A Spotlight on Texas Libraries: The Small but Mighty Marathon Public Library

Pictured above: Marathon Public Library patrons pose with some favorite books.

Libraries, beyond being a calm, quiet space where anyone and everyone is welcome to gather and learn, can often be a lifeline in their communities. Libraries provide access to things beyond books, media, and the internet—some, like the Marathon Public Library, provide parenting support meetings, after-school care, even needed school supplies.

Supporting and promoting Texas libraries has been a key part of our mission since the Texas Book Festival’s founding, and we’d like to proudly highlight some of the libraries we’ve worked with across our great state, like the Marathon Public Library, in Marathon, TX, outside Big Bend National Park.

A young librarygoer puzzles through a STEAM learning craft at the Marathon Public Library.

Marathon Public Library, a tiny, 723 square foot space in west Texas serves an equally small population of approximately 430 people, but don’t underestimate its value or its endurance through shaky times.

The library first opened its doors in 1954 as a branch of Alpine Public Library, but in 2013, Alpine Public Library was facing budget cuts and considering closing their branch library in Marathon. To prevent losing the only public library in their area (the next closest being 30+ miles away), the residents of Marathon came together to keep the library open and formed a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, independent of Alpine Public Library. In the years following, the support of its dedicated community has helped Marathon Public Library grow and flourish.

Just last year, for example, the library received support from local city government, businesses, nonprofit groups, and community members. These efforts include financial support and funding help from their county commissioner, fundraiser held by the local Chamber of Commerce and the Gage Hotel, as well as from some other, unexpected places.

“Crafty Ladies, a group of local Marathon women, held their annual quilt show, and all the proceeds were donated to the library,” says Erin Albright, a library patron and dedicated volunteer. “Pat Martin, a longtime Marathon resident, held a birthday celebration, where she encouraged her friends and family to give donations to the library instead of a traditional gift. Her birthday donations raised over $2,000 for the library.”

Similarly, the rural town of Marathon depends on their public library for access to books, music, movies, computers, internet, and basic services such as printing and faxing, as well as the invaluable year-round programs the library hosts for children and adults in their community. As part of their summer reading program, the library supplies all the students at Marathon Independent School District with the required school supplies each year, as well as provides a biweekly book mobile service to Marathon Elementary School. This summer, the library plans to host Missoula Children’s Theatre so that MISD students, who do not have a theatre department at their school, can join in and experience the excitement of acting and stage production.

“Our programs are well-attended, and parents frequently tell us how disappointed their children are if they have to miss a program for a doctors appointment or other activity,” Albright says.

Two (very) young readers pose during their Books For Babies meeting.

Albright explains the Marathon Pubic Library is the area’s only source for year-round programming and activities for children and young adults. Since 2013, when Director Dara Cavness began working there, the library has worked to expand their offered programs and activities from the single weekly class to their current schedule of nine distinct programs for children and young adults, with something for kids to do at the library every weekday. These weekly programs include the literacy-focused Books for Babies and After School/ Summer Reading clubs, as well as the Missoula Children’s Theatre, TinkerTime, an all-ages STEAM focused program, and DigLearning, which lets the After School and Summer Reading participants spend some time in the garden learning about earth science.

“Our library serves as the gathering place for the children of Marathon,” Albright says. “Every day, children rush in after school. Parents and teachers describe our library as the cultural epicenter and heartbeat of the town.”

Albright, who has been volunteering with the Marathon Public Library in some capacity since 2013, has first-hand experience with the special support the Marathon Public Library provides for children and families.

A group of Marathon-area parents take advantage of the nice weather as they read to their kids.

“In 2018, I had my first child, Emily Michelle, and I realized that living on a ranch meant that my daughter didn’t get to participate in many activities or socialize with other young children,” Albright says. “So, we developed an Infant and Toddler Program at the library to link parents together and give young children an opportunity to interact in an environment that encourages learning and literacy. Other ranch families and community members gather every week to play, learn, and share their “war stories” of parenting. It brings me great joy to see my work come full circle and for my own child to benefit from the library.”

The library has also taken an active role in preserving the city of Marathon’s history. The Marathon Public Library is located adjacent to the Marathon Museum— the first school house in Buchel-Brewster County.  The Marathon Museum Society is no longer active, but the library provides visitors access to the building and hosts Marathon History Nights, a program in which Marathon locals give a talk about their life and experiences in west Texas. Each talk is recorded to archive and share, along with historical pictures and narratives of Marathon, through the library’s social media accounts with the help of a local historian.

Marathon Public Library’s director, Dara Cavness, says she loves the dynamic and interactive nature of the library programs she runs, and admits to having waited years with baited breath and a ready application for a position to open up at the library.

“I have been a lifelong lover of reading and I live across the street from our library,” Cavness says. “Although it might sound “cheesy”, the highlight of my day is walking in the door at the beginning of the day. I walk in and it’s like ‘ahh, I’m home.'”

A group of eager young librarygoers present their current reads.