Seattle Public Library At Home: Online Programs, Activities, and Resources

The Seattle Public Library central branch (Photo credit: SPL)

One of my favorite places in Seattle is the Seattle Public Library (SPL). I love browsing through the vast collection of books at the state-of-art central library in downtown. I miss my local library branch (Ballard) just as much, which is my happy place in the neighborhood. While it might be a while for SPL to re-open its physical locations, the library has great digital resources for Seattleites staying in right now. 

Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner said in a special message, “Please know that, while our buildings may be closed, we have many wonderful resources and services you can access online 24 hours a day, including a vast digital collection of books, movies, and music—as well as personal online assistance. In addition, Library staff members across the city are working to deliver and develop online services and programs to help our community make it through this very challenging time. Whether you are a student, small business owner, newly unemployed professional, or are insecurely housed, the Library is working hard to be here for you in new and creative ways.” 

We spoke to Andra Addison, SPL’s spokesperson, about the library’s many online resources and virtual events available to Seattle’s bookworms and bibliophiles….

Seattleite: How can someone access the library’s collection digitally right now?

Andra Addison: Seattle residents who do not have a Library card from The Seattle Public Library can now sign up for an instant digital Library card, which gives immediate access to e-books and e-audiobooks through the Library’s OverDrive digital collection. Launched Thursday, March 26, the service is available at To be eligible, you must be 13 years or older, live in Seattle, and have a mobile phone to verify your account.

“We are working hard to find new ways to support Seattle residents during this unprecedented public health crisis,” said Circulation Services Manager Bo Kinney. “Whether you’re a parent looking for a just-right chapter book, a telecommuter brushing up on skills, or a senior who wants a light read after a heavy day of news, we have resources for you.” More than 3,300 people have already signed up for instant digital cards since the service launched. Access to the Library’s OverDrive collection allows users to browse more than 200,000 e-titles, find “available now” e-books and e-audiobooks, and access curated collections such as Newbery Award and Honor books.

People can learn more about the Library’s digital collection of e-books, audiobooks, streaming movies, downloadable music, and much more by visiting the books and media page on the Library’s website.

Seattleite: Could you tell us about online events and virtual book groups?

Andra Addison: The Library is currently offering virtual storytimes and play & learn events, virtual art workshops, virtual writing circles for writers, virtual business workshops, virtual conversation sessions for those interested in practicing their English, and more! People can find out what programs we are offering by visiting the Library’s online calendar. All programs are free and everyone is welcome!

Seattleite: What tips would you give someone trying to learn a new skill during quarantine?

Andra Addison: Thanks to technological advances and innovation there are many different options available for learning new skills. There are many robust online learning tools and convenient apps that you can simply download to different mobile devices. Keep in mind that because there are so many different learning tools available these days, some of which are free to try, we highly recommend sampling a number of them to see what works best for you. 

Make an assessment of what your current skill level is, make a determination of how you learn best, and decide how much time (and sometimes money) you are willing to invest in learning a new skill. What works best is different for each person. If you need focused help with learning a new skill, The Seattle Public Library offers a popular free service called Your Next Skill where we have a team of Librarians standing by to provide you with a personalized learning plan for learning new skills. Just fill out our Your Next Skill request form telling us a little about what you are hoping to learn, how you want to learn (reading books, watching videos, using apps, attending classes), how many different types of resources you want, what your current experience level with the topic is and how long you want to spend learning this new skill and our Librarians will send you a personalized learning plan within 4 days. 

Seattleite: What resources could be helpful for parents with kids out of school?

Andra Addison: Parents can check out the Library’s Shelf Talk blog for tips on helping their children with schoolwork at home. They can find entertainment for kids through Kanopy Kids, our virtual storytimes (mentioned above), and look for online summer programs on our website ( soon, where kids will be able to learn arts and crafts and even learn magic tricks!

Seattleite: What resources could be helpful for remote working and research?

Andra Addison: For remote working, we ask that people take a look at all of the different video conferencing options that are available, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Webex, and see what works best with your work team. We also recommend that people take a look at different apps that you can download that help keep you organized and stay on task with project management. There are great articles that provide advice for time management and ways you can restructure and repurpose an area in your home that serves as a makeshift home office that is effective for all the purposes it needs to serve during the pandemic, and more. In terms of remote research, it really depends on the topic. 

The Library offers free access to e-books, magazines, newspapers, and journal articles, on a wide range of subjects. Many online resources that would normally be locked behind a paywall are also freely available at the moment, due to the generosity of their creators. Our Librarians would be glad to help you research any particular topic you are interested in and provide you with a good selection of materials and resources to help you begin your research. Please don’t hesitate to Ask Us if you need help with your research.

The Library offers scores of free databases for individuals doing research and those working remotely who need information. The Library’s Quick Information Center (206-386-4636) and our Chat Service are also available for instant answers to information needs.  People seeking employment help can go to our job resource page to get started and even gain new skills from some of our online classes. Entrepreneurs can get individual assistance through our Library Business program and much more.

Seattleite: How is SPL preparing to re-open?

Andra Addison: The Library has a staff workgroup doing preliminary planning around how the Library might safely reopen some services in a phased approach after researching best practices and following the guidance and directives from Public Health – Seattle & King County, the governor and mayor. Libraries are currently listed in phase three of the governor’s reopening plan for the state.