In Memoriam: Student employee Vanessa Plotkin lost in Oakland warehouse fire

The University Library community is grieving the loss of one of our student employees, Vanessa Plotkin, who perished in the Oakland warehouse fire on Dec. 2.

Vanessa was a 21-year-old junior from Los Angeles County who worked on the information desks at Doe South, North and Moffitt. She was a sociology major, and in addition to working at the Library she volunteered at KALX.


Courtesy of Gary Plotkin

The last message Vanessa’s mother received from her, the day of the fire, was an emoji with heart eyes and a heart. Vanessa “loved this campus,” Valerie Plotkin said during a vigil last week for victims of the fire. “I felt her presence and joy and spirit here. … She belonged here.”

Angela Arnold, circulation supervisor at the Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library, met Vanessa only once at a job interview which was enough to make an enduring impression. “I could not have made her an offer any faster than I did,” Arnold said, “and yet my colleagues still managed to snag her. Vanessa was that impressive, that smart, that charming, that mature. She mentioned how she was inspired to work at a library here by her dear sister’s love for her library job at UC Santa Cruz.”

“Many, perhaps most of you, like me, passed her regularly,” wrote University Librarian Jeffrey MacKie-Mason in an email to the Library community. “I didn’t know her personally, but I recognize her face, and believe that she was one of the diligent, well-trained students who stopped me at least once when she thought I was bringing my lunch into the library.”

To remember Vanessa, a memorial space with flowers and a memory board was installed in the Doe South lobby. A campus vigil for all those lost was held in Zellerbach Hall Playhouse on Thursday Dec. 8.

Photo of the Plotkin family by Hulda Nelson

Four others lost in the warehouse fire were part of the UC Berkeley community, including Vanessa’s roommate Jennifer Morris. The total loss of 36 lives is the greatest loss in a Bay Area building fire since the 1906 earthquake.

“Vanessa was a glowing presence in our community: smart, caring, fun,” said MacKie-Mason. “You could hear the sound of silence as the tragic shock rippled through our 24 libraries and nearly 900 permanent and student employees.”

“Vanessa was beautiful in every way,” Arnold concluded. “It was an honor to know her even a little bit.

Photo by Ryan Hoang