CRESTVIEW — Sandra Dreaden, a Crestview Public Library fixture for over 16 years, will retire soon.
The reference librarian said she made the unexpected decision due to health complications related to “a stage four, incurable, metastatic disease.”
Dreaden began teaching GED classes in 1989 in the old East Highway 90 library building when it was owned by Okaloosa Walton Community College — now Northwest Florida State College.
“The college had an agreement with the library, so actually, my classroom was the library meeting room there,” she said.
In 2001, Dreaden was hired to work for the city as a reference librarian; later, enough funding was secured to construct and design the Robert L.F. Sikes Public Library, which is now located off of North Highway 85 at 1445 Commerce Drive.
‘SHE DOES SO MUCH THERE’
“She really is a priceless treasure. I don’t know how they are going to replace her,” said Brian Hughes, a former reporter for the Crestview News Bulletin who met Dreaden at a library event shortly after moving to the Hub City. He had lived in New Orleans and was displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Since then, Hughes has noticed her influence, which surpasses her immediate department.
“She does so much there; she is not just a reference librarian, she has answers for everything and she also knows where to send you for answers,” he said. “She also coordinates lecture programs — the First Tuesday Series — and she is so willing to try new, cool things to see how the community responds to them.”
Dreaden has worked to bring, what she calls, “organization, logic and knowledge of the community” to the library. Her duties ranged from lemon-oiling the wood and cleaning baseboards to doing research for the historical mural that the Friends of the Library commissioned an artist to paint in 2004.
‘SHE GIVES TIRELESSLY’
Dreaden, who planned to serve with the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce from 2017-2020, had to resign from this position as well.
“She has had such an outreach. She has dedicated her time to developing programs for the children and the elderly and for the book giveaways that they have, and just trying to get education to the public and letting them know what resources the library has available,” said Valerie Lott, the chamber’s president and CEO.
“She has reached out and worked through the school system more than any librarian we have ever had and her work here with the chamber — she has really been invaluable to us and she has been our proofreader for everything for the last several years. She gives tirelessly and we are definitely going to miss her.”
The most rewarding aspect of Dreaden’s career as a librarian, she says, has been interfacing with the community to provide answers to a multitude of wide-ranging questions.
“Networking people to the answers to the questions that they need, and by that I mean an expanded view of not just finding a book; it’s embedding this library into the community,” she said. “It’s that whether there is an organization, a service agency, or a government meeting that they are asking about, that we are the hub for the city.
“I like to say that we are the city of Crestview’s information desk because people call the library for all kinds of things. We are an interface that defuses a lot of the other questions that could come to the city.”
CONNECTING TO THE COMMUNITY
When asked what the most important function of the modern library system is, Dreaden directed the question to Vicky Stever, coordinator of the Okaloosa County Public Library Cooperative, who defined what she called the “three pillars” of the library’s function.
“The first pillar is self-directed education,” said Stever. “That includes things that people find on their own to learn on their own — it’s found on the library catalog, it’s a book you find, or a language class you take that you find at the library.”
“The second pillar is research assistance and instruction and the third pillar is instructive and enlightening experiences, the cultural and social aspect of what libraries do — a concert at the library or a knitting club. It’s the way we interface with the community and it can be the way the library interfaces with the library,” she said.
And to those who say that libraries are a thing of the past as print publications head to the Internet, Dreaden believes in their true staying power.
“Every year the Okaloosa County (Public Library) Cooperative has a staff day and at the one we just had the past year, last April, one of the national guest speakers did a presentation on Radio Shack versus the libraries — are we going the way of Radio Shack?” she said.
“It was very interesting, but he threw up this word diagram of libraries back then and libraries of the future, and you know, the biggest word of libraries of the future was still the word ‘community.’ No matter the online resources we provide … the future of libraries is still going to be a connection to your particular community.”
She added, “This is a place where they feel welcome, they feel connected and that they know people. It’s not just reading material and movies — it is a community connection.”
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated how many years Sandra has worked at the Crestview Publicly Library, in addition to when she started working there.