Changes at the Placentia History Room

The photo above shows the wonderful Placentia History Room at Placentia Public Library in 2005, during the presentation of a printed oral history to Fred Agurrie. (Photo courtesy Placentia Library District.)

Pat Jertberg, Marie Schmidt and Pat Irot -- the three volunteers who created the Placentia History Room in 1991, and who contributed the lion's share of what's been accomplished in there in the 20 years since -- have "retired." This follows closely on the heels of the retirement of Gary Bell, the librarian who staffed the collection in recent years.

Pat Irot recently wrote a friend about the story of Placentia's community historical collection:

"The Placentia History collection might NOT have happened had not the Board of Trustees questioned the use of a room called 'The California Room', so designated with the opening of the building in 1974.

"...As President [of the Friends of the Placentia Library], I...did an inventory and reported that the room was somewhat a 'warehouse' for things historical. The Trustees accepted my suggestion to rename it the Placentia History Room, and I dug in. It was 1991.

"Bringing organizational skills to the task but no knowledge of local history, I enlisted the assistance of our city's Historical Committee, with the result that we became a volunteer staff of three, each contributing to the work our individual talents. In a search for direction, I visited as many as ten libraries with history collections, asked questions, and got ideas. My visit to the Santa Ana Library History Room resulted in an invitation to attend the upcoming Heritage Coordinating Council meeting. At that and subsequent meetings, we were welcomed and encouraged, and we learned from each other.

"...We created an archive of text and media. We sought a complete collection of local high school annuals and created a local authors collection. Donations were sought. Organizations and agencies in the community were urged by our presentations to maintain an archive or deposit their materials with the Placentia History Room. As additional assistance became available...we directed the activity of interns from CSUF and volunteers from the community.

"After thirteen years with just volunteer staff, the library extended its support by assigning a reference librarian for ten hours per week. A welcome action, this provided a staff presence to serve patrons and to communicate History Room needs to library administration.

"At our departure, we provided a verbal and hardcopy report of the current status of holdings to the Library Trustees and to the City Council which included CDs and flash drives that held our EXCEL program cataloged inventory. With the report, we highlighted major projects that were accomplished as the result of Placentia History Room's archives. These include four published books, a Power Point program on Placentia, two DVDs and the recent 'Placentia History Wall' on display in our City Hall. The archives have [also] provided background material for several Downtown Renewal projects. For the school district, we have written local history information for Third Grade Teacher curriculum along with short histories of Placentia schools and also bio's of their namesakes where applicable. And participation in the Calisphere photo project was made possible as a result of our extensive digitized photograph collection."
The people of Placentia should know what a treasure they have in the Placentia History Room, and should know what treasures they're losing with the retirement of Pat, Marie, and Pat. Moreover, it's now time for the next generation of Placentians to step up to the plate and keep things going.

This story is a great example of how it's not always the people you expect who end up making the biggest difference when it comes to local history. None of these three ladies (to my knowledge) had degrees in either library science or history. But they're sharp, learned fast, were self-directed, and accomplished something worthy of a whole community's respect and admiration. (Although they certainly weren't fishing for it or expecting it.)

Never underestimate the power of volunteers. Yes, sometimes you'll run across a dud, but often they turn out to be the best "employees" you ever had.