Living Knowledge blog

07 October 2021

Library Lives: Thurstan Young, British Library Boston Spa

‘Whilst politics, history and culture can often divide people, the sharing of knowledge has the capacity to transcend boundaries.’

Continuing our Libraries Week launch of our new series, Library Lives, we meet Thurstan Young, qualified librarian and Collection Metadata Analyst in the Collection Metadata Standards team at Boston Spa.

Thurstan picThurstan Young

Where was your local library growing up?

Horsforth Public Library, which is just north of Leeds. It used to have a tree growing in the middle of it towards a glass roof. As a child it felt like a light and airy, nature friendly space. 

What does your current job involve?

Metadata is data which provides information about other data. For example, descriptive metadata can be used to support the discovery and identification of a resource within a library catalogue. It includes elements for recording titles, authors, publishers, etc. My current job involves metadata standards application, interpretation, communication and development. I support the application of metadata standards at the British Library as well as their development in cooperation with national and international partners.

Do you have a favourite item in the Library’s collection?

Vladimir Il'ich Lenin’s Reader request to study the Russian ‘land question’ at the British Museum (submitted under the pseudonym ‘Jakob Richter’ in 1902). I love the fact that a single sheet of writing paper holds so many implications for the course of 20th-century history.

RRILetter from Lenin (Add. MS.54579.)

Do you have a favourite or unexpected enquiry that you’ve helped someone with?

I began working at the British Library in retrieval. This involved responding to Reading Room, loan, fax and photocopy requests from Library customers. Soon after I joined I remember dealing with an item request from an academic institution based in Iran. It struck me that the British Library had a truly global reach in terms of the service it provides. It also struck me that, whilst politics, history and culture can often divide people, the sharing of knowledge has the capacity to transcend boundaries.

What's your favourite thing that you can do in a library?

I can’t narrow it down to one thing. The best I can do is five: read, listen, watch, learn, escape. 

Where's your favourite library, or one you would most like to visit?

I’ve been lucky enough to visit a number of national libraries overseas. However, I haven’t made it to the Vatican Library yet. I’d like to visit that at some point.

Can you sum up being a librarian in three words?

Exciting. Intriguing. Challenging.

What do you think makes a good librarian?

A willingness to learn, an interest in helping the public and an eye for detail.

Tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with your job

I enjoy birdwatching. Interacting with nature appeals to me because nothing is guaranteed and so there’s always an opportunity for surprise. The most beautiful animals can appear in the most mundane places (like a goldcrest outside a postal depot).

Favourite fictional librarian?

Zoe Heriot in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. She makes her first appearance in a story entitled ‘The Wheel in Space’. If I had the chance to work as a librarian on a space station, then I’d definitely be up for that. I’m not so keen on being menaced by the cybermen though.

Can you give us a book recommendation?

Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving.

Interview by Ellen Morgan

We spoke to people who have professional registration status as a librarian via the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals or who have an academic qualification such as a first degree, a postgraduate diploma or a Master’s degree in library and information studies or librarianship.

Is this you? If you’d like to feature in Library Lives, get in touch with

Would you like this to be you? Find out more about becoming a librarian on the CILIP website.