Miki Nishiyama was never much for libraries. His wife, Tomie, was the reader in the family--and she read only Japanese.
"We hardly ever went to the library," said Nishiyama, a retired aerospace engineer who lives in Monterey Park. "There were not many books . . . for my wife to read."
But that was several years ago. Now the library near his home, the Bruggemeyer Memorial Library in Monterey Park, offers an extensive collection of Japanese-language books. So does a nearby library in Montebello and another in East Los Angeles.
Nishiyama and his wife now pore regularly over shelves crammed with Japanese-language novels, encyclopedias, art books, cookbooks, newspapers, magazines, travel guides, videotapes and more. They visit one of the libraries about once a week, he said.
"We're really surprised and delighted to see so many books," he said. "I like to read Japanese mystery stories and Japanese newspapers. A lot of times Japanese newspapers are more detailed (than American papers). You see both sides of the world. It's very interesting."
The change is part of a new chapter in library service, reflecting Los Angeles County's growing populations of Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese immigrants.
The Asian population of the county doubled between 1970 and 1980 and nearly doubled again by 1985, reaching nearly 800,000 residents, according to census figures and recent United Way estimates.
The trend has been particularly evident in the San Gabriel Valley, where Asians now account for about 40% of Monterey Park's 58,000 residents and more than 30% of Alhambra's 71,000 residents. Surrounding cities also report large increases.
The Bruggemeyer library, like many in the area, is responding to the new readership. The library's collection now contains about 8,000 Asian-language volumes, including more than 5,000 books in Chinese and about 1,100 in Japanese, a library spokesman said.
Korean- and Vietnamese-language books make up a slightly smaller percentage of the library's 130,000-book inventory, the spokesman said.
More Asian-Language Books
Other libraries are keeping pace. The Alhambra Public Library now contains about 3,700 Asian-language books. The Hill Avenue Branch of the Pasadena city library has nearly 2,600 volumes.
Los Angeles County libraries make available about 25,000 more at branches scattered from Rosemead and Temple City to La Puente, Rowland Heights and San Dimas.
"We're responding to the needs of . . . a huge Asian population," said Evelyn MacMorres, central-county administrator at the Montebello Regional Library, which offers 11,000 volumes of Asian-language books and houses the county's 8-year-old Asian Pacific Resource Center, which offers reference books in Asian languages and in English.
That library, in a city whose 56,000 population is now about 14% Asian, draws heavily from communities such as South El Monte and Monterey Park, where the Asian influence has become more and more apparent, MacMorres said.
In Monterey Park, "most of the streets have bilingual signs with Asian characters," she said.
Library officials said they are reshuffling their budgets to accommodate the changing readership. Some libraries are now spending up to 10% of their book-buying budgets on new Asian-language titles, according to Lilly C. Loo, who oversees county libraries in the heavily Asian Southeast region.
Although the Asian-language selections still make up less than 2% of the book stock in Los Angeles County, the collections are growing.
Maureen Lem, a trustee for the Bruggemeyer library, said Monterey Park's Chinese community raised $25,000 in a fund drive last year just to buy new Chinese-language books for the library.
The drive helped expand the library's Chinese-language collection to about 6,000 volumes, a library spokesman said. It was initiated, Lem said, simply because community residents wanted library service to reflect their presence.
"They said, 'You really have to do something for us. We go to the library and we really don't see anything for us,' " Lem recalled.
Libraries have expanded the collections despite generally sparse book-buying budgets, according to Loo. So far, she said, she has heard no complaints that the Asian-language collections are crowding out the much larger English- and Spanish-language collections.
In most communities, the percentage of Asian-language books is still far below the percentage of Asian residents.
"You never have enough money to purchase all the books you need," Loo said. "(But) if you have a lot of people come in and ask for books and you don't have them, you are in fact turning away your customers. These people are a part of the community with a special need."
K. C. Chiang, 50, a mechanical engineer at Bechtel Corp. in Norwalk, said he has watched the county's Asian-language collection in that city grow from just a few Chinese books 10 years ago to about 4,000 today.
Chiang said he visits the library two or three times a week during his lunch hour.