Saturday, January 29, 2011

Strawberry Fields

Just spent an amazing day at the Cerritos Public Library, south and east of Los Angeles.

The event was the annual "Mystery on the Menu" -- 180 patrons, 15 mystery writers, several panels, a great lunch, and a fine buy&sign event to follow.

Lots of good writers and friendly library users, but the star was the library itself.

That's it, up there -- towering curves of hammered titanium inspired by Frank Gehry's Bilbao museum, that house one of the most beautiful and functional spaces I've ever been in.

This library should be a national destination and a national model for community priorities and self-reliance.  Attention has been paid to absolutely everything, with special emphasis on kids.  This is the entrance to the children's library.

The TV monitors are beamed from a camera that's pointed at a bench just to the right of the entrance. Kids sit there and mug at the camera and scream all the time -- they're superimposed onscreen over an animated dinosaur that keeps bending down to eat them.

To the left of this entrance is a floor-to-ceiling aquarium that kids flock to; it forms one wall of the kids' space.

And inside the children's library, what else?  A tyrannosaurus and a cloudy daytime "sky" that slowly changes from day to night and back again.  And kids -- kids with books -- everywhere.

But the library hasn't forgotten about older users.  This is one of the computer terminal areas.

There's so much more that I could take two more days to show you the pictures and talk about it.

Here's what's astonishing.  The library is 100% paid for, funded by the community and the merchants who do business there.  The community floated and subscribed to their own bond issues, contributed through "Friends" organizations and, essentially, made the library a primary community priority.  At one point, when expenses got out of hand, a proposal was made to sell the whole thing to the state, and the community voted it down and ponied up.

 And Cerritos, while not a depressed area, is no Beverly Hills, either.  They made a decision that a library should be one of the hearts of the community and they stood by the decision for forty years of building and rebuilding.

When the commitment to this institution was first made, the ground the library stands on was used for growing strawberries. In fact, the first groundbreaking -- in April, 1972 -- was postponed for several months to let the final crop of berries mature.  That knocks me out.

Cerritos is a widely diverse community -- mainly pan-Asian, but also white, Latino, and African-American -- with a broad spectrum of socioeconomic levels.  And it's got books at its heart.

Oh, and it's also home to the top-performing high school in California. (And the third best in America, according to U.S. News & World Report.) Gee, wonder if there's any connection.

Tim -- Sunday

1 comment:

  1. A far cry from the usual dry and dusty book collection! I'd love to visit it next time I'm in that part of the world.