5 Things You Never Knew You Could Do At the Library

Sheila Cain
Tuesday, November 3, 2020


Last year, a Gallup poll counted visiting the library as the most common cultural activity Americans engage in–by far. To the surprise of many, the opinion poll showed that library visits outpaced the next most popular activity – going to the movies – by nearly 2 to 1.

Of course the whole world changed since 2019. But what hasn’t changed is the abundance of little-known services libraries provide. Many have adapted to remote everything with virtual story hours, digital downloads, remote learning activities, and curbside book pick-up. It’s worth logging into your local library’s website and applying for a digital library card.

While everyone knows libraries let cardholders borrow books for free (most cities fund their library systems by levying property taxes), many are unaware of the extent of complimentary programs and services libraries make available.

Explore your roots

Many library systems offer card holders access to their genealogy databases, cemetery transcriptions, and historic bound collections, allowing for deep dives into your family’s history. Personalized assistance is also available to help you get started. The Seattle Public Library offers free, 30-minute appointments with on-staff genealogy librarians who can help direct you to the best resources for your research. Mahina Oshie is one of two genealogy librarians on staff at the Seattle Public Library who has helped a number of people fill out their family trees. One of her most interesting stories is from a family that was hoping to prove – or disprove – a fantastical tale of an ancestor who was apparently the son of a member of the British aristocracy who had run away from her family to New York City to become a dancer. The woman reportedly had a child while in New York, but abandoned the boy to the foster care system. After a short time working with information the family had, the Ancestry.com database and some freely available digitized books, Oshie was able to uncover enough of the tale to conclusively say that the story was indeed true.

Take me out to the…

The Seattle Public Library offers free tickets to more than a dozen popular museums – including the Woodland Park Zoo, the Seattle Aquarium, MoPOP, and the Seattle Art Museum – just for the asking. While scoring tickets does take a little pre-planning (book up to 30 days in advance of your visit, and passes can only be used for the day you’ve booked) there’s plenty of cash to be saved. Most passes include two adult admissions; some include four or more. Something to keep in mind the next time you’re hosting a playdate or out-of-town visitors.

Homework helpers

When mom and dad are no longer able to assist with math homework (this happened for me when my son was in the fourth grade), the library is here to help. Many of Seattle’s branches have trained volunteers on hand to help with math, along with science, English, and social studies. They also offer access to tools such as graphing calculators and laptops. No appointment necessary.

Now showing…

Combine the Gallup poll’s top two favorite cultural activities in one outing: head to the library to watch a movie. Many of the Seattle Public Library’s branches screen free movies, and occasionally host curated film festivals. Coming up in February: a selection of shorts from the Children’s Film Festival 2019 at the Central Library, and The Wiz at the Ballard branch. Even the refreshments are free!

Tell me a story

Generations of kids have been brought up attending story time at their local library – and the tradition continues. Most library systems – including Seattle Public Libraries and Sno-Isle Libraries – offer parent-child story time for babies, toddlers and preschoolers throughout the week, providing little ones with an engaging introduction to a lifetime of book reading and learning.

Robust programs and free services aside, libraries are simply great alternatives to coffeeshops and shared workspaces when you’re looking for a space to work or relax. They’re quiet, they’re filled with helpful resources – and there’s bound to be someone available to answer virtually any question you may have.

Seattle Public Library- Central Library image by Kim Wilkinson



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