Linda Freeman

on ‘curiosity’ & libraries

This episode delves into another of Curious Motion’s values – this time it’s ‘curiosity’ with Linda Freeman, a Team Leader for Calderdale’s libraries. Join Sam and Linda for a fun and warm chat about all things stories, books, people, and community.

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View Transcript

Show Notes

Calderdale Libraries – find out more about Calderdale’s libraries.

Georgette Hayer – find out more about this author and her books via goodreads.com

Diana Gabaldon – of Outlander fame and more!

Guest Info

A photo of Linda Freeman smiling at the camera. A headshot photo. Linda has short bobbed blonde hair.

Linda Freeman

Linda Freeman has worked in public libraries for 38 years – 21 of these in Calderdale. Her current role involves operations management for Brighouse, Elland and Sowerby Bridge Libraries, the Home Library Service and some smaller community libraries. She is passionate about public libraries, and the benefits they can bring to their local area.

Transcript

Sam McCormick:

Hello there. I’m Sam McCormick. And welcome to Curious Motion. Today, we are delving into curiosity, another of Curious e-Motion’s values. And we’re joined by Linda Freeman, who was a team leader for Calderdale’s libraries.

Linda is passionate about public libraries and the benefits they can bring to their local area. And I’ve always loved being in a library. There often seems to be a sense of peace and calm in the air, mixed with a real excitement for what you might discover. Libraries are havens for the curious. So I was really excited to chat to Linda about how curiosity features in her life and work.

Also, as some of you might know, Curious Motion is based in Elland, in the lower valley of Calderdale. If you listen to our episode with Angela Whiley in Series One, you might remember that Elland is getting ready to enjoy a newly restored library. It reopens very soon, after having been closed since just before the pandemic. And it feels so wonderful to be celebrating new and hopeful community opportunities during this really challenging time for everyone. That’s enough for me, though. I’ll leave it to Linda to tell you more about it.

Just a heads up that this chat was recorded a little while ago whilst the full UK lockdown was still in place.

Okay. Let’s go and meet Linda.

Hi, Linda. Thank you so much for coming along. It’s lovely to see you, virtually, anyway.

Linda Freeman:

Yes, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

Sam:

So today we’re chatting about curiosity. So our theme for this series of the podcast is The Values That Curious Motion goes by. And we offered them out. And you’ve chosen curiosity, which is wonderful. And I think it links in really beautifully to libraries and your role and things. So I’m excited to hear about your thoughts around that. And maybe some exciting updates on libraries in Calderdale, as well. That would be lovely. So let’s get going with curiosity, then. So what does curiosity mean to you?

Linda:

I think, really, curiosity is a desire to know and find out. It can lead you in all sorts of directions. Yeah, generally, if I’m asked a question and I don’t know the answer, I then want to know. Even if it’s something that has nothing to do with me at all, I would then like to know. That’s where curiosity takes me. It’s generally a wanting to know and find out about something. My husband, it takes him in physical directions. He was once late for work – because he walks in, and he saw a deer. And he followed it. It went completely in the wrong direction – for the office. And he was a bit late. But he just wanted to know. And he’ll quite often do that on a walk. “I wonder what’s down there? I’m going to go.” He quite often gets lost, falls over things. But that’s just how he follows curiosity, really.

Sam:

[laughter] I love that.

Linda:

With me, it’s more of wanting to find out and wanting to know. It can take you to some wonderful places, things you didn’t know that you wanted to know.

Sam:

Yeah. Can you think of anything that you found out that was sort of just random or that was new?

Linda:

Oh. So many things. Because I worked in libraries for so long. Customers tend to think you know the answer to every question. And they will come in and ask you something. They’ll ask about somebody I didn’t know existed or about a place. And I really won’t know, but the art to working in a library, you have to know where to go to try and find out.

I used to particularly enjoy children’s homework enquiries and following them to find out what actually was the answer. And it would always help you for when the next person came in because you’re always finding out more. Oh, I really used to love children’s homework enquiries. We don’t get them so much now with the internet being so widely available. But there are still so many things that it’s easier to find out in a library. And you will learn interesting things along the way rather than just Googling it.

Sam:

Yeah, I think that’s a really valid point, isn’t it? It’s the journey of finding these things is one of the most lovely things about it, as well as finding out what the thing that you’re looking for is.

Linda:

That’s right. Yeah. It’s the joy of working in a library. You never know what you’re going to be asked. So you don’t know what you’ll find out that day, or whether it’ll be useful to your life or not. But you’ll have an interest in finding out because the questions when asked.

Sam:

That’s amazing. I bet you are awesome on a pop quiz team.

Linda:

I am awesome on a pub quiz team. [laughter]

Sam:

You must have some amazing knowledge. [laughter]

Linda:

Generally, useless things. But yeah, you do retain a lot of it. So, yeah, I am highly in demand for quizzes.

Sam:

Oh, I love that. I love that. So I was going to ask how curiosity ties into your work with Calderdale’s libraries. And I think that you’ve partly answered it there. What drew you to working in libraries?

Linda:

Libraries were very different when I first went to work there. But I mean, the true answer is that I went to a careers conference and there was a free chair in front of the libraries lady. So I went and talked to her and she offered to set me up on a work experience week. And I was always a keen reader, so I thought, yes, this might be good. So I went and did a week in Central Library, was absolutely exhausted by the end of the week and realized it wasn’t at all what I had thought it would be. But I enjoyed it. And I ended up being offered a Saturday job there when I was 16. And that was it. Since I was 16, I have worked in libraries. Many different types of roles and libraries, but I’ve always come back to public libraries because I just have a real belief in them.

So, yeah, I mean, I’ve had other jobs as well, sometimes, when my children were younger. I’ve worked in a school. But I always seem to come back to public libraries. They’re my absolute favourite. And I can’t see me moving away at this late stage now.

Sam:

And what’s your favourite thing, can you pinpoint it? I know that’s hard.

Linda:

It is really hard. I think what’s behind my belief in libraries is that I see that they make a difference to people. And from 1983 when I first started, they made a difference then, but it’s different to how it is now, but I think we’re more needed than ever. A modern public library service is more needed than ever. There is such a lot of digital poverty, people who don’t know how to use digital services, who are excluded because of that. And it’s not always elderly people. Sometimes you’d be surprised at younger people who just don’t have the skills or the equipment. It’s not just elderly people. And sometimes elderly people have fab digital skills. It’s right across the board. And we have been surprised at how many young people really don’t have the skills. They don’t have the equipment. They are being disadvantaged because they don’t have those things.

Libraries are a great leveler, I think. They offer services to people that you don’t have to pay for. You’re allowed to be there. You’re not expected to spend money. I mean, sure, we all sell memory sticks and do little bits and charge you 10p for a photocopy. But to get the basic service, you don’t have to spend money. And I know we are a lifeline for some people with that aspect of our service, which really didn’t exist in 1983.

We’ve managed to carry on in Calderdale, providing a good digital service. We have e-books. We have e-audiobooks. We’ve managed to provide something. But what we can’t provide is that library space, human interaction. I think this is where libraries are really important. There are so many lonely and isolated people. And again, the library can be a place where those people can be with no expectations. Often in Elland, we used to have people who would– it was part of their daily routine to come in and read the paper, browse the books, and they’d spend all morning doing that. And it was a routine for their day, and they relied on the staff. And we really want to get back to that again.

Sam:

Yeah. Absolutely. This is the thing, isn’t it? It’s really part of people’s lives. And loneliness and isolation, I think we’ve all become even more aware of this. But this has always been an issue and it’s something that is just absolutely vital that we have these services, isn’t it?

Linda:

Yes. That’s right.

[music]

Linda:

We’re hopeful now. We have plans. And, of course, with the new Elland library, we’re hoping to open in May.

Sam:

Oh. That’s exciting.

Linda:

Building work is on track. Of course, we can’t visit the site, which we would normally. I have my hard hat and boots already that’s saved from when Central Library was being built. With regulations at the moment, we’re not allowed to visit. But that will change. I’m sure. So we are very much looking forward to opening that building. I’m so glad Elland does have this investment.

Sam:

Absolutely. Well, I was chatting to Angela Wiley about it on our previous series last year. She came on, and then she’s been managing some of the renovation. And even before that, when there was just talks about it being renovated and transformed in a way, it’s very, very exciting and really important for Elland as well. I think it’s going to be an even more amazing service. Yeah. I can’t wait to see what it’s like.

Linda:

Yeah. There’s going to be things we can do that we couldn’t do before. There were lots of anomalies to that building and temporary partitions and parts of the building we couldn’t access because they were too dangerous. There’s going to be so much more we can do. We’re hoping to have access to space upstairs as well where we can hold events.

The member staff is going to be in charge on-site, is very keen to start up some kind of support group for lonely or isolated people. We want to do regular children’s activities, which we could never do before. So yeah, the team is so excited. They can’t wait to move back to that site. And it’ll be hard work for them because they’ll have to dismantle the temporary site we had, which unfortunately we haven’t been able to use since last March. We put a lot of work into that, but it’s just too small to be safe for either staff or visitors, so we haven’t been able to open it. So we’ll have to dismantle that.

We’ve got new library fittings coming again, coming back to curiosity – lots of face on display, lots of the Elland are particularly strong in putting together displays. They do it really well. And it’s a lovely feeling to have time to go into a library and just see what you might like. It’s not the same– although I love bookshops too, it’s not the same. The library, we’re quite good at taking people in different directions and suggesting things.

The customers of Elland Library really love their books. They like to read. They like to share their opinions and the staff like to give recommendations. It’s a real readers’ library, and we are hoping to have more reader development events and all for talks as well.

Sam:

Oh, it’s so exciting. And isn’t it lovely, after such a challenging year, which is not over yet, but to have some hope of moving beyond that and then to have this beautiful, amazing, new, even better service?

Linda:

That’s right. It has been really difficult this year. The staff have felt it as well. And we’re doing our best. But what we’re allowed to offer at the moment is very limited, and it’s not why people came to work in libraries. They miss each other, but they miss their customers as well. So it will be great to really open up with a splash in Elland. And we may have to have some restrictions depending on what the government’s advising at the time, but we’ll see how that goes.

[music]

Sam:

Talking about books, do you have a favourite book or favourite author?

Linda:

I do. I have several. So I found this quite hard to think about. I like historical fiction, but I like it with authentic detail. It doesn’t necessarily have to be very, very serious. And again, this ties back to libraries because I love Georgette Hayer, and she’s not a fashionable author these days. I still remember in the library I used to visit, when I was younger, the pale green library editions lined up, uniform editions of her books, and they really did look quite boring. But they’re so well written with accurate detail, and they’re just so witty and warm. They’re the sort of book I buy and keep and then I’ll read again and again. Some books I’ll read and think, “I really enjoyed that, but I probably wouldn’t read it again.” But Georgette Hayer, if I need something where I know what I’m getting, I come back to it time and time again.

And, again, it brings me back to those memories of that little branch library that used to be next door to my school. And I used to love to go there after school and load up my bag and just see what I could get. I think that’s probably what inspired me to go and sit in front of that lady at the Careers Conference because it was a bit of a happy place for me, that library, even though the library ladies were very, very stern and intimidating. I don’t know what it was, but people who worked in libraries were scary, and you behaved yourself and you tiptoed and spoke in whispers.

Sam:

Oh, yep, quiet libraries. Yes, that’s them. I always forget that.

Linda:

I know. It’s not something we expect of our customers or these days. Obviously, there are going to be sections in larger libraries, which are study areas, and you don’t want excessive noise there. But apart from that, we always wanted to correct children who come in and whispering at us or thinking that they can’t speak normally. We love to see people just in enjoying the space.

Sam:

Yeah, any other books or authors?

Linda:

Oh, let me have a think. I looked at my bookshelves because I thought that would surely tell me. We are a family who have lots of books. In every room we have bookshelves. But I’ve noticed that most of mine are some kind of historical fiction. It just seems to be– it’s not the only thing I read, I like humour, as well. I really like Graham Norton. I think his novels are fantastic.

Sam:

Oh yeah?

Linda:

But I do seem to come back to historical fiction as my default. I like Diana Gabaldon. I like the Outlander series. They’ve been filmed now for a TV series. But it’s not as good as the book, obviously, but I really do like them. They are packed full of historical detail. It can take you months to read one of those. So yeah, I think that seems to be what I come back to, historical fiction, lots of detail. The team at Elland Library really like their crime fiction.

Sam:

Do they? Ohh.

Linda:

And they’re really knowledgeable and authoritative about authors. And they love to recommend and write reviews. A lot of them have been writing reviews for our website to go in our catalogue, and the grittier the better, apparently [laughter] for them.

Sam:

I love it.

Linda:

None of your cosy crime. We do get quite a lot of requests for our home library delivery service for “nice” crime books. I’m not quite sure how that works, but for Elland, they like it gritty.

Sam:

Ohh, nice! I wonder if they like all the true crime documentaries on TV [laughter] and all of that stuff, as well?

Linda:

I think they do, yes.

Sam:

Yeah. Yeah. I’m a bit of a fan of some of them. It’s a bit weird, isn’t it? It’s not really a relaxing or very nice thing to watch, but I think that’s a curiosity thing, as well, sometimes.

Linda:

It is. I mean, speaking again about bringing curiosity back to libraries, at the moment, we have to choose books for people. So we take requests which we call our “select and collect” service. And sometimes people are very, very specific, and other times they aren’t. We’ve had actually lots of compliments because they’ve given only a very vague brief and said, “Do you know what? I really liked what you chose for me last time. Get me something interesting.”

Sam:

Oh wow. Yeah.

Linda:

“Maybe a biography? I like contemporary stories, just see what you can do for me.” And we’ve had so many compliments for staff. I think staff don’t realise the skills they have, sometimes. From handling books and talking to people, you really do build up great knowledge of what people like, and what people might want to move on to. And staff are really using those skills, now.

Obviously, for the home library delivery service, we pick, for everyone, we always have. But we are so much busier in the home library delivery service at the moment because we’ve been open to everyone, not just the vulnerable and housebound. So the staff have been really enjoying themselves, I think, merrily picking for people. Not that it hasn’t been a challenge, but I know a lot of our customers have been pleased and interested with what we’ve provided. Obviously, they’ll want to browse for themselves, most people. And as soon as we can offer that, we will. But until we can, this is something that we can offer.

Sam:

That’s amazing. So that’s for anybody in Calderdale. What do they do to contact you if they’d like to do that?

Linda:

If you go to our website, there is a contact number and an e-mail on there for the home library delivery service. I mean, obviously, we’re responding to circumstances at the moment. Eventually, we will be moving back to focus on our more vulnerable customers. But at the moment, you’ve got to do what you can, and everyone’s vulnerable to some extent.

Sam:

Absolutely.

Linda:

So we are doing our best. The staff have worked really hard. I’m so proud of the team. We only have one van and we go all over Calderdale. But we’ve had to bring in lots of extra staff to help in the office as well. But again, they have great book knowledge and they’re very enthusiastic about helping people. I mean, it’s not essential for life, is it, a library book or an audiobook, but it improves your life. It’s about quality of life and it’s still human contact as well, even if we have to stand at the gate.

Sam:

Yeah, and that’s quite a lovely thing, somebody to bring you a selection that they thought you might like. That’s so interesting. And I think you’ve made a really good point there about the skills that are required of your staff to be able to do that and everything else that they do, and to adapt to what has happened and the way that we’ve all been forced to work. It’s really amazing, and we should be really grateful for all of that amazing work, I think.

Linda:

Yes, I am really proud of them all. They’ve really stepped up. It’s been such a difficult time for everyone, hasn’t it? We’ve all got things to cope with that have nothing to do with our job. Yeah, we’ve just got to get through this time really and get back to doing what we do best, I think, and that’s welcoming people into buildings.

[music]

Sam:

So my last question for you, Linda, is a question that we’re asking all of our guests in this series, and that is which three things would you like to spend more time on in your life, and what about less time?

Linda:

Okay, well, more time is easier. I’d like to spend more time with my family. My family is scattered, so obviously, I would have been able to see some of my family, not all those. So I would really like to see more of my family. My eldest son is in China, so I would really like to see him again because I think it’ll be almost two years before I can see him because he’s perfectly fine, but he can’t come here and I can’t go there. And I’ve got family all over the UK, so yes, I would like to do that.

I’m getting a dog next month. I’m getting a puppy, so that’s something quite new for me. I’ve never had a dog before, so I am– well, I will have to spend more time with the dog learning what to do.

My other thing I’d like to do more of, which will tie in to the dog, is to take more exercise. We’re very lucky in Calderdale. There are so many places. I can just walk out of my front door and two minutes, I’m in the fields, but I want to get out more. And I think having a dog will make me do that. So quite simple wishes, really.

Sam:

Do you find that sometimes the simplest things are the things that get passed by easily, though, don’t they?

Linda:

I think that’s right.

Sam:

There can be lots of other things and you just– something you’d really love to do doesn’t need to be a big thing. But yes, sometimes it is that thing of going, “Right, I really want to do more of this and making sort of a point of it.”

Linda:

Yeah, it’s basics, really, basics of life. And I think my life has shrunk down, really, and it’d be nice to expand that again.

Sam:

What about less time? Is there anything you want to spend less time on?

Linda:

I want to spend less time in my dining room on a laptop. [laughter] I want to be back in library buildings, and obviously, I will only be able to do that when it’s safe. But I’m looking forward to that, to spending more time out in buildings with people, with space, with making them better. What I always liked about my job was going out to visit a library and making it better, “Yes, we’ll take that away and we’ll put that there.” I do really miss that, working with books. Whenever I had a stressful morning of just being in front of a computer, I’d say, “I’m going out to a library to throw some books around.” I won’t actually throw them around, but working with the books, I really do miss that. They’re real librarian skills that I remember right back from my training in the ’80s. So, yes, I’d like to be doing more of that and less of sitting at a laptop all the time. And I think when you do sit at your laptop all the time in your dining room, you worry. You start worrying about small things. So I’d definitely like to be doing less of that and just connecting more with people again.

It’s hard to manage people and buildings when you’re actually not allowed to see those people or be in the buildings. So yes, it’s taught me that I couldn’t work from home forever, and I’m just not that kind of person, so looking forward to that contact again. Yeah.

Sam:

Nice. Brilliant. Well, I’m really excited for libraries in Elland. And I think the next time I ever go into a library, which I will be absolutely in that Elland Library as soon as we’re allowed to be, it will be a really special experience. And you’ve really given me quite a lovely insight there as well into the things that maybe we wouldn’t naturally immediately think about with libraries. But with it being a space where you can be for however long you want to be, you can use it how you want to use it. And that lovely sort of community feel, I think, is really lovely.

Linda:

Yes. We’re really hoping to build on that.

Sam:

Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Linda. It’s been lovely chatting to you about curiosity and libraries. And do keep in touch about all the progress with Elland, and we’ll be sure to share it and shout about it from the rooftops when it’s all ready to go.

Linda:

Oh, that’s great. Thank you. Yeah, we will be shouting about it because it’s a real positive for us and the staff after some difficult months, so.

Sam:

Absolutely. Yeah. And a big thank you to all your staff as well. They sound like superheroes.

Linda:

Oh, they are. They’re fantastic.

Sam:

Yeah. Yeah. Lovely. Thank you so much, Linda.

Linda:

Thank you.

[music]

Sam:

Oh, thank you to Linda for such a fun and warm exploration into curiosity. A big thank you also to everyone working in library services for their dedication and talents. It’s clear they’re working tirelessly behind the scenes, but I think this can be easily overlooked sometimes. So it really is a pleasure to shine a light on these wonderful people and what they are doing for our communities, both here in Calderdale, and I’m sure there are many similar stories across the country too.

I can’t wait for Elland’s library to reopen and for libraries in general to be able to fully offer that haven of curiosity, support, and social interaction once more.

We’ll be delving into curiosity again in a few weeks’ time with another very special guest, so you can look forward to more exploration and discovery around this value then.

In the meantime, do keep in touch. I would love to hear your thoughts on curiosity and values in general. What do values mean for you? Is there anything you’re curious about? Do let me know.

Next week is all about ‘integrity’. We’re joined by a wonderful musician and the composer of our theme music, Rich Huxley, to explore this and more.

But for now, here’s a reminder to tune into your body, be kind to yourself, and stay curious. Bye.

[music]