Mid-Continent Public Library is undergoing a change that patrons will notice as soon as they go through the checkout line.

The public library system is in the middle of adopting radio-frequency identification tracking devices for its entire 3.1 million-item collection, which will replace the current bar-code system. Excepting a few items like magazines, all circulation items and reference collections will contain an RFID chip. The upgrade will continue throughout the fall.

There are teams devoted to figuring out how to tag the Midwest Genealogy Center's unique collection, which includes rare books and old yearbooks.

The $2 million project is being built branch by branch resulting in temporary closures at the library's 31 locations until the project is completed in December.

The closures last a few days, but will make organizing and tracking the library's collection just a little easier, Claire Rust, Blue Springs South Branch assistant manager, said.

She said the real difference will be visible right at checkout when library patrons will see a system that can, for example, release multiple items at a time – without any need to angle each bar-code into a flickering red light.

Once released, the library stops tracking the book or any other material with an RFID chip you're taking home with you. It's deactivated and invisible to the library, Rust said.

Meghan Davis, vice president of global marketing for the firm that assisted in the RFID conversion, Bibliotecha, said library patrons are about to see things get a whole lot faster. After your branch gets the upgrade, she said you'll be checking out stacks of items at a time instead of one by one.

Similar to department stores, the library's technology upgrade comes with towers that issue an alert when material with an active chip crosses the threshold.

Rust said the theft deterrence is really just icing on the cake, and added the real advantage to the new technology will be a more efficient and effective inventory control process.

Davis described a scenario in which the library compiled a “pick list,” naming a series of titles to be pulled from the shelves. With a handheld inventory device, a staff member would be physically directed to an item with a unique radio signal, a big advantage from relying on just reading an alphanumeric system.

RFID will also broadcast the signal of a lost book, so items in the wrong shelf can be located more effectively.

The library's most current budget report notes that the technology will also cut down on the number of repetitive motion injuries the library's staff is exposed to.

Davis said this works two ways. First, the library staff is physically doing less in the checkout process because there's no need to open or angle books to expose a bar-code. Second, self-checkout kiosks will be able to handle higher volumes making the staff less necessary in checkout.

Pat Bogue, manager of the Boardwalk Branch in Platte County, said customers are on the whole impressed with the efficiency.

“Most people have been super happy with the - I don't want to say 'magical' - but just how quick everything is,” Bogue.

Currently, Johnson County Kansas Public Library is the only other metro-area library using RFID technology in their collection.

SCHEDULE

Mid-Continent Public Library branches will be closed temporarily throughout the fall as the RFID technology is installed. The locations and dates for branches yet to be converted:

• Sept. 22-28: Antioch and Weston • Sept. 29-Oct.5: Buckner and Parkville • Oct. 6-12: Platte City and Raytown • Oct. 13-19: North Oak and Red Bridge • Oct. 20-26: Grandview and Kearney • Oct. 27-Nov.2: Blue Ridge and Excelsior Springs • Nov. 2-11: North Independence • Nov. 11-21: Midwest Genealogy Center • Dec. 1-7: Liberty