Just how cool would it be to pick up a loaf of bread at a local supermarket, along with the newest Stephen King novel?

Just how cool would it be to pick up a loaf of bread at a local supermarket, along with the newest Stephen King novel?

“It would be so welcomed,” said Barry Powers of Blue Springs.

Powers was standing outside the Blue Springs South Branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library on Tuesday evening after having picked up his monthly reading list.

“I could eliminate some stops, that’s for sure.”

Powers is one of thousands who regularly use the library system. He’s also one of the thousands of patrons who helped make March one of the biggest circulation months in recent memory for the Mid-Continent system.

Jacqueline Reed, manager at the Blue Springs South Branch, said circulation numbers for the 30 branches increased by 15 percent for the month of March. That translates into 778,305 patrons in March 2009 compared to 677,054 in March 2008.

“And business is booming at this branch,” Reed said. “I think any library system is booming with the way the economy is, and anytime we can get more library users is great.”

And now the Mid-Continent Public Library is exploring putting the system’s new Library-To-Go formats in area supermarkets. Two fully automated library outlets were installed last month – one each at the Hillcrest and Marlborough community centers in south Kansas City – and more may be coming, according to Amy Caviness, Mid-Continent’s electronic resources manager, one  of two library officials who came up with the idea.

The concept is simple: Patrons go to the library Web site and put a hold on any item that can be placed on hold. In as little as two days, the patron is notified by e-mail that the item is at one of the two current locations. Going to the center, the patron swipes his card at the terminal and a receipt is printed. Holding the receipt with the bar code under the scanner, one of the 50 lock boxes will open and the items will be inside.

When finished, the patron deposits the book or movie into the “drop box” at the site. Unlike books, videos are onsite and available immediately.

Caviness said the library system is expected to add others before the year is out, though they likely will be in the Kansas City metro area because the library system is partnering with the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department.

“At this point we’re trying to locate areas in the county that we could offer service,” Caviness said, pointing to Greenwood, south of Lee’s Summit, as a possible location.

Steve Potter, assistant director of Mid-Continent, said he believes Mid-Continent is the first system in the country to offer the service, and he wants it to grow.

“I’m absolutely certain that there are many opportunities to utilize this program throughout Eastern Jackson County,” Potter said. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all that in 10 years we have as many Library-to-Go stops as we do branches, which is 30.”

A to-go branch is far more affordable than a library branch, which costs millions, Potter said. While business is booming for libraries, Potter said the library would have to partner with someone or some organization to fund it.

“If the budget holds, we may see some expansion,” Potter said. “We’re not certain where to-go locations will be in Eastern Jackson County at this point, but we are looking for partners. That’s the biggest thing.”

While the two current locations, considered pilots, are at community centers, it isn’t a long shot to see the to-go stations at Price Choppers or Hy-Vees. The terminals would be located next to the Red Box video outlet.

Peggy Henry, library manager at the North Independence Branch, said she and her staff haven’t been contacted about the concept, but she agrees with it.

“For those areas that need it, it’s a good idea,” she said. “Patrons more and more want to get their materials and go.”

Reed said the concept fits with the modern library patron – even though some patrons live close to a branch.

“A large majority of our patrons don’t come in and browse,” she said. “They put items on hold, come in and get out. Their lives are busy.”