Thanks to Every Child Ready to Read 2nd edition, children’s librarians have explicit permission to promote play as an integral part of early literacy and developmental skills for young children.
Isn’t it just the best job ever? I have ALWAYS been a huge fan of toys, since, er, birth. And getting to pass that joy to a new generation—and encourage their parents and caregivers to rediscover their own inner children—is a delight!
Thankfully, my library system, Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL) in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, has had a toy library to support play and play-based programming for over 30 years. It originated at one branch in 1992; customers had to pick up and return the toys to that location. In 2001, it was centralized to the library’s administration building so that customers could order toys for pickup at any of the 27 locations. The borrowing period is three weeks, same as the books. Returned toys are sent back to the administration building for cleaning and storage.
CCPL currently houses between 4,000-5,000 toys, focusing on classic toys, not name brands, and those unique, specialized toys that may be cost preventative for families.
The lucky person responsible for the toy library at CCPL is Sue Kirschner, the Youth, Literacy and Outreach Manager. This year, Kirschner is also serving as the president of the USA Toy Library Association (USATLA).
The USATLA’s purpose is to develop and share best practices on running a toy library and to serve as a resource for those interested in starting one, according to Kirschner. Interestingly, most toy libraries are not part of public libraries. Many nonprofit organizations, such as Easter Seals, have toy libraries. Some allow borrowing of highchairs and cribs…whatever is needed in their community. The size of the USATLA members varies from toy libraries run out of closets to the Toy Loan nonprofit in Los Angeles County that has 45 locations. Yet, these libraries share something in common. “We are all in the service industry. We are there to help and there for child development,” Kirschner stresses.
Toy libraries can benefit from membership in USATLA. The organization has made more and more contacts with toy manufacturers who give discounts to members. There is a quarterly online conversation, with topics led by membership interest. And there are fellow practitioners to bounce ideas off of, from how to best clean toys to the best storage containers, and the like.
I couldn’t have this conversation without asking Kirschner about current toy trends—and I’m linking to the CCPL catalog to give you some examples. Toy manufacturers have been listening to teachers and are producing more educational toys that are entertaining as well, including many options that address fine motor and pre-writing skills. STEAM toys (building materials, science exploration, coding, and outdoor toys) continue to be popular. Toys with international flair are becoming more common, whether in blocks, puzzles, or pretend food. So are realistic toys, like this car engine and charcuterie board.
Finally, adaptive toys for people with all abilities continue to expand, including those of interest beyond childhood, including puzzle sets with questioning prompts for adults with dementia and low vision playing cards with holders for those with arthritis.
If you have any questions about USATLA or toy libraries in general, feel free to email Sue Kirschner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials, V. Outreach and Advocacy and IV. Collection Knowledge and Management.
Thank you for quality reporting/blogging, Maria! Those with interest in starting a toy library can also visit usatla.org. Regards,