Falling victim to the recession, the libraries are challenged with finding items on their budget to cut that will reduce costs without diminishing services.
Washoe County Library System director Arnold Maurins said no cuts have been made officially, but staff is working on a tentative plan on areas that could be scrapped, which include operating supplies and the elimination of the system's temp pool, he said.
"We're hanging in as best we can," he said. "I don't think (full-time) layoffs are something we have to seriously think about."
Some considerations include instituting fees for services that typically have been free in the past, such as postage for the interlibrary loans when patrons can request materials available only at other libraries and raised rates on public copiers, Maurins said.
The tentative plan is being divided into two phases. A full presentation of both phases will be given to the Washoe County Commission on Jan. 13, Maurins said.
"It doesn't look good for the near future," he said.
Ever since the November election, the number of patrons going to the libraries is on the rise.
"We have 9 or 10 percent more people over last year, I think because of the early voting," Maurins said. "I think it's kind of a common-sense conclusion that people are looking for less expensive ways to meet their reading or recreation needs. They can go to a program that's free instead of paying $20 to go to the movies."
It's a drastic reduction for the library, which offers more than just books for research or recreation."
Without adequate funding, recreational reading, especially when it comes to the newest, most wanted book on the market, is hard to provide when the libraries can't purchase enough copies, Machado said.
"If a bestseller comes out, if (JK) Rowling writes another Harry Potter book, we can't buy it," she said.
The Sparks Library used to buy 60 copies of the newest Harry Potter book in demand. Over time, it dwindled to 30. Now it's lucky to have 12 copies and each one is hard to replace as they fall apart, she said.
The Sparks Library has recently lost a few positions to retirement, including a librarian of circulation, a children's librarian assistant and two library aides that place the books back on the shelves. There are no plans to fill them because of the budget crunch.
But the library is becoming somewhat less of a haven for reading and more of a media access point for the unemployed, Machado said.
Patrons are also taking increased advantage of the computers at the library.
The computers are available for people who need to fill out and submit applications online.
But while the computers will remain, there are no longer funds to fix them if they break down.
With the county's other budgetary priorities, can the libraries recover? Machado thinks they can.
"I am an eternal optimist," Machado said with a laugh.
Even though there's less money available, the libraries maintain a significant presence in the community, she said.
"I do think even though we have to cut back on what we purchase, we all feel very strongly that it's important to remain accessible to the public," Machado said. "We have a great collection of books, movies, music. We're here and that's a big part of it."
One thing Sparks Library won't cut, regardless of how much the county budget bleeds, is the children's program that invites young readers to story time or teen reading, officials said.
"It's so important," Machado said.
Self-help, romance and medical information books are the most popular as patrons look for ways to make their own auto repairs, live stress-free or cook their own meals, Machado said. Machado also said one program that helps keeps the Sparks Library going is the Suggest a Book Purchase element on the system's Web site, www.washoe.lib.nv.us. In the past five months, more than one-third of readers who participated lived in Sparks.
"The Sparks people are true readers," she said.
Although it all could be a sign of the penny-pinching to which the economy has reduced many people, it's also why the libraries are still so important, she emphasized.
"What's so nice about this library is we really get to know the people who come through the door and even though we get a lot of new people, we get to know them the same way," Machado said. "We know their kids at story time. ...You get to talk to people who are thoughtful adults and talking about current events or hot topics or books."