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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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