By Rebecca Lang
February 28, 2015
No matter how beautiful the library’s architecture, no matter how exquisite the furnishings, the art, and the displays, in the end, it’s the books that get you. As I walked through the Cerritos Library, my mouth dropped open at the grand designs and costly technology, but after a few minutes, my eyes were drawn to the shelves, devouring the titles. Art shouts for attention, but books have more sticking power, for they hold the promise of knowledge, of adventure, of long lost childhood days…
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The Cerritos Library was an imposing white structure embellished by titanium sheets stacked like gold brick. This contrasted to library’s the soft curves–a theme which, I later learned, would be continued inside. Statues and fountains gathered at its feet. One glance, and we all knew the splendor of the Cerritos Library ground our tiny city library into the dust.
Then again, the Brea Library didn’t come with a $41 million dollar price tag. Nor do we charge $100 a year for non-residence to obtain a library card.
The neighborhood around the library included a sculpture garden, a high school, and Heritage Park, where I used to play as a child. (Heritage Park is an absolutely amazing place. Playground equipment is integrated into historical buildings. I highly recommend it to anyone with kids.) We didn’t have time to enjoy the park, but we did stroll through the sculpture garden, which was just across the parking lot.
It took us a half hour, but finally, finally, we stepped into the library. We were greeted by a photography display called “Symphony of the Universe” by Larry Kim. Stark desert boulders stood out amid starry cerulean skies.
“Whoa,” I said.
“That was the reaction I was looking for,” Kaleo said.
Kaleo and his wife Patty had been here before and would act as our group’s guide throughout the day. They began by pointing out palm trees that sprouted around the entrance way. They were real trees but no longer living. They had been dehydrated.
The Cerritos Friends of the Library were having a “sidewalk sale” inside (due to the faint possibility of a drizzle) and had set up long, plastic tables stacked with old books. These tables were about the only cheap furnishing the library had. I was pleased to see their used book selection wasn’t much better than ours. Christy cracked up over a book titled Don’t Die Broke.
Next to the sale was the Reading Room, a very brown place whose old-fashioned sensibilities deliberately contrasted with the modern look of the rest of the library. The grandfather clock and the newsstand look of the magazine section made me think of the Victorian era. But a second glance had me sensing a subtle Asian theme. The exposed, crossed beams of the magazine stand’s roof echoed the structure of a shinto shrine. Jade green lanterns embellished the wood.
After browsing through the used books, we decided to continue our tour by entering the Young Adult section. Although it had been decorated in steel and Art Deco, it strangely reminded me of a 50s diner. The technology room was inspired by succulents, because nothing says teens like ugly potted plants.
Three touch screen computers, each as big as a flat screen TV, were embedded in the succulent wall. There were also apple computers and a table that turned out to be a giant tablet. The tabletop tablet only seemed to have three programs, but we had fun playing around with the 360 astronomy app and indulging in a game of group trivia.
All this was still on the first floor. We had two more stories to go.
The second floor belonged to the adults. Swoops of glass gave it a vaguely oceanic feel, and plenty of windows made it feel bright and open. For the most part, though, the room was strictly business. It had shelves and computers–so many computers. Research rooms were made entirely of glass and had SciFi names: H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, and, for some reason, Nikola Telsa.
Little corners of beauty met us at the staircase and elevator. Artwork here, a ming vase there, a covered piano. The slitted windows teased us with the view. We made it to the third floor, where they kept the stage for lectures, presentations, and movie nights. Currently, it was home to an orchid show and Hawaiian dance presentations. We stuck our noses in and watched the show. Older women in flowered dresses swayed together and clicked shells in rhythm of the music. We watched for a while and stuck our noses back out.
We climbed down to the first floor, and, completing the circle, entered the Children’s Section. (Let’s face it–that was the one place we were all dying to see.) Giant books made up the entrance–you had to pass through them to gain entry. But if you stopped midway through the gate, you’d see a bench and a monitor. An invisible camera sent you on a green screen adventure through space, the sea, and an earth ruled by dinosaurs, foreshadowing what was to come.
Constellations lit up ceiling; a rocket ship waited for lift off. If you went inside a candy cane striped light house, you could sit and read or stare out the portholes at the fish in the aquarium. A T-Rex skeleton gazed hungrily at the lighthouse. We had to go up and put our hands to the rock its feet were embedded into, and that’s where we found sliding square puzzles of various fossils. There would come a time when three of us adults would pore over those puzzles, refusing to give up until they were solved. Proving, I supposed, that you never really grow up.
And that would be the end of the story, except that one member of our group, Rita, was late to arrive. We met her at Chipotle for lunch and then took her back to the library to give her the tour all over again. But this time, when we came to the third floor, the Hawaiian ladies were gone. We stepped inside, drinking in the heady scent of orchids. The door to the balcony was propped open.
Should we go outside?
Tentatively, we peeped out. There were chairs and tables and heat lamps–and another person admiring the view. We took that as a good sign and walked out. The air was slightly chill but clear–clear enough to see the white mountains in the distance. Bushy-headed trees played peek-a-boo with skyscrapers. No telephone poles. Cerritos had installed an expensive underground cable system, so their denizen’s wouldn’t have their view blocked. Rich people.
Sunlight glinted off the titanium paneling. I followed it around the corner and stared into the library’s courtyard. The fountains and statue below were small enough to be a pendant on my necklace. My eyes drifted to a mosaic statue of an open book, pages fanned. I smiled.
When all’s said and done, isn’t that the reason for the library?