February 17, 2018

Waynn Pearson | Movers & Shakers 2003

Selling the Learning Experience

It’s entirely appropriate that Cerritos Library was featured in Amusement Business
magazine, since nearby Disneyland was in Waynn Pearson’s thoughts when he planned the newly opened building.

Before he became a librarian, Pearson had been a race car driver, a salesman, and the owner of a men’s clothing store. Which is to say, he has always understood the importance of attracting a crowd. When he discovered librarianship, he realized that his retail skills could be used to sell others on the pleasures of learning. If you want people to love libraries, after all, you first have to get them in

Pearson had already planned and opened a beautiful new library in 1987 that was much loved, but with the coming of the Internet and the popularity of the library’s workstations, it was squeezed for space. Rather than simply expand the building and adding more workstations, Pearson saw an opportunity to compete head to head with the entertainment industry for people’s time.

So he began to envision the library anew. He thought about “human nature, Fortune 500 company marketing approaches, trends in the entertainment industry, what makes Disney parks so successful, how different physical environments affect people, and people’s desire for experience.” It would be essential, he felt, to “exceed users’ expectations and keep them coming back for more.”

Books, services, and programming should not be the focus of the new building, Pearson realized, and learning should not be an incidental byproduct. Instead, the design would center around users’ learning experiences – thus, the “experience library.”

Since people have different ways of learning, he envisioned a building that offers spaces and experiences for every learning style, with “quiet areas for study and contemplation as well as lively areas where the imagination could run wild.” Themed rooms include features like a 15,000-gallon aquarium, a life-size T-Rex model, and a sky dome. Far from devaluing print, the building allows room for 100,000 additional volumes and includes a traditional Gothic-style reading room.

To make sure users don’t have to wander aim-lessly in search of information they don’t want to ask for, Pearson sent librarians to mingle with users, armed with headphones, PDAs, and a wireless information network.

Equally central to Pearson’s vision was the idea that “a good library can develop a strong sense of community.” The library’s attractive central corridor has the look and feel of an old-fashioned Main Street; supplemental features include a terrace roof garden and community conference center. Extending the tone is the library’s position as part of a complex of civic buildings, including city hall, the sheriff’s station, Heritage Park, and a soon-to-be-opened museum.

Both circulation and the number of visitors have skyrocketed, but the quality of the library experience matters as much as the numbers to Pearson. He loves to tell about the teenager on her cell phone telling friends to come to the library because “it’s cool – it’s like a mall!” He’s just as delighted by the woman who comes in each week to read a chapter of Moby-Dick
in the Old World Reading Room; it wasn’t just the book she wanted but the total experience of reading a fine press edition in a wingback chair beside a fireplace.

With an accomplishment like this, Pearson could rest on his laurels, but he’s not about to. That’s why he has created the C.L.I.O. Institute, which has produced both a web site showing how to build an experience library (cml.ci.cerritos.ca.us/static. htm) and a conference coming up in May, “Imagine It, Explore It, Create It!” He’s interested in helping other librarians learn to use the same principles in their own buildings. “We dreamed big,” Pearson says, “but these same principles can work in any size library. All of our services are scalable.”


Current Position: Director, Cerritos Library, CA

Degree: MA in Library Science, California State University – Fullerton, 1975

Favorite Quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein