Lively book-lover Anne Frost has the keys to Sheffield’s Little Libraries van – and to the imaginations of thousands of children each year.
The mum is Sheffield Council’s early years librarian, a rare role for local authorities, and spends her days encouraging ‘reluctant’ readers to explore the world of books, play and creativity on offer in the city’s facilities.
During her working day she regularly dons a bear suit, drives the van and turns random corners – from parks to flat courtyards, travellers’ sites and festivals – into creative hotspots.
And working with lots of children can make for its own funny stories...
Anne, who started working in Sheffield Central Library in 1979 and has been in her current role since 2008, said: “Kids being sick on me happens all the time!
“But I absolutely love the job, it’s one of those where you feel privileged to be doing something that you really enjoy and that makes a difference.
“I know kids that I have seen grow up over the years from babies. Sometimes when the children see the Little Libraries van it could be a Disney ride – their eyes just light up.
“One of the mums I worked with I saw again a few weeks ago, she came back and said they had joined their local library now to go regularly.
“I work wherever I can get the van, it has been in parks, the Peace Gardens, the courtyard of flats in Sharrow. I’ve been to travellers’ sites, all over really.
“That is something really important about the job, showing people that you don’t have to sit inside to read a book, you can do it anywhere.”
Last week, the colourful Little Libraries van – which is packed with books, toys and all-weather equipment – headed to Greenhill Park and Sheffield by the Seaside.
At Greenhill, mums from a nearby drop-in health clinic were encouraged to attend, and Anne raced across the park to invite other families along.
Youngsters learned rhymes and songs before taking part in a read-a-long with other children and their mums.
Anne has also worked with homeless people, to help them complete summer reading programmes, and hearing impaired children.
The 53-year-old, of Killamarsh, said: “The service is for hard-to-reach groups, it is like a stepping stone between the outside world and libraries.
“I get to meet people from all walks of life, it’s not just about under-fives as we get the whole family.
“Some parents think that books are just for educational use, not for fun and we need to get that message across about reading for pleasure.
“It’s also about showing the calming effect your voice can have on a baby, just by reading to them is like a comfort blanket.
“I do find it really rewarding when you see their faces light up and they get all excited.”
Apart form being vomited on, the job is not without its challenges.
It has revealed there are still many adults in the city who cannot read, or lack the confidence to help their children learn.
Anne added: “I have had teenage mums come to me who can’t read and sometimes people are reluctant to come because they will have to join in and read.
“But it can be just about how much fun you have looking at the books and using them as a communication tool.
“People do try to mask the fact that they can’t read, so it is really important to be aware that not everyone can.
“Sometimes you can go to areas where you think ‘I don’t know if I am getting my message across’ but I will keep trying and plugging away.”
Libraries have rarely been out of the headlines in Sheffield this year.
The controversial move to relinquish control of 15 libraries to save £1.67 million and meet Government cuts sparked a lengthy protest from thousands of people across the city.
Although most business plans for libraries to be run by the community have been agreed, Walkley campaigners are still waiting for an answer on theirs and Burngreave campaigners were also given more time.
All facilities are expected to be taken over from the end of September.
Little Libraries is part of the schools and young people’s library service which is to be retained and was not considered as part of the cuts. It is part of the council’s developing outreach service.
Anne echoed the views of many residents when she said: “I think libraries mean the world to people.
“They are a safe environment, somewhere people can go and find out any information. If you have any problem you can start at a library, if the answer isn’t in there then the staff can point you in the right direction.
“They are a safe community space – it is not just books. I always used to take my boys to libraries, they loved it and I just wanted to pass that on.”
* 4,000 – the number of children Little Libraries works with a year
* Feedback reports say children visiting the Little Library are more likely to enjoy books and visit the library.
* 28 libraries across Sheffield have books and rhymes for babies and children.
* The children’s library, at the Central Lending Library, has increased its opening hours as a result of the library review.
* Visit www.sheffield.gov.uk/libraries for more details of toddler groups and Little Libraries activities