The saying “good things come in small packages” is cliché. But in the case of the Marathon Public Library, it’s true.
At 723 square feet, the library is the smallest one in Texas. But it’s turned into a hugely important resource for members of the small, Far West Texas community.
“Small rural libraries in general play a critical role in their community,” said Erin Stovall, president of the library’s board of directors. “Since we’re such a small community, we can really provide custom services and programs that our community members need.”
The library is Marathon’s only public access point for the internet and other digital resources. It also provides supplies for local students and teachers at the start of each school year, puts on dozens of programs for children and adults and fills in some of the extracurricular gaps in the community.
For instance, Marathon Independent School District doesn’t offer drama classes. So, twice a year, the library hosts the Missoula Children’s Theatre for a weeklong program, ending with a performance.
In March, the library’s efforts were honored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The group nominated the Marathon Public Library for a National Medal for Museum and Library Services – a prestigious recognition. It’s a far cry from a few years ago, when it looked like the library might close altogether.
The library used to be a branch of the Alpine Public Library system. But in 2012, administrators in Alpine planned to close the Marathon branch because of budget constraints. That’s when people like the library’s current executive director, Erin Stovall, stepped in.
“When our community members learned of the jeopardy of our library, they really rallied … to save it,” Stovall said.
The group created an independent nonprofit to run the library. Improvements followed.
“In 2013, when I first started volunteering, the bottom three rows on all of our bookshelves were completely empty. We offered like, one program,” Stovall said. “Now, you know, our bookshelves – we’ve had to build more. We’re just bursting at the seams.”
It’s been difficult to offer the same level of service through the pandemic. But library staff have found workarounds. They send books and activities out to kids enrolled in the after-school program. And the library has been a hub for folks who have questions about unemployment benefits, the status of stimulus checks or registering for a COVID-19 test.
It felt good to be recognized for all the hard work involved with keeping the library going, Stovall says.
“To be honest, when I read the email [about the award], there were tears of joy,” she said. “It was pretty emotional.”