Published in The Norwich Bulletin

By Matt Grahn

Though most people think of libraries as just a place with books, the Otis Library now has toys.

Traveling Toys, Inc. has partnered with the Otis Library, and opened its Toy Library earlier in November. The toy library offers toys, games, instruments, puzzles, and CD players for audiobooks for both kids and teens to check out.

The toy library was funded by a $5,800 grant from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut. The grant also provided funds for children’s toys at the library, including a Lego table and a play kitchenette.

The toy Library is an asset for Otis Library because it’s a free way for families to access toys, and it encourages play with children, including imagination, hand-eye coordination, and more, said Head of Children’s Services Bethany Jensen.

“You can borrow a toy, use it for awhile,” she said. “Your child gets tired of it, then it can be returned and someone else can make use of it.”

For parents, the toy borrowing reduces waste, and also is a way to see if a child actually wants to play with a toy, Jensen said.

Norwich parent Rrio Duron likes giving kids the chance to experience new toys, and is enthusiastic about children learning by playing.

“Not everyone can have a million toys at home,” she said.

The playsets at the library are also helpful to keep the kids busy while the parents “find more books for them to take home,” Duron said.

Duron was at the library Tuesday with her young daughter Elena McDonald. Elena also likes having the chance to play with new toys, especially with it being close to Christmas.

“Kids can experiment with new toys that they might love and want to get,” she said.

How to borrow a toy

Toys are borrowed like any other item at the library, with a library card. When looking on the shelves, there are cards with pictures of toys, and what age range the toy is for. The card is then taken to the librarian, and then grabbed from the toy closet in its bin. The library asks borrowers to keep the toy in its bin when not in use, Jensen said.

When a toy is returned, the library will inspect it to make sure it isn’t damaged, and the toy will be cleaned before being borrowed by another patron, Jensen said.

“We understand that its meant to be played with, and sometimes little parts will fall off or whatever,” she said. “As long as they bring everything back to us, we can make it work, and I don’t think patrons have to be responsible for things that would break with regular wear and tear.”

Story of Traveling Toys

Mary Didiuk and Diana Caty started Traveling Toys in 2019. Didiuk and her mother were cleaning out children’s toys, when her mother gave the idea to start a toy library, Didiuk said.

Caty joined in on the effort, and in their research, found out Los Angeles, California has had the Toy Loan System since 1935 to deter youth from stealing toys, Caty said.

Libraries are the ideal partners for Traveling Toys, because everyone is used to borrowing from libraries, and libraries are trusted institutions in every community, Didiuk said.

“We’re so fortunate that we have these library partners, because they know the needs of their community and they have a natural inclination to help.” she said.

Currently, there are 400 active toy libraries across the country, and Traveling Toys has six open library programs across the state, in Westbrook, New London, Groton, West Haven, Preston and Norwich. Three more are opening this year with Willimantic, Ansonia and Old Saybrook. They are also collaborating eight additional towns including New Britain, Southington, Plainville, Clinton, Wallingford, Waterford, Ledyard and North Stonington.

“Our goal is to reach as many Connecticut communities as we can,” Didiuk said.

What’s next

So far, there are quite a few people checking out toys and other items for their children from the library’s 100 toy collection. While the program is so new that people haven’t had to return anything yet, the Toy Library should last for awhile. Traveling Toys also wants to remain a partner with the library, Jensen said.

“We’ll see what patrons want and go from there,” she said.