Zoom into the Shetland Islands

Collated by Veronica Bell.

The Shetland Islands are the most northerly part of the British Isles, lying in the North Atlantic between the British mainland, the Faroe Islands and Norway. The main town, Lerwick, lies only six degrees of latitude from the Arctic Circle. 

Shetland comprises over one hundred islands, of which fifteen are inhabited. Its place names and traditions reflect its strong Norse heritage. Despite their remoteness, the islands have a long history of occupation, having been settled since pre historic times and only becoming part of Scotland in the fifteenth century. 

Today the Shetland Isles are known for its oil and fishing industries, as well as the production of its famous Fair Isle knitwear. Its vast seabird colonies, rugged scenery, archaeology, and Norse heritage combine to give the Islands their unique character.  

This is the latest in our fortnightly blog looking at the resources the Library holds for each local authority area. This is not a comprehensive listing of everything we hold about that area but a jumping-off point for further exploration. Staff from across the Library have found interesting, beautiful and fun items to share from our online collections. You will find more across our website, in our Library and at local collections.

Where to find local collections:  

Shetland Library https://www.shetland-library.gov.uk  Shetland Museum & Archives https://www.shetlandmuseumandarchives.org.uk/ 

Book – non fiction:  

‘The Shetland or Zetland Isles’ entry in Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, 1857.  https://digital.nls.uk/130036746

Books – fiction: 

The Whale: A Zetland story, 1832. [In Monthly Scrap Book, For Novemberhttps://digital.nls.uk/104184301

‘The Pirate’ by Walter Scott. ed. 1873. [In Antiquarian books of Scotland]  https://digital.nls.uk/107396282


 ‘Shetland Pony’, 1965-9. https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/1130 

‘Out Skerries’, 1978. https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/2691 

‘Rovdehorn’, 1983https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/3023 


Zetland (Shetland), 1792. (In the Hutton Drawings [Volume 2]) https://digital.nls.uk/9713449


Orcadum et Shetlandiae Insularum accuratissima descriptio, 1654.  [In the Blaeu Atlas of Scotland] https://maps.nls.uk/view/00000495

A new hydrographical survey of the islands of Shetland by Thomas Preston. 1781. https://maps.nls.uk/coasts/chart/831

Shetland LVI.8 (Gulberwick). Ordnance Survey 25 inch to one mile. 1880. https://maps.nls.uk/view/75115113


Talk on cultural links between Shetland and Norway, with a trow story. 1989. [Via Europeana, an open access resource with many audio/picture files on Shetland,  accessed here https://auth.nls.uk/eresources/goto/101https://www.europeana.eu/en/item/2059215/data_sounds_TDF031029       


 Advertisments for Shetland businesses, 1886. [In 1882-1915 – Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory of Scotlandhttps://digital.nls.uk/9066917

Transport research series: Review of the air discount scheme by Social Research. 2008. https://www.nls.uk/scotgov/2008/0065011.pdf


Letters and column in ‘Shetland News’ on the topic of Womens Suffrage (1912).  https://digital.nls.uk/suffragettes/sources/source-8.html




Diary of the Reverend John Mill, minister of the parishes Dunrossness, Sandwick and  Cunningsburgh in Shetland, 1740 – 1803. [In Scottish History Society volumes Series 1, Volume 5, 1889] https://digital.nls.uk/12564739


‘Shetland Heroes’ by J.J. Haldane Burgess, 1920.  [In Shetland Rolls of Honour and Rolls of Servicehttps://digital.nls.uk/rolls-of-honour/archive/100529035

Mythical creature

The Sea Folk Tradition in Shetland. The peat fire flame by Alasdair Alpin MacGregor. 1937. [In The Ossian Collectionhttps://digital.nls.uk/81147727

Castle or other historic building:  

Plan of Fort Charlotte at Lerwick, 1783.  [In Military Maps of Scotland] https://maps.nls.uk/view/00003158


 ‘Lerwick from the Town Hall’ [In the MacKinnon Collection, 1840s – mid 20th century] https://digital.nls.uk/learning/from-shore-to-shore/locations/north/index.html#gallery-6

Something about the county town: 

Up Helly Aa Festival, Lerwick. 1949. https://movingimage.nls.uk/film/1309

Something about a village: 

‘Scalloway from N’ [In the MacKinnon Collection, 1840s – mid 20th century] https://digital.nls.uk/learning/from-shore-to-shore/locations/north/index.html#gallery-3

Further reading (in the Library): 

 ‘The Shetland Bus’ by Howarth, David Armine. New ed. 1998.  https://search.nls.uk/permalink/f/1jc5lod/44NLS_ALMA21571667930004341   (The story of the Shetland Bus’ secret wartime missions to occupied Norway.)        

‘Myth and Materiality in a woman’s world: Shetland 1800 – 2000., Abrams, Lynn. 2005.  https://search.nls.uk/permalink/f/1jc5lod/44NLS_NPLD_EBK018363897      

‘Sons and Daughters of Shetland: 1800 – 1900′ by Robertson, M. 1991. https://search.nls.uk/permalink/f/sbbkgr/44NLS_ALMA21550567500004341