Washoe County Library History

1904-1930: The Early Years

Washoe County Library System began in 1904 with the opening of Reno's Carnegie Free Public Library at the corner of South Virginia and Mill Streets. The Carnegie library served residents of Washoe County until 1930, when the library found a larger space in the old State Building in Powning Park across Mill Street. The building was erected by the State of Nevada on a site leased by Washoe County, beginning the long relationship between area libraries and Washoe County.

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"The Carnegie Free Public Library"
Home of the Washoe County Library from 1904 -1930
The "State" Building, Washoe County Library 1931 - 1965

From its humble beginnings, Washoe County Library System has grown to operate twelve branch locations throughout Washoe County, along with the Internet branch.

1930-1979: The Steady Growth Years

1948 BookmobileThe Sparks Library opened its doors in January of 1932 at its first location on B Street (now Victorian Avenue). It later moved to its current location near Oddie Boulevard and 12th Street. The first mobile library in Washoe County Library System-the "Book Bus"-became a reality in the late 1950's, and served the residents of Wadsworth, Gerlach, and Empire.  By 1966, Washoe County had two libraries on wheels.

In May of 1966, Reno saw the grand opening and dedication of the Downtown Reno Library, a gift from the Max C. Fleischmann Foundation to the people of Washoe County. The architecturally unique building designed by Hewitt C. Wells continues to serve residents and visitors to the Reno area.

In 1973, the Stead Branch opened to serve the residents of the North Valleys area. It also served as the library for Truckee Meadows Community College while that institution's current building was being built, and would later relocate to its current location in Golden Valley. It was known as the Peavine Branch until 1999, when it became the North Valleys Library

Incline Village saw the opening of its first stand-alone public library in 1978, made possible by a donation of land by Boise Cascade. The construction was funded by the Washoe County Library Fund and a grant from the Max C. Fleischmann Foundation.

A grant also allowed the Senior Center Library to open its doors in Reno in 1979. The facility was primarily staffed by volunteers, providing book circulation, programs, and homebound delivery. The current location on 9th Street became an independent branch in 1991.

1980-1995: The Partnership Years

When it was no longer economically feasible to drive the Bookmobile 200 miles from Reno to Gerlach to provide library services, the Gerlach High School Community Library became the first "partnership library" in Washoe County. The library was originally located in the school's former lunchroom, but a new library facility was provided in 1996.

In 1987, the Sierra View Library became the first Washoe County Library branch to open in a shopping center (followed shortly thereafter by North Valleys).

In 1992, Washoe County Library and Washoe County School District again joined forces to open the Galena Community Library, inside the new Galena High School. The Galena branch served residents of the South Valleys until the construction of the South Valleys Library in 2003, at which time the Galena facility converted to a dedicated school library.

Also in 1992, the Verdi Community Library opened as Washoe County's third partnership library. The Northeast Reno community got a partnership library in 1994 with the opening of the Duncan/Traner Community Library in the Traner Middle School Library.  Mendive Community Library became the fifth and last partnership library in Washoe County when it opened in 1995, serving the East Sparks community.

In 1994, voters approved a 30-year, two-cent property-tax override for the purpose of "acquiring, constructing, improving, equipping, operating and maintaining library facilities for the County."

The Washoe County Library System's website, the first public-library site in Nevada, debuted in September 1995.  The Library System was the first department within Washoe County to have its own web presence.

1996-2007: The Expansion Years

With a dramatically increasing population in the Truckee Meadows, Washoe County Library System responded with more locations and increased hours. The Northwest Reno Library opened in 1999 just north of McQueen High School, with financial support from the two-cent tax override, now referred to as the "Expansion Fund."  Bookmobile service returned to the Reno-Sparks area in 2001, with the addition of the Mobile Library, made possible largely due to grants and donations.

In late 1997, the Duncan/Traner Community Library moved into a stand-alone modular building, financed by a block grant from the City of Reno and matching funds from Glen Duncan Elementary School.

The year 2002 saw the expansion of the Verdi partnership library into the stand-alone Verdi Community Library and Nature Center, which opened on the grounds of Verdi Elementary School as a three-way partnership between the School District, the Library System, and the Nevada Division of Wildlife.

After voters approved a bond issue in 2000 for libraries, parks, trails and open space, the South Valleys library opened in 2003 in the South Valleys Regional Sports Complex, and the Spanish Springs Library opened in 2005 in the Lazy 5 Regional Park on the Pyramid Highway.

Also in 2005, thanks to the Expansion Fund Incline Village benefitted from the opening of a new library.  The 10,000 square-foot building replaced the original, smaller facility, which was remodeled for other uses.

2008-Present:  Years of Challenge and Opportunity

The national economic downturn, which was felt deeply throughout the state of Nevada, began to impact Library operations in late 2007.  Between 2007 and 2013, the Library's General Fund budget was reduced by over 40%, and over 90 positions were lost due to attrition.  The Mendive Community Library closed in May 2008 after 13 years of service.  Public hours were reduced by approximately 25% from previous levels beginning in July of 2009.  In January, 2010, both the Mobile Library and the homebound-services van were taken out of service.

With a resilient and dedicated staff, and helped by initiatives such as new self-service checkout machines (more than 20, all built in-house) and consolidated service desks, the Library System is operating 11 branches with a total workforce of approximately 130 (Gerlach Library being the 12th branch, staffed by a school employee), compared to 2005 when there were 13 branches (plus Gerlach) operated by a staff of 224.

WCLS is adapting to its new environment of reduced tax revenues which will likely not increase significantly for several years due to a slowly recovering economy.  Heading into the future, the Library System will be focusing on opportunities and on maximising its impact in the community, using whatever resources it is able to obtain.