From jailhouse to downtown: Ector County Library celebrates 85 years

Published: Jul. 27, 2023 at 6:31 PM CDT
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ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) - Ector County Library will celebrate its 85th birthday on Aug. 1 with the community that has helped it evolve.

The library was founded in a jailhouse that was renovated and donated by the county.

However, when it opened in 1938, it wasn’t a library yet. It had no books, according to Amber Stewart, the managing librarian of the Southwest History and Genealogy Department.

“So for it to actually start, a lot of the community had to come together and donate books,” Stewart said. “So whenever they first opened, it was 800 donated books by the community that opened the library.”

As the library nears its 85th birthday, Stewart has been exploring its history. She says it was founded by mothers and other clubs as Odessa’s population grew.

The library expanded rapidly, and moved to Lee Avenue in 1942. In 1948, a library was founded by Black Odessans and its staff was later absorbed into the Ector library.

Whether it’s the contents or the size of the library, it acts as a mirror to Odessans’ interests and population.

“It’s always been the community that has helped bolster the support to be able to fund and help,” Stewart said.

Take the 1981 fundraising event for its current building for example.

“The Friends of the Ector County Library had a Coke castle in the Permian mall that was supposed to break the Guinness Book world record and it really was a sight to see,” Stewart said.

The library will need the community yet again as it’s in the early stages of moving to its next location. That move is expected within the next five to 10 years.

Library Administrator Silvia Alvarez has worked at the library for 28 years. She says it’s an evolving fixture in the community.

“When I started, we actually had the punch cards, you know? We had to look you up by name,” Alvarez said. “So it’s changed a whole lot, but I think it’s changed for the better.”

So for its 85th birthday, library staff want to connect with the community and show its appreciation for all the support it’s received, Director Howard Marks said.

“It’s been since the 75th since the library has really celebrated and commemorated and we want the community to come together,” Marks said.

The celebration is on Aug. 1 at 1 p.m. and attendees can expect cake, music and comradery.