A sound career for Susie in our recording studios

One of our longest-serving employees is Audio Production Officer Susie Punch, who has been with VisAbility for 35 years. In that time she’s overseen the recording of more than two thousand books and met amazing volunteers. Susie has also been introduced to some famous people including Western Australian Governor Kim Beazley, who came to the studio to record his father’s book.

All the books recorded in our studios go into our Audio Library for people with a print disability, which includes people living with blindness or vision impairment.

It’s part of our Accessible Information Services, which help individuals with print disabilities to access information and facilities.

Susie sits by her desk holding a book and a daisy cartridge
Susie shares the latest book title to be narrated by the team

Susie fell into the role purely by chance through her volunteering work at RTRFM (link opens in new window), the volunteer radio station for the University of Western Australia. She was working in the record library as well as being involved with some on-air presenting. As luck would have it, another volunteer at the radio station was leaving his role at VisAbility and encouraged her to apply for a job in the Library.

”I joined when I was 19-years-old in 1986 and honestly can say I have loved every minute of my thirty-five years here.”

Susie Punch – Audio Production Officer

From reel-to-reel to digital

Susie keeps a catalogue of the books recorded and the narrators who read them. There are some 45 volunteers who come in to read or monitor the recordings every week. Most are female, over 65 and retired, and only 10% are male.

Looking back, she’s seen plenty of change.

”We have moved buildings a few times. I remember when I first arrived it was reel to reel, then we moved to cassettes and now it is all digital,” she explains.

The Library, along with the Recording Studios, were originally based in Duncan Street before moving onto the Kitchener Avenue site in 2009.

”Production has always been quite time consuming. We need to check the books and the quality of the recordings, so the process isn’t that quick.”

Susie surrounded by three volunteers clutching headphones stand next to a tree in the outside area
Susie receives help from 45 volunteers who narrate and monitor recordings

Memorable visitors

When Susie first arrived her role was to monitor and record the books and work with narrators, but over the years the role has evolved.

Accessible Information Services Program Manager, Caris Parry, says Susie’s an excellent organiser and is grateful for her many years of service.

”One of the most important parts of Susie’s role is coordinating the volunteers in the studio. They give over 300 hours of their time each month. Susie does a brilliant job of making sure they’re well looked after. We’re so proud to have Susie in our team.”

Susie herself has loved every minute of it and looks forward to many more years in the VisAbility studio.

”The highlights for me have been the people I’ve met during my time here. The Premier, Geoff Gallop, when he read an introduction to a book to raise money for VisAbility. Oscar winner actress and political activist, Glenda Jackson, has also visited the recording studios while visiting Perth,” she adds.

”We’ve also had broadcasters Peter Holland and Verity James in the studio recording the book he edited called ‘Summer Shorts’. They were lovely people, although they struggled to sit through the recordings. It can be quite intense when you’re reading books.”

Susie Punch – Audio Production Officer

Selecting narrators

Volunteers at the recording studio stay for a long time. It’s not uncommon for people to help out for twenty years or more. It’s a tight-knit team.

There are three volunteer roles available in the studio – narrators, monitors and checkers. The narrator reads the book while the monitor oversees its safe recording and then the checker ensures there are no glitches and it’s good to go live.

Susie sits in the recording studio with her headphones on looking out towards the narrator
Susie also steps in to monitor recordings as and when needed

Anyone interested in becoming a narrator is invited to a twenty-minute audition where they read out words and passages they haven’t seen before. Susie then listens back to the recordings and decides whether they’d make a good narrator.

”I am looking for an engaging voice and out of those that make enquiries only 25% will be selected.”

If they don’t make the grade, they may be offered monitoring or checking work instead.

Susie is methodical in her approach to work. A big white board indicates who’s recording what in each studio and at what time, so she can monitor the volunteers.

Helping Susie in the studio is Audio Producer Stephen Northcote. After the books have been recorded, checked and any corrections made, Stephen ensures the completed book is ready to enter into the library. VisAbility has over 4,000 people who access the talking library.

Susie’s day in our recording studio 

A typical day for Susie includes:

  • 0800. Susie ensures that everything is set up for the volunteers. Checking the studios and making sure there’s enough tea/coffee and biscuits.
  • 0830. Admin time. Susie works through her emails.
  • 0900. The first narrator arrives. The morning session runs until 1200. A few times a week Susie monitors recordings.
  • 1200. Break for lunch
  • 1230. Afternoon sessions. During her spare time Susie will fill in a copyright form which details a synopsis of the book, the title, the author, narrator, etc. One of these is filled in for each new book.
  • 1530. Susie’s day ends.

VisAbility’s Online Library Catalogue is one of the largest digital libraries in the Southern Hemisphere catering for people with print disability. With more than 16,000 book titles, you can download titles and lodge requests for new books to be converted. We can also post audio books to your home and have a range of Braille books, so why not take a look at what’s available today?