Susan – Citizen Extraordinaire by Deb Joelle

Susan and meThree years ago, my husband and I bought a house on a tiny island in western British Columbia. Well, actually, I came up here on a “viewing” trip with my mum, and bought the house myself. SURPRISE! Anyway, a few months later, Victor and I came up here to stay in our empty house for about ten days (we planned to rent it out for a while since we weren’t ready to move up here yet). While we were here, I got a library card.

Our library serves approximately 4500 residents and has over 100,000 checkouts per year. We’re a reading bunch! I decided that since I was going to be a Canadian, I should learn about Canadian writers, so I filled out a form at the library, requesting information on YA writers and I gave them my US address to mail the info to since it would take a couple of weeks to get it.

A month or so later, I got a lovely personalized letter and a huge list of writers and books from Susan the librarian. I was so pleased, I wrote her a letter, telling her who I liked too and a fast friendship was formed. When I moved here almost a year and half later, I introduced myself and we’ve been lunching and chatting and trading books ever since.

What I did know when I got that info from Susan was that it had taken some time to put together. She’d obviously made a big effort just for me. And she’d included the nice letter. What I didn’t know at the time was that Susan didn’t just manage our island library, she managed eight other libraries and spent her time traveling amongst them. She had taken all this time for me just because she cares about books, writers, and readers.

When I got here, I also discovered that Susan volunteered in the school, served on many nonprofit boards, and took care of her elderly parents who live off island. She has a family here too, and grows a garden, always has a smile for everyone, and I’ve never heard her say a bad word about anyone. In fact, if you mention anyone she knows, her face lights up and she will tell you something nice or wonderful about said person.

Last summer, the library went through restructuring, and when the dust settled, Susan’s job was eliminated. She had a choice, take what amounted to a demotion or take early retirement. She chose to retire. I think most of us here on the island felt really badly about losing Susan in the library, but what we didn’t reckon on was that the library’s loss would be our gain.

That’s right. You’ll now find Susan involved more than ever in our community. She still volunteers at the school. She’s on the board for Poetry Gabriola (which just had its spoken word festival last weekend and you can see pictures my husband took here). She volunteers at GIRO – the recycling centre. And when I mentioned that I’d like to teach five writing classes to the Grade 6/7 class (a local businessman is paying me to do it!), she immediately got in touch with the teacher and principal, set it up, arranged a time and date, and was there yesterday to give me a rousing introduction!

So if you all ever come to visit me and you’re wandering around the island, and you see this woman, with her very sexy librarian up-do, her funky but oh-so-cool (I wish I could wear them, but only she can get away with it)- clothes, and her bright eyes and smile, you’ll know to say, “Hi, Susan!” And while you’re at it, thank her too for being such an advocate for writers.


Photo of me and Susan was taken in front of the library by Victor Anthony.

12 Replies to “Susan – Citizen Extraordinaire by Deb Joelle”

  1. What an amazing gift – that list of books and writers Susan created for you! No wonder she has become a friend… sound like she has a huge heart.

  2. Hi Debs – I just want to let y’all know that meeting Joelle, a young, enthusiastic writer who is keen on the authors for children and young adults whom I also love, was the highlight of my time in the library during the last 2 years. Turns out that Joelle is also an ace teacher in a classroom full of Grade 6s and 7s…watching her teach “the voice of a writer” for an hour was truly inspiring.

    Librarians are most passionate about connecting what they love (literature in the broadest sense) to the people and community they serve…Joelle is one of those writers who, when you get to know her, must be connected to the audience for whom she writes. And lucky me, I can do some of that (even when I’m retired!).

    Our generous business sponsor for the school sessions Joelle is now doing is the fellow who runs the Roxy theatre on Gabriola Island, and he is another tireless advocate for culture who is responsible for bringing some extraordinary theatre and music to Gabriola.

  3. Wow, I was just about to login and say how amazing Susan is–and there she is in the comment trail! So I’ll say it right to you:
    Susan, you rock!

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