With a library card, those in business and those thinking about going into business have a wealth of information at their fingertips.

The key questions often are less about where things stand today – where customers are, how they spend their money – than where they will be a few years from now.

“So we’re looking five, 10 years down the road, trying to answer questions that we have today,” Andrew Phillips, chief business reference librarian of the Mid-Continent Public Library system, said at Wednesday’s Independence Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon.

“What you want to know is, where do I need to move in order to be there in five years?” he said.

The library has about two dozen free, online resources just under the business heading – at www.mymcpl.org/  – and Phillips described some of them.

Plunkett Research, which generally offers a wide view of business conditions. For example, one report says, “In America, the average household spent $6,599 on food during 2012, up 2.2 percent from the previous year. That included $3,921 spent on food for at-home dining and $2,678 for dining out.”

ReferenceUSA, Phillips said, offers a narrower focus, and users can refine their searches by types of business as well as geography, from states and cities to ZIP codes and census tracts. That can be a quick way to develop a list of potential clients.

For example, a quick check for coffee shops reveals:

• Three in Blue Springs – two Starbucks and a Scooters. There are also links to corporate “trees” showing all the other Starbucks and Scooters in the country, with contact information.

• Ten in Independence – four Starbucks, one Scooters, one Gloria Jean’s, the Main Street Coffee Shop, Detour Coffee in Englewood, plus Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts.

• One in Grain Valley – the Coffee Shack.

A database like ReferenceUSA also is handy in projecting demographic trends. For example, Independence is only expected to grow by 1 percent from 2013 through 2018.

“We’re not going to see a lot more population than we see today,” Phillips said.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be areas of growth that businesses might find interesting. The 64055 ZIP code – the central part of Independence south of 23rd Street, and fully developed for many years – only figures to see 0.3 percent growth through 2018, but 64056, east of Missouri 291 between Truman Road and U.S. 24, should see growth of 3.3 percent.

Phillips, based at the North Independence branch, is one of three business specialists in the library system, eager to work with businesses. He encouraged people to “use our resources to see into the future.”

There are fun nuggets in the data too.

“64057, you’re buying more doughnuts than 64055,” Phillips said. “What that means, I don’t know.”