Cenizo Journal Spring 2022 - Page 12

The power of a tiny library to open minds , change lives by Carolyn Campbell

On a Wednesday afternoon in the cavernous back room of the Jeff Davis County Library in Fort Davis , population 1,100 , three teenaged girls sit at a conference table discussing the month ’ s book club selection , The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time . Initially created for home-schooled teens over 13 years old , the group ended up consisting of eight home-schooled girls . Dottie wears a brightly colored crocheted patchwork sweater with matching crocheted earrings . Grace has bright pink hair , and Mia wears a blue sweatshirt and blue jeans . At first blush they could be girls from any town in America , but they live in Far West Texas , one of the most remote regions in America with an average of one person per square mile .
All three of the girls get excited when they share that here , in this book club , they can be exactly themselves and not worry about fitting into the tightknit school groups whose families have known each other for generations . They openly share the loneliness that accompanies small-town life . But all agree , even though social gatherings are rare , they ’ d rather be here than any big ( or small ) city . Most importantly though , they look forward to their time at the library , where it ’ s “ one of the few safe zone where everyone is accepted .” Dottie says , “ Small towns can be rough when you ’ re different .”
When the girls asked Dawn Healy , interim library director , if they could choose their own books and lead their own discussion she said , “ Absolutely .” While they discuss this book , she periodically drops by to check on them . The girls keep talking as if she wasn ’ t there . When asked about next month ’ s book choice , Dottie beams , “ The book we chose for next month is Mary Shelley ’ s Frankenstein . I love my lady authors !”
Less than an hour away in Marathon , Texas with a population of less than 400 , a group of six teens and tweens gather on a Sunday night , popcorn and Dr .
Pepper in hand , watching the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird . Dara Cavness , the town ’ s librarian for eight years , works with the students to choose books that address important cultural and social issues . Next month , it ’ s Steinbeck ’ s Of Mice and Men .
Like most small rural communities where there is little to do beyond school , sports and church , these two libraries serve as a vital community hub . With over 57 % of youth living below the poverty line , these libraries provide youth access to resources otherwise not available to many families . In Marathon ’ s tiny 737 square feet of space , Dara has squeezed in nearly 5,000 books , along with a row of computers , two small tables for art programs , a cupboard filled with snacks and a portable movie screen .
The Jeff Davis County library , with a far larger footprint of nearly 6,000 square feet , has dedicated a corner of the library as the Kid ’ s Pantry kitchenette . In the fully-stocked room with a full-size refrigerator and microwave , students can grab fresh fruit along with healthy , kid-friendly snacks . They can also bring home basics including pasta , sauce and mac & cheese . Jeannine Bishop , the treasurer of the Friends of the Jeff Davis County Library states , “ We want youth to feel they can come anytime . Our goal is to make sure no one goes hungry . Here we feed their minds and their bodies .”
Despite the distinct difference between their respective towns , both Marathon and Jeff Davis County Libraries strive to create an expansive approach to life and learning . Dara Cavness ’ s goal is to create programs that “ not just provide books but also prepare young minds for the challenges they will meet out in ‘ the real world ,’ while also showing them that being different is a good thing and acceptance is a wonderful thing .”
Bee Bailey , now a college student in Austin , Texas , grew up as a preacher ’ s daughter in Marathon . She reflects back on the importance of her time at the Marathon library : “ The library was a big escape . It was my haven for literary exploration . It was there that I started reading about Greek Gods and even got to be part of buying graphic novels for the library . That was so cool ! Every day I still think about or talk about something our library does for the town and the kids in town , and I ' m like , that is not happening other places .”
Her younger sister , now in high school , agrees . “ Reading The Year I Turned Pretty changed my life . Before reading the book I had so many self-doubts . I felt like no one wanted me . It was really hard that year at school . I think having a space for girls to share their experiences in a safe way is really important .”
Back in Fort Davis , Dottie shares why she loves having a girls ’ book club . “ I feel like there are things we probably wouldn ' t talk about and discuss if boys were here . We , as a group , might be different , but we have at least one thing in common , being girls . Here in our book club , with a set time talking about books , it ’ s safe .”
Bee agrees . “ Girls can be mean , for sure . By having a clear set of ground rules and sticking to them , it can be a great way for girls to explore who they are as openly as they feel comfortable .”
Although different in size , both libraries squeeze as much space and as many resources as they possibly can to provide youth with a vast scope of learning opportunities . Marathon ’ s weekly hands-on workshops offer elementary youth the only after-school program . Daisy Jayne Gallo-Trehus ( 9 ) and her sister Bobbie ( 7 ) are wrought with emotion when , due to COVID , their weekly program gets canceled . “ There ’ s nothing else to do in this town ,” Daisy says . “ But now they ' re pretty much all canceled ‘ cuz someone gets sick . One thing can destroy
Chalk board , Jeff County Library in Fort Davis
Jeff Davis County Library , Fort Davis

12 Cenizo Spring 2022