Skip to content

‘The creative spark’: Burnaby librarian's legacy lives on in creative teen workshops

A former Burnaby librarian’s family will match donations up to $2,500 this summer for the Burnaby Public Library’s teen services department.
Former teen services librarian Julia Nelson, who died from leukemia 10 years ago, has been remembered by the Burnaby Public Library in the form of a teen creative program called 'Julia's Studio.'

A former Burnaby librarian’s commitment and passion to youth literacy is still remembered 10 years after her death.

Julia Nelson was a teen services librarian at Burnaby Public Library from 2010 to 2013. She died in 2013 after a six-month battle with leukemia when she was just 33 years old.

In her honour, the library set up a trust to support its teen services department – and a program of teen workshops called Julia’s Studio, which features creative programs for youth aged 13 to 19 taught by local artists.

Julia’s father Paul Nelson donates to the fund every year, and this year he will match donations that BPL receives between now and the end of August up to $2,500.

Nelson said his daughter’s legacy shines in the creative efforts of Julia’s Studio and expressed his gratitude to the library for keeping Julia’s name going.

“The library has advanced it so beautifully. Every year, they’ve enriched it more,” Nelson said.

“I think that this outreach that they’re doing, it’s like a new mission of libraries. It’s more than just information, it’s community connections.”

The Julia’s Studio workshops are free and feature a variety of subjects from watercolour painting, digital drawing, writing to tarot and self-care.

Nelson sat in on one of the classes for fun some years ago.

“It was absolutely wonderful,” he said. “And you could see that there were young people there who were doing something they had never done before.” He added the quality of the instructors is wonderful.

A rockin’ scholar

When Julia worked for the library, she was the only teen librarian. Now, BPL has four teen librarians in all its branches.

Julia, who got her master’s degree at McGill University, had always dreamed of working in New York – and she realized that goal. She worked at a big branch of the New York Public Library in the Bronx, her father said.

She eventually came back to Canada with her husband and worked as a librarian at the Fraser Valley Regional Library and the Coquitlam Public Library, before coming to Burnaby.

“She was one of three sisters, middle daughter, and she was sort of the creative spark of the family – very creative,” her dad said.

He described Julia as a scholar: in addition to her master’s, she had a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from UBC.

“She was very studious as a person, loved books. I think it was really her love of reading and study and learning (that led her to librarianship).”

She had an adventurous side as well.

“At a young age, she started going to rock shows and raves and stuff. … Julia was a very adventurous girl, she loved to be in the mosh pit at a concert,” Nelson said, adding, “She was fun.”

Nelson still has Julia’s dog Birdie, now 11, a sweet and stubborn Welsh terrier.

The library will announce this summer’s workshops for Julia’s Studio in mid-June.

Donations to the Julia Nelson Trust at the library can be made online at BPL’s website and selecting “The Julia Nelson Trust – supports Teen Services” option under “Fund.”