| Outings + Activities | Rainy Day Fun | Family fun

Renovated Seattle libraries make a perfect field trip

LibraryWhen Northwest weather turns wet and stays wetter, many parents head for the library. Seattle is consistently ranked among America's most literate cities, and we do love our libraries. In 1998, Seattle voters overwhelmingly passed a $198.4-million bond measure called "Libraries for All" to upgrade Seattle Public Libraries facilities, book collections and technology throughout the city.

The dramatic new Central Library is the most visible result, but branches across Seattle have undergone thoughtful renovations or have even been rebuilt from the ground up. Careful attention has been given to making children's areas safe, comfortable and appropriately scaled for young patrons, and many branches have spaces designed to entice teenagers into making the library their "third place."

Of course, most families have a favorite close-by branch and visit it regularly. But take a rainy afternoon and give your kids a whirlwind tour of the branches listed below. Enjoy the top-notch architecture, diverse collections and downright coziness that voters' bond money has made possible so far.

And there's more to come. Renovations on other branches are ongoing through 2007.

Ed. Note: Story hour times are for January only and it's a good idea to contact individual branches to confirm. All branches are fully accessible.

Greenwood Branch

  • Address: 8016 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle. 206-684-4086.
  • Parking: Free underground garage.
  • Features: This branch is flooded with natural light even on the grayest days, and the children's area is cradled in a large angle created by two window walls. Massive stone slabs protrude into this angle, suggesting fantastical mountainous adventures or maybe just an unconventional perch for story reading. Peek into the nearby meeting room, where the windows are imbedded with text and layered images depicting Greenwood- and Green Lake-area history.
  • Story Hour: Pajama Story Time for all ages: Jan. 11 and 25, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 5 and 19: toddler, 10:30 a.m.; preschool, 11:15 a.m.
  • Snack Stop: Red Mill Burgers (312 N. 67th, Seattle. 206-783-6362)

International District/Chinatown Branch

  • Address: 713 Eighth Ave. S., Seattle. 206-386-1300.
  • Parking: Use the lot three blocks west at Uwajimaya. Walk up Lane Street, stopping to explore the cool dragon climber at the small International Children's Park (700 S. Lane St.).
  • Features: Visiting this branch is a miniature journey to another culture. Many patrons converse softly in Chinese or Japanese. One librarian, available on first and third Tuesdays from 1-3:30 p.m., speaks Mandarin. A large collection of Asian-language books lines a wall beneath an eye-catching art installation of many, many teacups, each on its own little shelf. Smaller teacup and tea ceremony-related art pieces are scattered throughout the branch. The children's area, small but very charming, features some Asian-language kids' books.
  • Story Hour: Jan. 5, 19 and 26, 10:30 a.m.
  • Snack Stop: Uwajimaya food court (600 Fifth Ave. S, Seattle. 206-624-6248)

Beacon Hill Branch

  • Address: 2821 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle. 206-684-4711.
  • Parking: Free lot.
  • Features: Look for the gently oscillating sky canoe sculpture flying high over the main entrance and a sound installation featuring the writing of Beacon Hill residents. The large, well-lit children's area includes kid-sized furniture and is entered through a magical series of three wooden door arches. When this branch opened in July 2004, the children's collection was enriched with 2,000 new volumes donated in memory of community leader Betty Jane Narver.
  • Story Hour: Jan. 19 and 26, 11 a.m.
  • Snack Stop: There is no obvious snack stop within walking distance, but a mom who uses this branch recommends a short drive to the Seward Park PCC (5041 Wilson Ave. S., Seattle. 206-723-2720).

Central Seattle Public Library

  • Address: 1000 4th Ave., Seattle. 206-386-4636.
  • Parking: The lot under the building is free for the first 20 minutes and paid thereafter.
  • Features: If you haven't yet ventured into Seattle's highly acclaimed main library, now's the time. The Faye G. Allen Children's room is enormous -- and boasts a spacious play area, plenty of computers and candy-bright colors on the walls -- and the Starbucks Teen Center is equally huge. Consider taking the free building tour with older kids or teens. Tours last one hour and offer good insight into the spectacular addition that architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus have made to Seattle's built environment, and provide teens with extra confidence to explore the library's outstanding resources.
  • Story Hour: Toddlers: Monday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. Preschoolers: Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.
  • Snack Stop: Visit the Fare Start Coffee Cart on the library's third level, just inside the Fifth Avenue entrance.
Paula Becker is a staff historian for www.HistoryLink.org and a mother of three.

Photo credit: Sophie Solomon

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