By The Book(s)

By The Book(s)

Newton County Library connects with kids


“Newton County is 70th in Arkansas out of 75 counties in terms of population, and its terrain is mountainous, rural and isolated,” begins Kenya Windel, director of the Newton County Library in Jasper. “In 2019, the estimated county population was 7,753. With a land area of 823 square miles, population density is about 9 people per square mile.”

Windel knows this not just statistically, but from personal experience. She attended kindergarten through 12th grade at Deer, which is about 16 miles from Jasper and part of one of three school districts in the county.

“The Deer-Mt. Judea School District covers about 400 square miles of Newton County,” Windel says. “The Jasper School District covers over 600 square miles of Newton, Madison and Johnson counties. The Ozark Mountain School District covers almost 370 square miles of Newton, Marion and Searcy counties.”

For all of the schools in Newton County, there is one public library — the one in Jasper. And giving students digital access is the library’s latest project. “I like that I can keep my book on my computer, and I don’t have to worry about checking it out from my teacher and returning it,” says 10th grader Graydon McCutcheon of the new access app called Sora.
(Courtesy Photo/Kenya Windel)

For all of the schools in Newton County, there is one public library — the one in Jasper. Having taught in the Deer-Mount Judea schools from 2006 to 2017, Windel found it only natural to continue to think about those students when she transitioned to a new career as a public librarian in 2017. And she tried “many outreach efforts to local school systems, with varying degrees of success.”

“For many years, the Newton County Library has distributed flyers to area schools prior to summer vacations to invite students to summer reading programming, but due to the rural, isolated and remote nature of our county, it’s difficult, if not impossible, for many young people to visit the library in person,” Windel says. Digital access to the library was also more difficult than one might expect, complicated by a small library staff, with an even smaller budget, trying to get library cards into the hands of youngsters who might have never been to the library.

Then, in the spring of 2020, a partnership between students and the library was facilitated by an app called Sora, created by a company called OverDrive in a project titled Public Library Connect.

“The Public Library Connect program does not incur increased costs for the library, is provided free of charge to our school district partners, and places the facilitation responsibility on OverDrive,” says Windel. “OverDrive provides and maintains the platform, manages the technical aspects, authenticates school and student information, etc., while the library and school districts act as partners.”

The result is that the only things students need for access to ebooks and audio books is “an internet-enabled device and occasional internet access.”

“An internet connection is needed to download the material, and then it is saved to the device for two weeks,” Windel explains. “It can be read or listened to on the device without needing internet access once it’s downloaded. Ebooks and audiobooks auto-return, so families never have to worry about fines or late fees.”

Students, she adds, “do not have to physically find a way to the library. They can browse from wherever they can find internet access. Their parents’ work schedules and their own schedules do not have to coordinate with the library’s open hours to get a parent signature.” And the library offers free wi-fi access 24/7, that reaches all areas of the parking lot. “So, anyone, including students without internet at home or passing tourists, can use NCL’s wi-fi anytime,” she says.

“I am hopeful that this partnership will put reading resources in the hands of all of our kids but especially those who might not be traditional readers or those who might not have access to a library or other reading resources,” Windel says. “From my years in education and from my experience as a parent, kids get excited and become interested in what their peers and the adults around them are excited about and interested in. I want to do my part to put reading, education, and public libraries into the mix of things that excite and interest our young people.”



Newton County Library’s

Public Library Connect

To find out more, contact library director Kenya Windel via email at, visit the website or call 870-446-2983.

Categories: In The News