New London ― Children can now check toys out of the city's public library, thanks to the efforts of two women.
"We never had enough funding for toys at the library and now we have toys to circulate," said Madhu Gupta, the executive director of the Public Library of New London.
Traveling Toys, Inc. is a non-profit comprised of two friends ― Mary Didiuk of Madison and Diana Caty of Guilford― who wanted to create something that would benefit the community. The two, who decided to establish toy libraries around the state to promote child education and provide children with greater access to toys, opened their first toy library in Westbrook last year.
Didiuk said a toy library "helps the environment, saves money and teaches kids to share."
Opened to the public Sept. 11, New London's Toy and Teen Library offers a variety of toys for all age groups: Legos, tea sets, magnetic toys, talking electronic toy dogs, baby toys and more. In collaboration with Traveling Toys, Gupta said the library received a $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Southeastern Connecticut in the spring which it used to buy new toys.
Gupta said families can check out up to two toys with a library card and return them in three weeks. There are also board games and Nintendo Switches that teenagers can check-out while at the library but Gupta said those cannot leave the library.
Families can view what toys are available on the library's website.
Caty said Traveling Toys, Inc. plan to open toy libraries in Groton and West Haven this fall. Didiuk said they help the libraries look for funding, write and submit grant applications, and they stay in communication with the libraries even after the toy libraries are opened in case toys are damaged or need replacing.
Gupta said the library will not impose fees for toys that are not returned. However, she said families will be sent reminders about when to return them. Once the toys are returned to the library, Gupta said librarians will clean the toys.
"Libraries are all about services and we're excited to have this service," Gupta said.
Gupta said there is a room in the library set aside for children to just play and read. The library's teen room also opened last year and offers a space for teenagers to engage in regular programs such as board game night, cooking night and painting night.
Didiuk said there are about 100 toys and board games at the New London library for families to check out.
In her research, Didiuk said she discovered toy libraries started in California in the early 1900s during the Great Depression. Didiuk and Caty are hopeful the toy libraries will help bring back families to their local libraries after the COVID-19 pandemic.
"During the pandemic, kids and teens were showing higher numbers of isolation," Caty said. "Libraries will always be a place to gather, and families benefit from the interaction."
Didiuk called the New London toy library space "beautiful" with a toy rug and Lego table they were also able to buy with the grant. She said the toys are organized in boxes and people can take them off the shelves.
"We want to reach as many communities as we can," Caty said about the toy library initiative.