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The new Cerritos Library

By Sarah Dalton
Editor, Connection, a publication of the California State Library

The New Cerritos Library
In northern Orange County, you can see Disneyland's Matterhorn from Interstate 5. The Matterhorn, signaling escape and pleasure to the driver, dominates the Anaheim landscape. If the passer-by buys the icon's message and goes to Disneyland, Disneyland entertains the buyer - that's Disneyland's job.

According to a growing number of library leaders, entertainment is also a part of the contemporary library's job as well: the new experience, the library's creators have learned that view.

In Cerritos, a couple of exits north of Disneyland, the three-story Cerritos Library Disneyland, the three-story Cerritos Library titanium "golden skin" makes undulating rainbows beneath the swoosh of the "Cerritos Library" logo and reflects LA sunsets; its dominance and pull is as strong as any Anaheim Alp. Cerritos City Librarian Waynn Pearson and State Librarian Dr. Kevin Starr, among others,

concur that the 21st century American library cannot sit back on the laurels of tradition and wait for people to enter the library because research and reading have always been good things. Research and reading have tough competition these days: libraries should become an experience and not just a storehouse of knowledge.

Today's library is not a theme park of course, but today's library must survive in a world jammed with theme parks, the Internet, TV, movies and malls. The architects, designers and librarians of the new $40 million Cerritos Library, have not only accepted this chaos, they have embraced it, weaving American business' hypnotic high tech threads into this unprecedented center for learning.

From scholarly research and hands-on experience, the library's creators have learned that a winning library not only accepts Californians' fast-paced life style and impatient imaginations but also works with them. The mixed-media experience of the Cerritos Library may seem "off" (Susan Sontag's word for "exaggerated style" in her Notes on Camp, 1964) to the library traditionalist, but it works. Compare the numbers from the library's first six weeks of operation in 2002 with the same numbers from 2001: attendance went from 58,770 to 185,765; library cards issued grew from 792 to 5,019 and circulation increased from 84,372 to 136, 286.

Waynn Pearson says, "If you want people to use libraries, and eventually love libraries, you have to get people in libraries." It's telling that Pearson studied Robert Venturi's Learning From Las Vegas * in which Venturi analyzes the "pleasure zone… a destination for pleasure-seekers " (like Disneyland and the Cerritos Library), a place Venturi says is "an oasis" with "the ability to engulf the visitor in a new role." At the titanium clad, 88,500 square foot Cerritos Library, an intellectual "oasis," the "new role" that the Cerritos Library offers the visitor is library- user.

The User-Centric experience

Image of the interior of the new Cerritos Library
Inside the new Cerritos Library
Many publications have profiled the new Cerritos Library: the Los Angeles Times and the American Library Journal are just two. And many library professionals have heard of Cerritos' $40 million reincarnation which was funded by the city of Cerritos' general fund (Cerritos has been southern California's "shining star" in urban redevelopment since the late sixties). The Cerritos Library's buzzword, "user-centric," is moving into the library vernacular. But what does "user-centric" mean? How does the Cerritos Library pull the elusive "non- library user" through its doors?

Pearson was closely watching marketing strategies, during the Cerritos Library's rebirth. Pearson learned that a product's success is wrapped up with the "user's experience" of the product. BMW's and Visa's ads illustrate his point. BMW sells cars, not feelings, but it turns America's head with the "driving experience." Visa sells financial services, not a bride's last minutes with dad, but Visa makes its product part of the wedding day experience. Pearson clearly likes the "experience" metaphor; he calls Cerritos' product the "user's experience" and makes experience it. Cerritos' slogan. The Cerritos Library wants its user to feel comfortable, so it gives the user the flash the user gets in the outside world.

Main Street on Up

Entering the new Cerritos Library is like entering the world's brainiest mall or "Club Med for the Mind," as Pearson nick-named the library in American Libraries April 2002). The interior reflects what Susan Sontag, in Notes on Camp, calls "a love of artifice" in modern design The first floor, "Main Street," is a mixture of architectural, intellectual and ecological themes. Faux craftsman arches portal the Old World reading room whose rare first editions stand beside a holographic fireplace. Tenalways foot video screens flash edgy images, from the library's signature swoosh to quirky Hollywood clips such as Gordon McRae singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" in Oklahoma! A shadow sign, "The 21st Century," fades in and out at the top of space-age escalators. One wall is a 15,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, bursting with the exotic prisms of the deep sea. The "Save the Planet" children's library, seen through the aquarium, is a made-to-scale rainforest and planetarium. A life-size replica of T Rex, Stan," roars beneath a life-size tree sheltering a fairy-tale video screen in which the children project themselves. Staff, with headsets, handheld computers and Cerritos Library polo shirts (are they librarians?) stand and greet newcomers at Info Station 1.

The top two, 21st century floors, house 200 tiered computer workstations and 1,200 laptop ports - places where the visitor taps into Library of California databases and the library's intranet, MyClio. Paradoxically, these floors also house the library's 300,000-volume book collection (which works out to five volumes per Cerritos resident). When a patron takes a breather from an on-line search, there's a good chance his or her eye might snag on Joyce Carol Oates' Best Essays of the 20th Century or Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Because his or her

Staff as Teachers

Imagination has been opened up by multi-media experiences, the patron might wander over, grab one of those books and start reading. The architecture and fish may get people through the Cerritos Library door but what makes people stay is the staff.

The professionals here work under the library's assumption that degrees and certificates - intellectual stuff - can intimidate non-library users. They know that a person not accustomed to the library fears that his or her "new role" within the library might expose his or her under-used critical thinking, research and reading skills. Cerritos' professionals also know that once the new patron is in the library, the librarian sitting behind a desk can be intimidating. To approach the desk requires courage from the visitor, a letting go of pride - a tough thing to ask of a non-user. The desk enhances an "us and them" environment alien to inductive learning.

So, at the new Cerritos library staff branches out from "Info Stations," and moves toward the patron, rather than waiting for the patron at a desk. Someone from the team is always on the floor. Wearing a headset (a warm, fuzzy thing for LA's young adults.), the staff member is a guide, or teacher, who leads the patron to multi-media "learning centers." The patron, in the company of a librarian who seems like a peer, internalizes success as he or she interprets images, or texts.

Packing for the Future

Image of the new Cerritos Library interior
The new Cerritos Library interior
The Cerritos Library deliberately offers what Pearson calls "sensory overload." Or, to use Venturi's language again, the library heats up "its imagery" to "compete in the surroundings" of contemporary culture. The library's efficient tactile mix makes the user, who enters the library from a digitized outside world, feel at home, making the user's mind receptive to deeper learning.

The new Cerritos Library may be "about entertainment" on the surface but underneath it nurtures a traditional, and vital, agenda. Informed and inquisitive Californians, increased literacy rates - the return of California's public to California's libraries - are the larger goals of the library's "user's experience" paradigm. Cerritos is ultimately offering contemporary users the infinite pleasures of discovering information and reading a good book. The "product" the Cerritos Library is really selling is a library's timeless value.

Wayne Pearson says, "I'm not big on nostalgia on what passes us by; I'm more interested in packing the suitcase for the trip forward." The new Cerritos Library's "experience approach" is a simple idea, with simple principles scalable to any library that is also on a trip forward. The other day some girls (the largest segment of Cerritos users are juveniles) in the library' s elevator called the library "cooler than the mall" - it doesn't get any better than that.


Cover of Learning from Las VegasLearning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form
by Robert Venturi

Learning from Las Vegas created a healthy controversy on its appearance in 1972, calling for architects to be more receptive to the tastes and values of "common" people and less immodest in their erections of "heroic," self-aggrandizing monuments.

Cover of The Experience EconomyThe Experience Economy
by B. Joseph Pine.
(Harvard Business School Press, 1999)

More information about the Cerritos Library:

Reprinted from Connection, a publication of the California State Library Published by The Library of California
Sacramento, California
July 2002, Number 25

Used by permission of the publisher.

A special thanks to Dr. Kevin Starr, State Librarian of California.

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