Even before it built parks or a city hall, Cerritos constructed a municipal library.
But in the city of avid readers, where a whopping 60% of all residents carry library cards, the concrete edifice built in 1974 was worn out within two decades.
Now, the urban birthplace of auto malls and freeway buffer walls is erecting a new high-tech "Millennium Library" that will offer five books per person instead of the usual one to two average nationwide.
The $23-million structure will house more than 300,000 books, 200 computer terminals, 1,200 ports for laptop computers and a floor-to-ceiling saltwater aquarium with 7-inch thick glass. The children's section will feature a full-scale replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton.
A cadre of roving library assistants will help patrons who appear lost in the 82,500-square-foot library, scheduled to open in early November.
All this, in one of the first buildings in the nation to be clad in sheets of iridescent titanium, a light, strong and malleable metal that civic leaders feel reflects the concept of change.
"Ostentatious? I don't think so," said Cerritos City Councilman Robert Hughlett, who is also director of disabled student programs and services at Cerritos Community College.
"I see it as a marvel of information and technology," he said, "in a city where the library has always been the most popular place around."
Cerritos has won national acclaim for its 8-year-old Center for the Performing Arts, an architecturally stunning facility. The center has hosted a series of world-class artists, including Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
City librarian Wayne Pearson called the futuristic three-story building going up at Bloomfield Avenue and 183rd Street "a testament to our belief in books."
"Yeah, our building is going to blow people's socks off," Pearson said. "But the real gem will be the service inside."
"We'll be one of the few libraries in the state operating seven days a week," added Pearson. "And we'll be providing services comparable to those seen in cities three times larger than Cerritos."
The city is paying for the library with money drawn from its general fund, which is flush with sales tax revenues collected from its successful auto mall, industrial park and regional shopping malls.
Still, "the bottom line in Cerritos is not that they have a lot of money to spend on books, but that they have a strong commitment to library services," said Mark Parker, chief of library development for the California State Library. "We'd like to see that kind of commitment replicated elsewhere in the state."
The Glendale architectural firm Charles Walton & Associates guided the library's design and interior spaces, which incorporate a range of themes and metaphors--"Main Street," "Traveling Through Time," "Saving the Planet"--and as few horizontal and vertical lines as possible.
"We tried to break the mold with something more dynamic than the plain frame approach. Each visitor will walk through a series of thematic experiences," said Stephen Finney, president of the architectural firm. "Having a titanium exterior, the building will change color in sunlight throughout the day from yellows to purples."
Visitors will enter a stone-paved first-floor lobby, which opens to a reading room with a fireplace and cushy armchairs, the 15,000-gallon aquarium and a children's room with 80,000 books.
Escalators lead to the second floor, which will feature the computer workstations, a book collection of more than 180,000 titles for adults, and exhibits extolling the city's cultural diversity.
With a population of 51,000 people, Cerritos, located about 10 miles north of Long Beach and just west of Buena Park in Orange County, is 58.4% Asian, 21.4% white, 9.0% Latino and 6.6% African American.
Patrons can ride a glass elevator to the third-floor atrium, outdoor terrace, meeting rooms and 3,200-square-foot conference center.
A $300,000 security checkpoint system will allow patrons to check out materials themselves, without waiting in line at the circulation desk. Residents of other cities now pay an annual fee of $50 to check out materials from Cerritos' current library, but the fee has not been set for the new facility.