Living Knowledge blog

15 November 2021

Library Lives: Mark Freeman, Stockton-on-Tees

‘I have lived a life of libraries, and I have never regretted becoming part of such an absolutely brilliant profession. I’m pleased we are now able to develop new apprentices to take up the reins in the future – libraries will never fade away.’

Following our Libraries Week focus on some of the librarians at our St Pancras and Boston Spa sites, we are stepping out of the British Library to meet librarians around the UK. (If you missed Libraries Week, you can catch up here.)

This month it’s Mark Freeman MBE, qualified librarian and Libraries and Information Services Manager for Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, as well as a Trustee of Libraries Connected and the immediate past President. Mark has also been involved in setting up the newly established Business & IP Centre Tees Valley, one of 19 National Network BIPCs around the UK.

Mark FreemanMark Freeman

Where was your local library growing up?

Although I wasn’t born there, I spent much of my childhood in my parents’ home county of Northamptonshire. My local library was Kettering and my mum started work there when we moved to the town in 1967, having moved about a bit. My first library card was at Leamington Spa Library when we lived in the area for a while.   

Why did you want to become a librarian?

As my mum worked in the library, I was very used to being in there and we’d always been library users in the past. I got my first job as a Saturday Helper in Kettering Library in 1976 and from the first moment I was hooked. I loved the experience of meeting people, helping them to find their reading choices and helping them to deal with the everyday information that they needed.

A long lost photo of me at 18 working in Kettering‘A long lost photo of me at 18 working in Kettering.’

Do you have a favourite item in your library’s collection?

Not a favourite item, but a favourite section! It would be hard to pick out something from the thousands of titles but I love travelling, so I’ve always gravitated towards the Travel section in every library I’ve ever worked in.

Travel section

What is the most unusual or unexpected query you’ve helped someone with?

I was once asked if I would go into a quiet corner with a young woman in the Reference Library as she wanted to discuss something with me, which was private! I was a bit worried, but it turned out that she thought she was a long lost sibling of a famous singer. I turned immediately to one of our Media Directories to try to find his agent. I never found out if she was right….

What do you like best about libraries?

My favourite thing that you can do in a library is to get lost in someone else’s world. I love books that are set in far off places, and in places that are a bit closer to home too.  My favourite genre is crime and I particularly like those set in places I’m familiar with. 

Other than your own, where's your favourite library, or one you would most like to visit?

I’ve been lucky to visit libraries across the world and work in some of them. It’s a bit hard to pin down a real favourite as there are so many absolutely great buildings. Having said that, I am particularly impressed by the Finnish Library Service and although I know most would probably choose the new Oodi Library in Helsinki, I think I’m going to choose the one in Tampere which I visited a few years back. It’s an amazing piece of architecture and an absolutely brilliant service.

Sum up being a librarian in three words

People. Empathy. Exploration.

What do you think makes a good librarian?

A good librarian is one who has a passion for supporting the people who come through the door, and for encouraging those who don’t. It’s not just about reading and books, it’s all about understanding how reading, literacy and information help people to find themselves and to develop.  A good librarian has to have empathy, understanding and curiosity.

If you weren't doing your current job, what would you be?

I would have been an architect! I absolutely love buildings, heritage and history and would have loved to have had that kind of role. Working in the library service has not disappointed me though and it’s taken me to places I only dreamed of.

Tell us something about yourself that has nothing to do with your job

I was born outside the UK and I’m proud of my association with my birthplace on the Mediterranean island of Malta.

What one thing do you wish people knew about libraries that you suspect they don’t?

They are the last free, non-judgemental service that anyone can use and that can help deal with the challenges of everyday life, as well as providing an endless source of entertainment and education.

How have things changed in libraries since you qualified?

Although the basic premise of our service has not changed at all, the way in which we deliver library services now is completely different to the way we did it back in the late 70s when I first joined the service.  We had no computers then, no library management systems and the only multimedia we had to start off with was black vinyl discs.  I’ve watched as our service has developed with the times and I’m proud that we are still here helping people make sense of the information world around them and connecting them to different ways of reading that we couldn’t even imagine back then.  For the most part, these innovations have really helped us to provide support to people who could not have accessed reading and information in the way that they can now. We have widened horizons for everyone.

Book recommendation?

Not one book but a whole series, beginning with Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin. I love these sensitive, humorous and sometimes outrageous stories of life starting in 1970s San Francisco and working their way up to date through the challenges of AIDS and all the joy and sadness that went with the changing times.

Interview by Ellen Morgan

Mark has also been involved in setting up the newly established Business & IP Centre Tees Valley, one of 19 National Network BIPCs around the UK. The BIPC can help you imagine, start or develop your business.

We’re interviewing people who have professional registration status as a librarian via the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals or who have an academic qualification such as a first degree, a postgraduate diploma or a Master’s degree in library and information studies or librarianship.

Is this you? If you’d like to feature in Library Lives, get in touch with ellen.morgan@bl.uk

Would you like this to be you? Find out more about becoming a librarian on the CILIP website.

.