Britain’s Northernmost Librarian Is Public Library Champion

by Alastair Hamilton -

Julie Thomson, who runs the community library in Shetland’s (and therefore Britain’s) northernmost inhabited island, Unst, has become Public Library Champion 2017.

The award is conferred by the Public and Mobile Libraries Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). It recognises “the achievement of outstanding frontline public library staff that make a real difference to the people who use their library.”

Julie only found out she had won a week before the awards ceremony in Stafford, but managed to make it down to pick up her award in person. She said she felt quite overwhelmed – not just by receiving the award, but by the response to her success, which included hundreds of positive comments on Facebook. “I want to stress that it helps so much to have such a strong, supportive community here in Unst,” she said “and it is the connections here that make so much possible.”

One such connection is Julie’s work with Nordalea Care Centre, where she holds some of her early years Bookbug sessions, bringing together the generations to share books, rhymes, songs and games. “That is a really notable achievement”, said Library manager Karen Fraser. “Julie got a lot of recognition for those sessions, and was asked to speak at the Bookbug conference in Glasgow earlier this year about how she involves the wider community in Bookbug. She also runs the school library in Baltasound, so she really only has a few hours a week for public library work, but her community connections and enthusiasm put the library at the centre of things. Baltasound school is also very supportive of community access, and this year they’ve improved the space available for the public library books.”

her community connections and enthusiasm put the library at the centre of things

Julie met Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP at the awards ceremony and said he was particularly friendly and encouraging: “He knew a lot about Shetland Library already and commented on all the publicity we got during Libraries week, particularly through our ongoing Twitter battles with Orkney Library!”

Those online exchanges with the Orkney Library – highlighting such things as the differing quality of cake served to the Reverend Richard Coles (visiting the Shetland Library) and J K Rowling (when in Orkney) – have been entertaining both libraries’ Twitter followers for some time, so much so that they’ve attracted national attention on more than one occasion. Recently, Shetland Library’s Chief Tweeter, Catherine Jeromson, discussed libraries with her Orkney counterpart, John Peterson, on Simon Mayo’s BBC Radio 2 ‘Drivetime’ show.

As the Shetland Library’s news feed makes clear, there’s a lot going on in the building on Lerwick’s Hillhead and indeed elsewhere, since the library has a presence across Shetland, either in schools or using its two mobile library vehicles. They work hard to attract new readers, for example by adopting 19th century dress to mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s passing earlier this year. They also make a particular effort to involve all Shetland children.

It’s great that Julie has won the award, and we congratulate her, but it’s also clear that she’s part of a superb team.

Posted in: Community