MERCED -- If all goes as planned, the Merced County Library soon will add 2 million books, movies, CDs and tapes to its collection -- all without buying a thing.
By summer, library officials are hoping to join the San Joaquin Valley Library System, a consortium of 10 public library systems that would give Merced County residents access to collections across the San Joaquin Valley.
With membership in the consortium, local patrons would be able to search collections at libraries across the valley from their home computers, then have the book, CD or film they're interested in delivered to a library branch of their choice. The service is free; delivery typically takes about a week.
If Merced joins the consortium -- which includes public libraries in Mariposa, Madera, Tulare, Kings, Kern and Fresno counties -- library card holders would have access to about 2 million new items, on top of Merced's own 400,000-item collection.
Their Merced County library cards would be valid across the valley, and patrons could return a book from any library to any other member branch.
"I see this as a way to add millions of items to our collection that we'd otherwise never be able to afford," said Jacque Me-riam, the county's head librar-ian. "The benefits to our patrons will be huge."
Meriam began advocating for Merced's membership in the consortium soon after she was hired in March. Earlier this month, the Merced County Board of Supervisors approved Meriam's plan, though several more approvals are needed.
It's uncertain how much Merced County will have to pay to join the consortium, as dues vary for each member, based on the size of the population it serves and its collection. Though Merced's annual fee is still being negotiated, Meriam estimates it will be between $60,000 and $70,000.
Madera County pays about $60,000 each year. Linda Sitter-ding, Madera's head librarian, considers that a deal. "We get so much for that $60,000," she said. "Madera County could never afford to stand independently and provide all the services it does without this system. ... This will be a huge advantage for Mer-ced."
The consortium also provides support for library staffers. For example, children's librarians at member libraries hold regular meetings to discuss ways to improve children's services. And if a reference librarian in Tulare can't find an answer to a question, he or she can call a reference librarian in Fresno. "With that kind of support for our staff, we'll certainly be able to provide better service," Meriam said.
Membership in the San Joa-quin Valley Library System would also mean lower book prices for Merced libraries, as well as cheaper access to the Internet and to specialized research databases, Meriam said.
To join the consortium, which was formed in the 1960s, the Merced County Library needs approval from the state and from the consortium itself. It also needs a final OK from the Board of Supervisors, once a membership rate is cemented. Meriam is confident the library will obtain all the approvals.
Once Merced joins, it will be the consortium's fourth-largest member in terms of collection size, Meriam said.
On the Net: www.co.merced.ca.us/library.