Young Sheldon, Seattle Public Library, and Gypsy Rose Lee

July 3, 2024 at 3:19 p.m.
Young Sheldon, Seattle Public Library Central Branch (1960-2007) and Gypsy Rose Lee have something in common
Young Sheldon, Seattle Public Library Central Branch (1960-2007) and Gypsy Rose Lee have something in common Michelle Roedell, Editor, Northwest Prime Time

I was recently watching a rerun of Young Sheldon and it reminded me of the olden days of Northwest Prime Time. 

The series about a boy genius with social ineptitude growing up in Medford, Texas is the prequel to the long running TV show, The Big Bang Theory. The episode in question has Sheldon receiving anesthesia at the dentist. In his fugue state, he visits a carnival where he could ask the god of knowledge anything... "No question is too large or too small." Young Sheldon wanted the answer to one of physics' big mysteries -- the grand unified field theory, which unifies gravity with the other fundamental forces of nature. 

The carnival barker's promise -- that no question is too big or too small -- made me remember back to all the times in Northwest Prime Time's early days when I called the Seattle Public Library's Quick Information Line to ask many questions, both large and small. 

We were such a miniscule publication; not only did we lack staff writers, but there were no researchers or fact-checkers at hand. That's where the Quick Information Line stepped in. I did not need to know about unsolved physics' theories, but I did seek answers to more mundane questions that were nonetheless fascinating to me.

This service proved to be a useful source of information and delight, since that was prior to my ability to access powerful Internet search engines. Now, so many answers can be found with a few taps on your phone or computer keyboard. Not so back then.

After all these years, I remember my first question to the library's Quick Information Line: Who are some famous people born in the Seattle area? The answer: There are a lot of famous people born around here! The Seattle Public Library quickly provided me with a list.

Later on, I remember using the Quick Information Line for fact-checking services, including details about Gypsy Rose Lee. Yes, the famous burlesque star was born in Seattle. 

One of our contributors, Leon Thompson, was known to submit articles with incredible storylines, including his story about meeting Gypsy Rose Lee on the streets of Seattle.

Leon had an interesting personal history and enjoyed sharing his entertaining -- at times extraordinary -- stories. From growing up in Wink, Texas with Roy Orbison, to having encounters with ghostly spirits, to serving in the Army Air Force in Japan following World War II when he heard a rumor about a female aviator (Amelia Earhart?) who had survived a plane crash and was kept as a prisoner by the Japanese. But his most prolific stories centered around the people he met while running his art shop in the Pike Place Market. One of those people was Gypsy Rose Lee.

I have searched our archive for Leon's Gypsy story (to no avail, but you can read about her via HistoryLink: What I remember about the article is that some of Leon's facts needed to be verified before I could print it. Once again, Seattle Public Library to the rescue.

The other day I called Seattle Public Library's "Ask Us" Quick Information Service to get a brief history of the program. I was happy to speak with Chris, who has worked with Seattle Public Library for more than 40 years. She definitely knew the history and was happy to share it with me.

The Seattle Public Library's Quick Information Line has been around since 1976. People can ask any question on any topic. If the person who answers the phone cannot provide the answer within a few minutes, they forward your call to one of the departments where specialists have great knowledge themselves, plus access to more resources along with more time to devote to the topic at hand. 

Some of the specialized departments include: Business, Science and Technology; Arts, Recreation and Literature; History, Travel and Maps; World Languages; the Children's Center; the Teen Center, the Seattle Room (a restricted collection available by appointment that contains local history, clipping files, maps and "all kinds of neat stuff"). The library has access to high school annuals, a historical collection of phone books, reverse directories. They can tell you different people who lived at an address -- "I know it was near here, can you find it?" The answer, probably, is "yes." The Reader's Advisory helps people choose books that fit their preferences, or even help find a book when you don't know the title or author!

Chris, who has worked at various departments in the main library, has been at the help desk for 15 years. "Sometimes unusual questions -- those 'out-in-left field' searches -- can be challenging and fun," she says. After all these decades, she still enjoys her job. "I like it here. We get to talk to all types of interesting people." 

The staff who answer the help line get to know the specific expertise of the librarians in the departments. Sometimes, her response to a question is, "I can't answer that, but my colleague is really good at that type of question." She recalls that, for a long time, the library's sports specialist was a female. "People might call in asking about the rankings for college football teams, for example. They would tell me, 'I want to talk to a guy.' I'd say, no, you want to talk to another girl." 

Most of the questions can be answered over the phone, but some things are easier to do in person. Tech-related help comes to mind in that regard, where it's easier to demonstrate what swiping and tapping mean on your phone, or what to do when something disappears. "It can be hard to describe over the phone," says Chris.

Some programs have not yet been fully restored since the pandemic, such as appointments for sessions to learn about various tech issues or glitches. 

Still, Chris' advice to Northwest Prime Time readers: Age is not a reason not to know how to use some of the technology. "Saying it's because you're old is a bad excuse," she says with a light but knowledgeable tone. There are ways to learn and people who can help you. The world of entertainment, communication, and knowledge that is at your fingertips can be rewarding. Plus, learning new things keeps you young. 

The Quick Information Line is still in service, even as the Seattle Public Library struggles with the aftermath of a cybersecurity ransomware attack that occurred over Memorial Day weekend. Technology systems have been impacted and the library had to go offline (learn more at 

Seattle Public Library was hit with a ransomware attack over Memorial Day weekend


The library expects that most, if not all, remaining offline services will be restored in the next 6-8 weeks. Crosscut covered the story, including reflections from eighty-year-old Joan Abrevaya, who has used library services since arriving in Seattle from Los Angeles in 1984. She is the longest-tenured volunteer for Friends of the Library at the central library, which she calls her favorite building in the city. "It's hard for me to imaging attacking the library," she is quoted as saying. "First of all, they don't have the money, and it is such an essential part of so many of our lives. For me, libraries have always been a central part of my life ... fortunately, the library is still open and functioning, but for people who depend on the computers, it's a life-changer in a very negative way." 

(Read the full Crosscut story at the following link:

Despite all the trouble, you can still call the Quick Information Line (206-386-4636). And, in my opinion, visiting the library in person, ANY library, remains a pleasure. 

Thank you, Seattle Public Library and all libraries. Your service is most appreciated. 

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