Eagle Scout tags historic River Forest buildings with QR codes

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By Deb Kadin

Contributing Writer

You're walking along Lake Street in River Forest and come across a really nifty old building, but you can't quite remember what it is and don't have a guidebook that might have the answer.

Well, if you have a smart phone with an app that can read a commonly-used bar code, you'll learn that it's the Harlem School building.

Seven buildings open to the public are outfitted with stainless steel plaques, each of which sports its own unique QR, or quick response code, that will direct users to a unique web page containing information about, and a picture of, the building.

Tom Jozefowicz, a self-described computer nerd, created the "electronic plaques" program to reach the rank of Eagle Scout. He is a member of Boy Scout Troop 65.

The project went "online" early last month, said Frank Lipo, executive director of the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest. The work was presented last week during the society's annual meeting.

The society, which enthusiastically endorsed it from the get-go, worked with Jozefowicz to make it happen.

"Having the project focus on public buildings is a good way to do it," Lipo said. "There are a number of good landmark-quality buildings in River Forest."

Lipo noted that this could provide a template for adding other River Forest buildings and the effort the model could include buildings in Oak Park.

Jozefowicz, who has built websites, written software programs and other efforts, wanted to use his passion for computers to do something to help the community.

"There are so many historic buildings, but the problem is information about them isn't accessible if someone's standing right in front of them," said Jozefowicz, who this fall will attend the University of Illinois Champaign, where he plans to major in engineering. His focus? Computer science.

Historic material on old buildings, of course, is available in fragile books and newspaper clippings, which often are not stored in one convenient, central place. And plaques found on buildings don't have the space for even minimal information. Either the plaque would have to be large or the text has to be small, he noted.

Historic preservation is important to his troop, Jozefowicz said. Plaques and monuments have been created to honor veterans and other important people, but he wanted something more up to date. He decided instead to employ a solution he'd come across during college visits that would put information into people's hands more easily — a QR code.

According to PC Magazine, a quick response code is a two-dimensional bar code that is widely used to cause a Web page to download into the user's smart phone when scanned with a mobile tagging app. The Web page typically advertises a product or service but can promote anything, such as a concert or other local event.

Jozefowicz approached Lipo with the idea about a year ago and eventually decided on public buildings because they were more accessible than homes.

He got permission from the organizations, pored through material and wrote short descriptions about each. He then created a separate QR code and Web page for each building. The institutions, in addition to Harlem School (now the District 90 administration building), are the River Forest Public Library, the River Forest Tennis Club, St. Luke Parish, Roosevelt School, Grace Lutheran Church and Trailside Museum. The Web pages have up to seven paragraphs of information and historic photographs.

Each page cab be found on the Historical Society's website, which will maintain them and add information when necessary, Lipo said.

If you want to see Jozefowicz's work, the pages can be accessed by anyone, even without a smart phone, by logging on to: http://www.oprfhistory.org/explore_local_history/river_forest/historicalsiteseaglescoutproject.aspx.

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Reader Comments

8 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Alice Dean from Blythe, CA  

Posted: August 30th, 2014 5:42 PM

i am doing research for my son's Eagle Project and saw this article about yours.I want to know if you could contact us about QR code/plaque company you used. thanks.

Old Oak Park Eagle Scout  

Posted: June 20th, 2013 2:54 PM

A very original Eagle Project! We see way too many 'easy' projects lately. This is a great one!

Frank Lipo from Oak Park  

Posted: June 19th, 2013 1:20 PM

Tom's idea was to create a new, uniform web page on the history of each site to answer all of the obvious historical questions in one place. The project also includes links to each institution's existing web page; many have history on their web pages but that sort of info is typically not front-and-center. By the way, it was a pleasure to collaborate with Tom on his project. We appreciate any feedback on how best to extend this project throughout the villages using Tom's work as a model.


Posted: June 19th, 2013 12:58 PM

This is a wonderful initiative for geeks and history buffs, alike! It can be an interesting addition to walking tours in the OPRF area, or for those meandering about the neighborhoods solo. Good work! And thanks for infusing old subjects with exciting new life!

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 19th, 2013 12:16 PM

"Duplicate" is the wrong word. I understand the value of having everything housed in one place, uniformed, on the Historical Society's website. I'm just looking at another application of this young man's great idea, of QR coding buildings.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 19th, 2013 12:00 PM

The link at the bottom of this story (to the Historical Society website) goes to a page that, at the bottom of it, has links to each of these buildings' own website. So yes, these buildings do already have content on the Internet. But hey, if the Historical Society wishes to duplicate the info, fine. I just think QR coding is a great idea, and could be done more widespread if the codes could link to already existing Internet content, since doing so would require less time and effort.

The Brad from Oak Park  

Posted: June 19th, 2013 11:38 AM

No, the old historic buildings do not have their "own" websites. Not sure why that is so hard to gather from the article. Congrats to this wonderful young man. What a fantastic accomplishment. So much negativity in this world east of Austin Avenue with gangs. Its remarkable and encouraging to see a dedicated young man. God Bless him.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: June 18th, 2013 11:00 PM

I think this concept is very helpful. I'm wondering why, though, he felt the need to create a separate website with new content. Do these buildings not already have their own websites that the QR codes on the plaques could link to?

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