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Sandra G. Treadway retires as Virginia’s state librarian

Debora Timms | 1/25/2024, 6 p.m.
When Dr. Sandra Gioia Treadway started working as an associate editor of publications for the Library of Virginia in 1978, …
Robert Blue, chairman, president and CEO of Dominion, right, stands with Sandra Treadway, left, librarian of Virginia, and Danita Gail Wilkinson, middle, COO of the R.R. Wilkinson Foundation that is named after her father, the late Rev. Raymond Rogers Wilkinson, the Baptist minister and civil rights leader. Rev. Wilkinson and several other Virginians were honored during Dominion’s and the Library of Virginia’s “Strong Men & Women in Virginia History” awards program June 15 at the Hilton Richmond Hotel and Spa. Photo by Ellis Henderson

When Dr. Sandra Gioia Treadway started working as an associate editor of publications for the Library of Virginia in 1978, she recalls the time being such “a different world back then. It’s hard to imagine what it was like.”

She remembers a period where finding materials meant searching the library’s card catalogues. And, as an editor, she said making corrections to publications often involved retyping multiple pages or entire documents, a process made much simpler by the arrival of word processors.

“Everything took so much longer. ... It was light years from where we are now,” Dr. Treadway said.

The New Jersey native came to Virginia while pursuing her doctorate in American history after earlier earning a master’s in library and information sciences from the University of Tennessee. Before being tapped as librarian of Virginia 16 years ago, she served as deputy librarian for 11 years.

This month, after working for the Library of Virginia for 45 years, she will retire.

Her pending retirement has meant reflecting on the many changes that have occurred in nearly five decades at what arguably is one of the state’s most storied and valuable institutions.

New technology clearly has made work at the library more efficient. In fact, Dr. Treadway said that the LVA was one of the earliest adopters of digital imaging of its collections among all of the state archives in the country.

“We recognize that not everyone can get to Richmond,” she said, noting that digitization helps make the library’s collections more accessible. “We’ve been doing that for quite some time.”

All of the library’s currently digitized original manuscripts or photograph materials reside on a satellite website to their main site, which is called Virginia Memory.

“Technology also lets us link collections in interesting ways,” she said.

As an example, she points to a project that originated with an idea staff members brought to her to identify records that tell the stories of individual African-Americans prior to 1865, whether enslaved or free. Those records have been digitized and entered into the database for “Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative.”

“The goal is that, over time, this will grow substantially,” Dr. Treadway said, explaining that the hope is to develop a vital resource that might help researchers move past the brick wall that often arises for those trying to trace their history and genealogy, especially African-Americans.

Increasing the diversity of the library’s holdings and highlighting the stories and achievements of often-overlooked Virginians has been a focus of the collection-development policy throughout Dr. Treadway’s tenure.

“There are so many people important to history and their stories need to be discoverable,” she said.

Dr. Treadway said it has been her privilege to have opportunities tell those stories through exhibitions such as the current “Indigenous Perspectives” and through the library’s partnership since 2013 with Dominion Energy in the “Strong Men & Women in Virginia History” program.

“I think so many of these life stories have not been included before and this program is a great resource for educators across the state,” Dr. Treadway said. “The more you reach out and look, the more you can identify and discover.”

The library’s work also raises awareness that it is always looking to increase such collections, which can lead to unsolicited donations as well. She gave the example of photographers involved in the Columbia Pike Documentary Project, who transferred thousands of photos, some of which became part of a 2021 exhibition celebrating the cultural diversity found in Arlington.

She said one of the LVA’s particular strengths is that, especially when it comes to government, every bit of information is saved.

“That is priceless. Even if it may not be top of mind today, in 50 to 100 years it will be vital,” Dr. Treadway said. “Our interest is in preserving stories today for the public and for students in the future.”

That mission of preservation has been at the heart of the LVA, which celebrated its 200th anniversary throughout 2023. With that milestone under her belt, Dr. Treadway said the timing was right to “pass the torch and bring in new leadership and a new perspective” as the library begin its third century.

Dennis T. Clark will become the 10th librarian of Virginia on Jan. 25. He comes to the role from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., where he was chief of researcher engagement and general collections. He also brings with him an understanding of Virginia universities, having worked at both the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University in his career.

“It’s important to note that the Library of Virginia is widely considered to be among the finest and most relevant state library and archives in the country,” Mr. Clark wrote in a recent email. “Virginia is, and should be, proud of its state library!

“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to follow a terrific leader like Dr. Sandy Treadway,” he added. “I want more Virginians - particularly Richmonders - to use our spaces, visit the Can Can Café in our lobby, and connect with our collections and staff.

We are looking at ways to make the building more accessible and engaging, so I’ll be very focused on ways to do that.”

Dr. Treadway said that even though she is retiring, she always will be one of the biggest supporters of the library and she is looking forward to seeing the new strategic plan that Mr. Clark and the board will put forward.

As for herself, she said she has no grand plan for her retirement other than working with local organizations in which she is active and to travel more.

“I can tell you that the stack of books on my nightstand and on the floor beside my nightstand has been growing so I’m hoping to reverse that,” she said, laughing. “I’m staying flexible to be open to new opportunities, but being careful not to say “yes” to everything so I don’t end up even busier than ever.”