A public library is a world of exploration for a book lover. But here in the Puget Sound region, local library branches are also bustling activity centers, art galleries and, in a few cases, architectural wonders worth a visit with kids for that aspect alone.
At the same time, they also offer a surprisingly wide range of services, classes, events, craft sessions, homework help and other activities – for free. And they act as anchors for the communities where they are located, places that not only showcase books and other media, but foster local art, culture and connection.
“Each of our locations is an essential part of the neighborhood it serves, and the design, collection and art of our libraries represents its communities,” says Elisa Murray, digital communications strategist at the Seattle Public Library. “Visiting a library can be a great start (or end) to a neighborhood exploration.”
Visiting all 57 libraries in the Seattle Public Library and King County Library System (plus the University of Washington!) would be quite a feat, but we put these six at the top of our “don’t miss” list:
First up, the mothership!
Seattle Central Library is the largest library in Washington. Located in the heart of downtown Seattle, the towering 11-story glass and steel building is awe-inspiring. In fact, its architecture, including the unique checkering of its 10,000 (yes, 10,000!) windows, is a reason in itself to visit the library. Explore the whole building: Young kids will be fascinated by the conveyor-belt book return, the all-red floor (painted in 13 shades of red and pink) and the giant octopus mural lurking by bookcases and other wonderful art.
The main library’s expansive children’s section includes not only books, but a craft area, tactile toys, a big blue ox jumping from the walls, a vibrant red peacock perched on a branch and a shimmery dragon slumbering atop a bookshelf.
Location: 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle
Best neighborhood library
Richmond Beach Library in Shoreline is part of the King County Library System. The 5,250-square-foot library has an open floor plan and tall wood-beamed ceilings. The children’s section is small, but it is a wonderful, cozy place to spend the day with ocean-themed artwork on the walls, small tables and computers geared toward children (the panda headphones were a hit for my kiddos). Outside, Richmond Beach Community Park is only steps away, featuring a playground and views of Puget Sound. From there, head a few blocks south to Richmond Beach Saltwater Park to read books on the beach, play in the sand on sunny days and watch trains speed by from the bridge above the tracks.
Location: 19601 21st Ave. N.W., Shoreline
A library to boost their love of nature
Want to foster your child’s love of nature? The UW’s Elisabeth C. Miller Library is the perfect place to visit. Located at the Center for Urban Horticulture near the University of Washington, the library is home to more than 15,000 books and 400 magazine titles — the most extensive horticulture collection in the Pacific Northwest.
In the back corner of the small but comfortable library is a children’s section replete with toys, puppets and sensory books in little baskets in a bright alcove. Learn alongside your kids in subjects like gardening, botany and more. Then take what you learn outside: Surrounding the library is a short trail system to wander. Miller Library hosts virtual storytimes for children ages 3 to 8 and their families.
Location: 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle
One shipshape library
Seafarers will be enthralled by the Beacon Hill Library, home to Miles Pepper’s boat sculpture the “Dream Ship.” The sculpture appears to move in the wind and flies high above the branch. This library is bright and welcoming, and the whole building is reminiscent of a wooden ship. You can almost imagine the hull as you gaze up. Another thing we love: The words of 11 Beacon Hill-area writers have been immortalized on the building. Can you spy haikus on the quarry rocks outside?
Location: 2821 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle
Over the river
Imagine looking out the window of a library and seeing water run beneath the floor on which you stand. That’s the experience at the Renton Library, part of the King County Library System. The building forms an 80-foot bridge over the Cedar River, sitting atop 12 concrete columns. The visit here is all about cuddling up with a book next to one of the floor-to-ceiling windows, looking down every now and then to watch the salmon, ducks and other aspects of nature on the river. Not to mention the library offers some of the best seats in the house on the day of the Renton Ducky Derby, when hundreds of rubber ducks bob down the Cedar River.
Location: 100 Mill Ave. S., Renton
Swimmingly busy and sustainable in Ballard
The Ballard Branch is one of the busiest branches in the Seattle Public Library system, and it was also the first major branch. Located near charming downtown Ballard, this 15,000-square-foot building includes a nautical-themed green rooftop. The library has a large children’s section, games and a bright, open floor plan. You can’t miss the large green wall near the front door, but there is something about it that’s quite unique. Gaze between slats in the wall and a periscope will give you a peek at the greenery on the roof. Interested in maritime? There’s has a whole section dedicated to fish.
Location: 5614 22nd Ave. N.W., Seattle
Library services and most programs are free, but you’ll need a library card to check out books. Go to any library to apply for a card or go to the Seattle Public Library or King County Library websites to apply online.