of access is unprecedented. QRpedia is one answer to the exhibit designer's challenge of including multiple languages within an exhibit in a way that does not interfere with the aesthetic experience.

Deeper levels of information


More generally speaking, QRpedia (or in fact any QR code) has the result of directing visitors to much more information, quickly through the QR code, than could otherwise fit on a physical label. This allows visitors to access deeper levels of information and learn more in depth about a topic, while avoiding cluttering exhibit wall space with an immense amount of text.

This is particularly important within the Children's Museum, due to the fact that our exhibit labels are generally under fifty words. There is an extensive amount of research that goes into developing exhibits, much of which does not make its way onto labels. When this research is placed on Wikipedia, and then linked to via QRpedia codes in exhibits, visitors are able to access this information.

Inter-generational sharing


The museum has often been asked why we would include QRpedia codes in our exhibits, as if we expect children to be able to manipulate smart phones, scan the codes, and read this deeper level of information. In fact, when it comes to QRpedia codes, our audience is not necessarily children, but their parents and older (teen) siblings. Our audience is not only children, but "children and families" and our exhibits encourage inter-generational sharing. QRpedia is one way that a parent can have access to new levels of information that cannot be presented concisely on exhibit labels, learn new and interesting facts, and then share this information in a way that their child will understand. We have observed this taking place in the exhibits and it is encouraging to us to know that QRpedia is directly resulting in inter-generational sharing, a core goal of our institution.

"QRpedia codes allow the experience at the museum to have so much more depth; that experience can even be extended into the home."
--Jimmy Wales

Bringing the museum experience home


On his visit to the Children's Museum, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales noted that QRpedia codes have the added ability to bring the museum visit home. In other words, by scanning the codes in the exhibit, a family can see that there is more information that they can access again, easily via Wikipedia, once they return home. This is a recurring theme in the museum sector, where museum professionals are constantly looking for ways to extend the museum visit and to encourage further learning once they leave the building.





When we first began collecting our statistics, were surprised to find that the codes were being scanned in significantly higher numbers than we were anticipating. For instance, at 1,300 scans since June 2011, the Broad Ripple Park Carousel is the second-most scanned QRpedia code globally. The following data reflects totals from June - November 2011:

  • 2,544 total scans of all codes.
  • Broad Ripple Park Carousel
Total scans: 1300
Average scans/day: 8.5
Percentage of total page views originating as scans: 36%
Highest scans in a single day: ~48 (Nov. 22, Fall break)
Average high (scans in a day): 27
  • Captain Kidd's Cannon
Total scans: 797
Average scans/day: 8
Percentage of total page views originating as scans: 33%
Highest scans in a single day: 41 (Labor Day)
Average high (scans in a day): 29
  • Reuben Wells (locomotive)
Total scans: 378
Average scans/day: 3
Percentage of total page views originating as scans: 16%
Highest scans in a single day: 13 (Labor Day)
Average high (scans in a day): 11
  • The Children's Museum of Indianapolis
Total scans: 69
Average scans/day: 1
Percentage of total page views originating as scans: 1%

Percentage of page views resulting from QRpedia scans


It is important to note how many page views are resulting from scanning QRpedia codes. We were surprised to find that many of our codes have a significant amount of traffic from QRpedia, rather than traditional methods of accessing Wikipedia articles. This is due to the fact that our articles are about unique, lesser known objects that one wouldn't normally come upon in typical web browsing. The addition of the QRpedia codes in exhibits made the Wikipedia articles of these lesser known objects more widely accessible to those on-site in exhibits.

At 67% in September 2011, Captain Kidd's Cannon has the highest percentage of page views originating from scans.

This figure alone illustrates the impact that QRpedia codes can have within exhibits. This lesser-known Wikipedia article is receiving a majority of its page views from QRpedia code scans. What's more, these users are those who are standing in front of the actual object, allowing them to have a deeper experience in person and a broader understanding through this virtual access to information.



The Carousel code is the only label that has been scanned in languages other than English, and it has been scanned in 11 languages, including: English, Spanish, French, Russian, Dutch, German, Italian, Danish, Czech, Portuguese, Chinese. At this time, only four of these languages have translations, but we hope to have more soon.

While the other three codes have not been retrieved in other languages, they are nonetheless available in multiple languages. All of our QRpedia articles are available in English, Spanish, and Russian. Some are available in French and Catalan.



Articles that have not been translated


The QRpedia code will only go the article in the language presented if that article already exists in that language. We have noticed that a handful of languages have attempted to retrieve the Wikipedia article when it doesn't yet exist in that language. Our museum articles are newer than most and are very specific objects, so translations don't naturally occur within the community.

Instead we have completed a number of cooperative efforts to increase the languages for each article (see above). For now, we note when there is a frequently requested language on our stats page and personally request a translation from someone whom we know speaks the language. This is not a process that will easily scale. A new process will need to be developed in order to increase the number of languages present in articles relating to the museum.

Interpretation staff's understanding of QRpedia


After observations and discussions with staff, it was noted that not all of the interpretation staff (those on the floor who interact with visitors) have a full understanding of what QR codes are, and most do not know the significance of QRpedia codes specifically. Some interpretation staff have an understanding of QR codes generally and have expressed their enjoyment in showing visitors how to scan the codes and learn more information. Others have stated that they'd like to learn more in order to better facilitate the use of the codes.

An informal training is planned for the near future, where the Wikipedian in Residence will explain what makes the QRpedia codes unique and the stories behind how each of the articles were created. In this way, staff will be more enthusiastic in sharing about our QRpedia codes to visitors.

Further reading



  1. Scott Billings. "QR codes and museums." MuseumNext. August 14, 2011.
  2. Seb Chan. "Chickens, eggs, and QR codes." Fresh & New. November 12, 2011.
  3. Nina Simon. "QR codes and visitor motivation." Museum 2.0. August 2, 2011.