Meet Susannah. She thinks she’s the definition of ordinary. Like most women, she believes she is nothing special. She can’t imagine why anyone would be interested in her story.
But we are.
Susannah had always wanted to be a librarian. Right from childhood, it was what she dreamed of being.
And then, of course, as we start talking, she starts apologising. As most women would. Because most women are embarrassed to talk about what really matters to them, unfortunately.
Sad, isn’t it?
No, it isn’t. It’s not sad at all. It’s great to know what you want to do and to have something to aim for.
So when I was about seven or eight, I made my own library in my bedroom. I ordered all my books just like I’d seen at my local library that I visited every Saturday morning. I had loads. I loved buying books. And then I made a ticket for each book and had a system and friends from the street would come and borrow books from my library.
Susannah then went on to be a librarian in her Primary School and Secondary School Library. When she left school, she moved up to Newcastle to study Librarianship and Information Studies. When she graduated, she worked as a librarian in Manchester and Birmingham and then settled in Gateshead in 1988.
Sorted. Job done. She was living her dream and loving every minute of it. She had such a strong sense of vocation. That this was what she was born to do. That she couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else. The satisfaction she got from sorting stock out and getting everything into just the right order and finding the right book for a customer was immeasurable.
Until everything changed. Across the UK, there were major cuts in the Library Service. The Schools Library Service in Gateshead was to be axed. Everyone in the team was to be redeployed or made redundant. Susannah was devastated. She’d been doing this job that she loved for over twenty years and now she didn’t love the new role that she was put into at all.
My heart wasn’t in it any more. For the first time in my life, I was dreading going to work. But I couldn’t leave. This was my life. What else could I do?
She did have something else she could do. She could set up her own business and become self-employed. She could offer her skills to local schools – and get paid for it. But could she really?
I’d never seen myself as that kind of person. I wasn’t confident enough. I couldn’t sell myself. I knew I’d do a good job, but how could I ever convince other people of that?
And then a close friend of Susannah’s died of cancer. She was only 48 years old. This was a defining moment for Susannah.
At that point, I had an overwhelming sense of ‘Now or never’. I’d seen my friend’s life end far too soon. Life seemed fragile. I had to make the most of it. This was the right time. I had the right skills. My husband wanted me to go for it. It felt scary, but I took the leap and did it!
So she started to develop a website – Whittock Library Solutions – and got business cards and sent out targeted emails to Head teachers across the region. She had to force herself to believe in herself. Her strong determination to make a go of this carried her through.
The first few jobs were terrifying. I still couldn’t believe anyone was going to pay me to do this. But the feedback was really positive and as I gathered a few testimonials, it became easier to believe in myself and approach new schools. And actually, most of my work then came in through recommendations and word of mouth.
Susannah couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t wait to get up every morning and start work. This was truly a dream come true – getting paid to do something that she absolutely loved. She was happier than she’d ever been. This was the best thing she’d ever done.
And now she’s using her experience and expertise to help a local charity. Borderline Books collects books that are no longer needed by publishers, shops, libraries and individuals and redistributes them free of charge to organisations working with survivors of domestic abuse, homeless people, ex-service men and women, former prisoners, young offenders, children’s homes, hostels for young people, refugees and those applying for asylum and vulnerable adults and children. Susannah is giving up her time to sort through all the children’s books and make the children’s library there a useful and attractive resource.
It’s great to use the skills I have to volunteer in such a practical way. It’s so fulfilling to see the Children’s Library there taking shape.
So that’s Susannah’s story. It could have been very different. Every story can take many different turns. She can’t believe how well it has turned out for her and how happy she is.
I’m naturally cautious. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to rush into anything. But then there comes a point when you know. You know it’s the right time. You know it’s ‘now or never’. And that’s when you have to silence your fears and go for it.