Recollections from library staff and part-time employees after the complete loss of the Porterville City Library due to a fire on Tuesday, February 18 showed training and quick thinking proved them to be heroes.
Before an early Friday meeting at the Adult Literacy Center started with the library staff, Annamarie Olson said a short prayer speaking about firefighters Patrick Jones and Ray Figueroa whose lives were lost, and their families, asking for peace for all of the library employees and their loved ones.
Various employees spoke about their recollections about the library, the disaster, and some addressed practical matters.
“The staff did such a great job clearing everyone out of the library when the fire started in the children’s area,” said Annamarie Olson of the Library Adult Learning Center.
The women on the staff spoke about when they were in the library and it was on fire and they were all looking out for each other, and making sure they were safe, while moving library patrons to safety. The staff are so close, they are like family.
And suddenly, they realized they couldn’t see Tony Arellano, a library staff member, which was frightening, and then he came around the corner, and they realized he was OK.
Getting everyone out was the main thing. The fire happened shortly after 4 p.m., one of the busiest times at the library, because kids are out of school.
There was a crochet class going on upstairs, with patrons in wheelchairs, and service dogs, and there are always ESL classes upstairs, plus the bathrooms are upstairs.
Tamera Anzivino, a part time library employee said she saw the fire in the kids “jungle area” of the library in a little house, yelled “Fire” and immediately called “911.” Anzivino said she videoed the whole disaster, when she was at an event at Porterville High School, where she works as a substitute teacher. She said, “It’s unreal. Heart Wrenching. The library is the hub of the community,”
“The Bulletin Board is still there,’ said Donna Silvas, who has been in charge of decorating it and changing the notices and events practically since she started working at the library 13 years ago.
Arellano, a member of the Senior Library Staff, said the firefighters were able to save a few employee purses they found in the library lockers.
Vikki Cervantes, City Librarian, said the Library Literacy Commissioners are involved in helping with the library efforts.
Arellano told everyone there was a chain link fence up around the library so people didn’t take pieces for “memorials,” but they might be able save certain things, like the bulletin board, that seems untouched.
“I started at the library, and it was an opportunity to leave the fields,” said Rebecca Jauregui, speaking about when she worked there as a teenager many years ago. She then went to work elsewhere, and came back to the library and has been there for 14 or more years. She spoke about her husband Rodger Jauregui, a woodworker, building all the shelves and wooden cabinetry for the library in the 1980’s. “I had mixed emotion about moving from the library to the literacy center across the street, because the library was home, and held so many memories,” she said.
“I always thought of working at the library,” reflectively said Olson, “and I worked at doctors offices, and other jobs. I’ve been at the library for 14 years and it’s become a home. I’ve learned so much from Becky and Tony, and all of you. The library will stay in my heart forever, we have to have a clear mind and keep the system going.
“Tuesday, was my day off. When I heard (the library was on fire), and what I saw, and it keeps replaying in my mind.”
“It’s a second home for our families, and our grandkids,” said Cervantes.
“I was hired full time right after Carolyn Johnson, Head Librarian, retired,” said Silvas, “I brought the picture of my grandmother who was a librarian for 37 years and showed it to Carolyn.”
Vicki Pollack said between herself and her husband, Alex, who works in the library, they’ve been there for 21 years. It’s been a home to them, and, “I’ve transferred the love of the library to the kids I work with in the afterschool program. And I make sure they all get library cards.”
“Actually witnessing the fire is unbelievable,” said Veronica Garcia, “It’s like something you see on TV.”
“I love how Vikki shared stories with community members yesterday,” said a staff member, “when we were with the public, and people were asking us questions about the library.”
Sandi Farnsworth, Senior Library Staff, was talking about her son, and the bond they have with the Porterville Fire Department, which has a fire station adjacent to the library.
Farnsworth’s son, Coy, was 10, when she started working at the Porterville City Library, 19 plus years ago. Coy Farnsworth is a City of Porterville Firefighter, “And he grew up in the library, and came in as a firefighter. They’ve always been here for us,” said Sandi Farnsworth. She spoke about them spending the holidays together with the other City employees, and there always being a feeling of closeness.
“The city employees would all come out at the annual Christmas dinner and we’d share with all the other employees.”
Silvas spoke about their jobs, and said library employees will be placed throughout city government.
On a positive note, Olson said, “I love new beginnings.”
Cervantes said library books can be returned to the Strathmore and Springville public libraries and put in the book drop, or they can be returned to the library at Terra Bella School.
“Donnie Moore and John Lollis are really taking care of us,” said a staff member, commenting on Moore, the City Parks and Leisure Services Director, and Lollis, the Porterville City Manager.
Library Commissioner Edith La Vonne, dropped into the meeting, and said, “I’ve never cried quite this much. It’s almost like a death.
“I’m so proud of you all. You’ve done a fantastic job. The library commission is going to do everything it can. What you do is such an important part of the community.
“All of the commissioners will physically help in the process.”
“It (the fire) really woke up this town, and they will really miss (the library),” said Silvas.
“They depend on quality education at the library. It’s a world of knowledge, and a safe haven for children, and it enriched their lives,” said La Vonne.
About the history at the library:
“The Tule River Tribe also had a huge amount of their history at the library,” said Silvas.
Porterville has a wild and varied history,” said La Vonne, “and so much good history.”
Alex Pollack, has worked at the library for 16 years, and he said he’d just completed rearranging and updating the library filing system for records they kept for bills. He said they had copies of everything.
The library had the complete history of the Porterville Recorder, for instance, on microfilm, and it’s all gone.
“For many people the library was their second home,” said Karina Galindo, Library Assistant, “Many people grew up going there with their families, including myself. Luckily I got to work there. And we spend more time there than we do at home.”
For people in Porterville, and surrounding communities the library was a mainstay in their lives. Students could go there afterschool and do homework, adults could read and do research, and so much more. The library was a hub of the community.
One window remains at the library. It says “READ.”