Amina Shah from the National Library of Scotland on 10 things that changed her life


The Managing Director of the National Library of Scotland, Amina Shah, told interviewer Lorraine Wilson 10 things that changed her life …

I have four children and it is no exaggeration to say that being their mother has been a defining part of my life for the past 22 years.

I had my first at 25 when I worked at the Mitchell Library and lived with my boyfriend, who was still a student. We were in a one bedroom apartment, both of our families were in England and neither of our friends had children. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

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Now that baby, Felix, is at Newcastle University. Molly is in Glasgow and my youngest sons Louis and Finn are in high school.

Of course, I have vivid memories of them when they were young, but I find it even better when they are adults, watching them become their own people.

Of course, libraries are an integral part of my life. My parents even met at a library – at the Mitchell in Glasgow where my mother was a library assistant and my father was a student.

We have moved a lot because of my dad’s job and I have always used the library – in Whiteinch in Glasgow and Wester Hailes in Edinburgh, I was going with my mum, and when we moved to central Edinburgh , I was old enough to go alone. It was a great time of independence where I bought candy and went to the library – I could live in my own world.

When we moved to Blackburn I went to a school that was 50% white and 50% Asian and there was so much violence in the playground that I worked in the school library to m ‘escape.

Obviously I was appointed to the National Library of Scotland this year and it came full circle I met my husband Kevin at the Dundee Library.

I have also worked in bookstores like Waterstones and the Scottish Book Trust. I turned to books for everything I needed throughout my life, whether it was comfort, entertainment, or support. When I was first pregnant I used to go to charity stores looking for baby books and was surprised that one of the best was Paula Yates! Now wherever we go, I annoy my family insanely, dragging them to every bookstore.

BETWEEN the ages of five and eleven, I lived in Gilmore Place in Edinburgh. My mom was involved in many women’s support groups, so there were always interesting women around this table, drinking endless pots of tea. I would sit on the battered old sofa with my book, but quietly listen to all their stories. I also remember Joni Mitchell a lot.

Sometimes my father’s family was from Pakistan and there was a completely different group of people around this table.

The house was always occupied by eclectic and interesting people who gathered around this kitchen table. I learned so much and absorbed it all, from people with so many different perspectives.

MY grandfather came from India to study at Imperial College London in the 1920s. He met my English grandmother there and they settled in what was then India, but after the partition became Pakistan.

My father then followed in his father’s footsteps and came to London to study, but when he returned his uncle gave him the letters his father sent home in the 1920s.

I studied them when I was a child and they gave them to me when my father died.

It’s so intimate to see handwritten letters.

At the National Library, I love that we have the last letter written by Mary Queen of Scots, but no more than I love the precious family letters.

I have lived in so many different places, but moved to Dundee when I went to college. One of the most important things about it was that it was ultimately my choice where to be. Maybe also, I was there at the time in life when you really become yourself – I see it with my own children.

There is a truth about Dundee, it’s big enough to have lots of cool stuff, but small enough that everyone seems to know each other. It looks like a community.

We now live in Wormit and look towards the city. I lived in Glasgow for a while after college but came back here in 2000 so I feel more like home than anywhere else.

IN April 2011, my son Finn was diagnosed with leukemia. He was then two and a half years old. Our whole world has collapsed of course.

After the diagnosis in Dundee, we were taken to Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh, where it was almost like walking through a gate. So many sick children were cared for by these superheroes. Of course, I had no idea what was going on; It’s only when you’re faced with it that you do the absolutely amazing work that these people do.

Treatment of leukemia in boys takes three and a half years. Sure, friends and family were amazing, but the NHS was something else… We have to fight so hard to make sure we don’t lose it.

MY brother Rehan committed suicide in 2015. Obviously, it changed my life a lot. He left two children behind and my father passed away less than a year later, never telling anyone that my brother was dead. He couldn’t come to terms with his son’s death because it was against his religion.

No one knew how much he was in pain. She was such an amazing and loved person. He worked with the prisoners, helped them reintegrate them into society and he was so dedicated.

Suicide is so difficult for everyone. Friends, family, everyone thinks they could have stopped him. You always have the feeling that you could have intervened.

JULIE was my nanny from 2000-2020. For much of those 20 years she played a huge role in raising my children. There is absolutely no way my husband Kevin and I could have worked without Julie.

Julie gave this feeling of added stability to my children. She’s also very good at everything I’m not good at

at all. Sensible stuff and things like baking.

If I had had to deal with a multitude of different people and nurseries, the children would not have felt as stable and secure and I would not have been able to work as I did.

WHEN I lived in Wester Hailes I spent all the time chasing my dogs. I was even taken to a child psychologist because of my fear of them – I didn’t work. I would cross the road to avoid the dogs.

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But after 15 years of unconditional harassment, we had Otis in 2019. He changed everything for me. I lost the fear of other dogs. I can enjoy the beach and the walks more. It made me realize that fear was not a real thing and helped me control other anxieties.

It’s so great to have a dog. They are so focused on being alive and enjoying life for no reason. We can learn a lot from them.


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