TEDDIES and a well-stocked book collection at the ready, a children’s entertainer of a very special kind prepared to mark the 70th anniversary of Swindon’s library service with scores of little ones yesterday.

Swindon Council chief executive Gavin Jones faced his toughest audience to date, as he kicked off the celebrations with an action-packed story time at the Central Library.

Expectations were high from the swarms of excited bookworms and their parents but he embraced the challenge wholeheartedly, showing off his best dance moves, dulcet voice and miming skills.

Warming up with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and a favourite of his, the Wheels On The Bus, he started the reading session with Shark In The Park. The Hungry Caterpillar followed by Ten Little Monkeys proved the most popular however. The noisy half-hour culminated in the children belting out Happy Birthday Swindon Libraries followed by a heavy dose of clapping.

Mr Jones had just half an hour to brush up on his nursery rhymes before taking to the story time circle. Although slightly nervous at the prospect of facing a crowd of eager children, he found the spectators surprisingly appreciative.

“Children are a lot more appreciative,” he said. “They clearly love story time. It’s just lovely to be part of it. It’s all full on. “You have to make sure they are listening and that they are not getting bored.

“I’m hoping I will be invited to come back.

“The very first library was in McIlroys shop and when I moved to Swindon in 1965 one of the first things that my mum was happy about is that they were going to build another one. Libraries are really well used and long may it continue. Staff at the library do a fantastic job.”

From a single library opened during the Second World War, Swindon now has 15 static libraries, including the volunteer-led library at Walcot, a mobile library, and a home library service delivered in partnership with the Royal Voluntary Service.

The festivities on the day included a jazz band performance by Chapters Café, poetry readings and a Swindon Monopoly competition.

But starting off the milestone anniversary with a story time session, one of most popular activities across Swindon libraries, was crucial. While getting children interested in books at a young age, story time embodies the library services’ ethos.

Anish Noble-Harrison, outreach services manager, runs story times regularly and acted as Mr Jones’ second-in-command during his animated reading.

“That’s what we are all about,” she said.

“It’s simple and beautiful and supports families. The Book Trust have done a lot of research to show that shared reading helps with children’s cognitive development. “It supports children and their families.”

Ros Evans attended the session with her grandchildren Chloe, two, and Joseph, four, from West Swindon.

She said: “The children love books. Books and libraries open up every avenue. They go to West Swindon library a lot. We are lucky in Swindon to have so many.”

Lisa Platt, 31, the proud mother of 18-month-old Alana, added: “I’m a bit of a bookworm so I try to pass that on.

“I’m passionate about books and reading. “You can learn so much and it’s a great thing to share with your child.”