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Here’s what libraries do in Seattle

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The Seattle Public Library doesn’t just have books

Seattle Public Library’s central branch in downtown Seattle.

In case you haven’t browsed the stacks in Seattle yet: We have fantastic libraries, and it’s not just about the architecture of the Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus-designed central branch.

Back in 2018, Forbes contributor Panos Mourdoukoutas caught some flack for a (now deleted) incredibly hot take: Amazon and Starbucks have made libraries obsolete. But with the vast array of services offered by Seattle Public Libraries—from streaming video to museum admission—the library could probably replace Amazon, not the other way around.

Seattle’s high-tech culture gives our libraries an array of services much deeper than many non-library-users realize. Here are just a few underrated services that the Seattle Public Library (SPL) provides, in addition to the standard book checkout, internet access, and free hangout space. You don’t even have to leave your house for a lot of them.

Audiobooks and e-books

It turns out that, even after purchasing Amazon’s proprietary ebook reader, you can stop giving Amazon money for books: SPL has a library of thousands of e-books available to check out through Overdrive, including new books and bestsellers. The books are available in Kindle format, e-pub, and through the library’s e-reader app, Libby.

You can ditch (or augment) that Audible account; Overdrive also features a vast selection of audiobooks.

Language learning

With an SPL card, users have access to Mango, an online language-learning tool used by libraries and educational institutions alike. It’s normally around $20 a month for individual users, but it’s free through the library.

Signing Savvy, an American Sign Language-learning program, is also available to SPL users for free.

Museum admission

Through the library, Seattleites can visit major museums like the Seattle Art Museum, the Museum of Popular Culture (formerly EMP), the Museum of Flight, and the Museum of History—even the Woodland Park Zoo—for free, provided you book the specific date in advance. Your SPL card gets you access to Museum Pass, reservable up to 30 days before a visit. (New passes go up every night at 9 p.m.)

Newspaper archives

Read a Seattle Times article from the day you were born without subscribing to an archival service—the Times archives are available online, no microfiche know-how required. SPL also has extensive Seattle PI archives.

An SPL card can give you admission to MoPOP and other museums.

Streaming video

In that now-infamous Forbes piece, Mourdoukoutas argued that streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have helped make library video services obsolete. But SPL is basically already Netflix. Library cardholders can stream at home through Kanopy, Hoopla, and Access Video. Hoopla limits users to 20 videos per month, and Kanopy, which focuses on classic and indie films, has a five-video limit. Access Video streams educational content from PBS, BBC, HBO, and more, with no limit at all.

Streaming music

Cardholders have a few options for streaming music. The coolest is probably the Playback Music Collection, which has a rotating selection of local music selected by local musicians and experts. The lineup changes every year, and you can download songs and keep them forever.

Hoopla can also stream music (including through a smartphone app), although it has a 15-album-per-month limit. Freegal Music, which has an extensive mainstream catalog, lets you download and keep five songs per week, or stream three hours of music per day—again, either in your browser or via smartphone app.

Internet hotspots

The library doesn’t just have Wi-Fi. For those that need to access the internet at home or on-the-go, there are hotspots available for checkout. Just put one on hold—just like you would with a book—and after you pick it up it’s yours for 21 days.

Practice space

Did you know you can practice the piano at the downtown library? There are two reservable music practice rooms that each come equipped with a keyboard, although they are otherwise BYO-instrument.

Academic databases

If you’re pining for the loss of JSTOR after graduation—or you just need to access some academic writing—SPL membership comes with a Proquest membership in addition to other research databases.

Community events

The library isn’t just about having a place to host your own event or hang. SPL has its own extremely impressive event lineup.

In addition to workshops like tech certifications, tax help, media literacy resources, and citizenship classes, SPL hosts touring authors, adult storytime (in addition to the ol’ library standard of child storytime), panel discussions, and movie nights.


In case you thought Starbucks could replace the library: If coffee is necessary for your library gatherings, the downtown library has a coffee shop, Chocolati Café. While that costs money, it can give you a boost while you browse all the public resources available.

Seattle Public Library

1000 4th Ave., Seattle, WA 98104