There was a lot of reminiscing Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 20, when patrons gathered at the Newton County Library to celebrate the building's 25th birthday.
The early library consisted of a few shelves in a back room at Jasper City Hall. Kathy Downs, a long-time library patron, recalled just arriving in Jasper and sought out companionship in the way of a good book at the library. She said when she saw the meager offerings, mostly dime store novels, sitting in some boxes she said she left the building in tears afraid that she had made a mistake moving here.
The Newton County, Arkansas, Friends of the Library organization was launched at a Valentine party in February 1991 to support a building program for a self-supporting library building. Fundraising enabled the receipt of $100,000 in funds. Betty Stivers, Friends of the Library vice president, recalled the fundraising effort and she said she is still amazed at how so many people contributed.
The site for the new library on state Highway 7 was the former county road department shop. There were so many layers of grease and oil on the floor, Stivers recalled.
In 1994 the new building was constructed and basic equipment and furnishings were installed. In 1995 the Friends assisted with making the initial purchase of computer hardware and software for the library. Development of resources continued throughout 1996 and in 1997 a landscaping project on an acre of the library's grounds provided native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers for educational as well as for aesthetic purposes. By the end of the decade, the library had become a center of cultural and educational programs for the public.
Teresa Hayes, former director of the library, said it was ironic how she got the job.
Arriving in Jasper she said no one knew she was a certified librarian. She said she didn't know Jasper had a library in need of a director.
She filled the vacuum on July 1, 2000 and guided the library until her retirement in May 2017. Current director Kenya Windel was an English teacher and media specialist at the Deer/Mt. Judea School District. She was also a member of the library board. She worked with Hayes a short time until she earned her credentials from the state library board.
In 2009 an addition to the building was completed, supported through a grant administered through the Arkansas State Library and funded through the General Assembly.
The focus of the library over the past 10 years has been to improve services to its patrons, especially young people. Further expansion remains a goal.
Featured guest at the celebration was Tabitha Overman. She is the first place winner in a recent state wide 4-H public speaking competition. She will represent Arkansas in a national competition set for next January in Denver, Colorado. She read her essay, "The Importance of Reading," for the small crowd who gathered in the genealogy room at the library where refreshments were set out along with a cake decorated with balloons.