University of Wisconsin–Madison

Alum John Thompson named WLA’s Librarian of the Year

John Thompson (MA ’87) got his start in public libraries with a part-time job in high school, shelving and staffing the circulation desk at Baraboo Public Library. Now a library system director in Wisconsin with 34 years of library experience to his name, Thompson is the Wisconsin Library Association’s 2021 Librarian of the Year.

When he started out on his path to librarianship, Thompson was focused on youth services. As his graduation from the iSchool (then SLIS) approached, he began applying for children’s librarian jobs. But they were few and far between, so Thompson also applied for a few director positions—which led to his being hired as the director of Prairie du Sac Public Library in 1987.

Today, Thompson is the director of the Inspiring & Facilitating Library Success (IFLS) Library System. He also served as the Public Library System Redesign Committee Chair from 2015-2019. “The thing I enjoy most about being the IFLS Director is helping and consulting with our 53 member libraries,” Thompson said. “Every day is unique.” Being the director, Thompson does it all—from assisting library boards in hiring a new director to advising on library building projects to offering tips on budgeting.

Thompson’s time at the iSchool provided the diversity of knowledge he needed (and continues to draw on) in his career. “The readings for classes and the perspectives of students and faculty helped foster a deeper understanding of intellectual freedom,” Thompson recalled. In particular, he remembered Dianne McAfee Hopkins and Charles Bunge. “They served as inspiration beyond my years at SLIS.” Now, it’s Thompson’s turn. “I’m looking forward to inspiring the next generation of library directors and continuing to help improve library service in Wisconsin,” he says. Spoken like a true WLA Librarian of the Year!

Congratulations on your achievement, John!