When staff from the Finger Lakes Toy Library (FLTL) brought bins of toys, games and puzzles into the lounge at the Hasbrouck Community Center March 15, they were so well-received by the parents and about 20 children attending that the library staff have been invited back. They will next visit Hasbrouck for the April 18 session of Panda Bear Circle Time, the play group run by Candace Mingins ’70 Wednesday mornings at Hasbrouck.
Toy libraries work much like book libraries: Members borrow the toys, take them home for their children to play with for a set amount of time, bring them back and pick up new ones. At the FLTL, members can borrow up to three items at a time (or one item per child if the parents have more than three children), for a maximum of three weeks, with a three-week renewal period. The library, located in the Clinton West Plaza at 609 West Clinton St., Suite 106, is open Mondays and Thursdays, 3-7 p.m., and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
The library was created to increase access to high-quality toys, foster creativity and encourage a culture of reusing. It features blocks, puzzles, costumes, dolls, instruments and toys, most donated by community members whose children have outgrown them and others by toy companies themselves. It opened in June 2017 and now has more than 700 items in its collection.
Most of the collection consists of educational, environmentally friendly, gender-neutral and non-media-based toys geared for children through age 7; games and puzzles are available for all ages. Items are also grouped by common themes or skills: building, fine motor, literacy, music, math, science, outdoor, for instance. Children are welcome to play with items at the library, choosing the ones they then want to take home.
“I’ve done a lot of studying on play and its value,” said Amber Smith, executive director of FLTL. “I enjoy watching kids participate in free play and social interaction, learning skills on their own. Having wide variety of toys available can stimulate different areas of brain development.”
In addition to lending toys, the FLTL hosts playtimes and family game nights in the greater Ithaca area, many at community centers and libraries. “We also hope to offer more programming at Hasbrouck, as time allows,” said Smith. Upcoming events, as well as the items available for checkout, can be found on the FLTL website and Facebook pages.
“I was thrilled to learn about the FLTL when their staff reached out to Cornell’s Office of Community Relations about ways to better connect with Cornell,” said Kate Supron, campus-community liaison for Cornell’s Office of Community Relations. “The FLTL is a valuable asset to both the Cornell and greater Ithaca/Tompkins communities, providing access to high quality educational toys without the investment of purchase. It also provides a sustainable destination for toys families have outgrown. The ‘pay-as-you-can’ membership scale and outreach program add equity and inclusion to their core value of sustainability. These are guiding principles for Cornell and its home communities."
FLTL is a registered nonprofit organization staffed by volunteers. The toy library has received support through grants from such organizations as the Community Foundation of Tompkins County; Sustainable Tompkins; the Friends of Tompkins County Public Library; Ithaca College United Way; and the United Way of Tompkins County. It also is funded through its 126 members, who pay a sliding scale fee for their membership. Anyone with a valid resident address can become a member. “We ask that you pay what you can honestly afford, and no one is required to pay for membership,” said Smith.
Toy libraries have existed in the United States since 1935, totaling about 400 nationwide. Many more exist internationally, with active networks in the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries. Only two other toy libraries are nearby: one in Rochester and one in Penn Yan.