A toy library is special library with a collection of toys and resource materials selected especially to support children’s development. Toy Library collections typically focus on the early childhood years, infants through age 9 (primary grades), and often include toys such as ‘adaptive toys’ for children with special needs.

While there are several-hundred toy libraries in the US, Canada and throughout the world, each is unique to the constituency it serves.  Networks include the USA Toy Library Association & International Toy Library Association.

The first toy library in the US started in Los Angeles during the Depression, when a store owner noticed children stealing toys because they couldn’t afford them. The boys' School Principal recognized that children need to have varied, creative play experiences and the call to find a solution. Consequently, the community came together to create a “Toy Loan” that allowed children to borrow and return toys, along with an incentive reward program to encourage children’s honesty and responsibility for care of the toys.  The Toy Loan network has grown to 50+ locations around the LA area, in recreation centers, childcare centers, libraries, churches, and parks to allow all children, especially low-income children, to access quality toys.

The Toy Loan and many other toy libraries function primarily as a distribution model, distributing toys to other organizations to ultimately reach children. There are toy libraries that have a play space, however, some of these play spaces are only accessible by appointment and/or require a fee for their use.  Some toy library’s play spaces are accessible to the public, free of charge. 

While several toy libraries are associated with public libraries, others are located within a social service center or child development organization. Some are independent nonprofits, such as the National Lekotek Center with a network of toy libraries serving children with special needs across the country. Its programs match families with a developmental play specialist who meets with the family regularly to help them choose appropriate toys for their child. Each child explores toys with the play specialist and participates in choosing which toys to borrow for play at home. High quality toys, and especially adaptive toys, are very expensive and typically cost prohibitive for families.

When children, families, childcare providers, early intervention practitioners, and educators have access to high quality educational toys and enriching play-literacy learning spaces as well as access to the support of knowledgeable staff with early childhood expertise children and families are truly empowered to learn and grow.  They then have the freedom to explore and utilize the accessible resources and support available to them for enriching learning experiences. 

“It’s a wonderful thing, and one that should be available in communities both large and small—cities, suburbs, rural communities—because there is a need everywhere.” “Toys are the tools of learning, and every child should have access to them.”  

“Toy Libraries: A Play to Play” by Megan Cottell, Dec 2013, American Libraries


Poem adapted from Pittsburgh Toy Library

Toy Library is about more

It’s about more.

More than toys.

More than books and blocks and puppet shows and wooden trains…

It’s about relationships.

The relationship between parent and child;

The relationships children form with one another

in a safe, imaginative and playful environment.

It’s about relationships built among parents, caregivers, and teachers

working together to create a nurturing community for all children to grow.

The Toy Library is about potential and opportunity.

It’s about more than children.

It’s about helping adults help children grow.

It’s about building foundations for children through play.



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A Toy Library offers an inviting play space with an informal atmosphere that welcomes - all parents, grandparents, and childcare providers to spend time with their children.

It engages them in the fun of trying on roles, imagining possibilities, and learning together.

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It's a safe place for children to try out roles they might never have thought of for themselves or as possibilities for their future.

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It's a place for parents to meet and talk with other parents, caregivers, and educators, and it's a place for mixed age groups to play together.

There's easy, free open access to the collection of hundreds of high quality toys to choose from - for all aspects of child development.

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There are toys for infants and toddlers…

preschool children…

and school age children.

There are games for families or one-on-one time with mom or dad.

Even High School tutors use the resources with their students, and Doctors recommend games and puzzles for Alzheimer patients.

Special needs therapists, such as Occupational, Speech, and Play Therapists, use the natural setting for work with children, and to model for parents how to support their child's learning.

There's something for everyone - whether you're looking for a traditional toy like Lego's or Lincoln Logs, or a science or math toy or something unique that's not sold at Toys R Us.  This freedom of choice is empowering for children and adults.

For children, it's paradise! It's a place that says, 'Yes, you can touch, open, try ...'


Children can freely explore and try out whatever they'd like.

There are unlimited possibilities for what any visitor can do or create,


or discover and learn during their visit.

The environment is nurturing for children, and adults. 

Welcoming staff, with expertise in play and child development, help select appropriate toys for each child's interests and developmental needs for use during their visits or to borrow for continued enjoyment at home, childcare center, or school.

Staff helps children deepen their imaginative, dramatic play and literacy skills.

And they help children experience something they may be hesitant to try.

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Relationship building and modeling of best practices happens in very meaningful ways.

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Collaborative outreach programs address and support specific community needs including fun, hands-on training programs for parents and childcare providers to increase their understanding of how play and their interactions contribute to children's early development.

And, it inspires community involvement from all ages including youth groups, businesses and senior citizens.

Photos courtesy of Jen Eldredge Stello & Rochester NY Toy Library


Toy Library Models to Build Upon

While there are several-hundred toy libraries nationally and internationally, three exemplary models in the United States will serve as primary models for Cape Cod Toy Library to build upon.  These models have been selected based on Cape Cod Toy Library’s Founding Director, Deb Willsea's, personal experience in initiating and developing Rochester’s Toy Library and more than 30 years of researching and visiting many Toy Libraries in the U.S.

The Cape Cod Toy Library will build upon the 32-year success of Rochester’s Toy Library that is now part of the Rochester Public Library & Monroe County Library System. It provides free public access to high quality play materials, a safe engaging learning environment, and qualified staff with expertise in facilitating and guiding children and adults in developmentally appropriate play-literacy experiences. Public access to its “open” collection of 5,000 high quality toys and resource materials and outreach programs in support of high need families and childcare providers have been highly successful.  Even though Rochester’s Toy Library is located in a poverty-stricken inner city neighborhood it attracts families, childcare providers, early intervention practitioners and educators from across the city and county, from 40-50 zip codes annually with an equal number from the city and suburbs.  And resourceful families and childcare providers even come from outside the county. More than 3,000 volunteers have given more than 90,000 volunteer hours to support the operations and development of Rochester’s Toy Library.  Because of this community volunteer participation – the Toy Library received national recognition as a Point of Light by President George H.W. Bush in 1992. Its community impact has enriched the lives of more than 350,000 people in the greater Rochester area, including children and families, caregivers, teachers, tutors, social workers, teen parents, mixed ages, multi- cultural and refugee families.  And, Rochester’s Toy Library has been a national and international model – from Ohio to Hong Kong.

Additionally, the Toy Loan, in Los Angeles, provides a distribution model to multiple locations and its honor code and merit system provide an effective model helps children take responsibility for the toys they borrow. Toy Loan began during the Depression by volunteers to address children’s development needs. Today, Los Angeles sponsorship by County Board of Supervisors and the Department of Public Social Services distributes 40,000-50,000 toys to over 50 Toy Loan Center locations.

The National Lekotek Center provides a model for effective programs and resources to support families and children with special needs for their learning and development through utilization of toys and play.

The USA Toy Library Association and the International Toy Library Association offer additional models and resources for the development of the Cape Cod Toy Library.   



Scientific understanding of brain development has increased exponentially. It has heightened awareness that enriching play experiences are critical for children’s healthy development.  Despite the definitive research, opportunities for creative, open-ended, imaginative play in homes, neighborhoods and schools has diminished for many children due to increases in access to technology and school reforms.

Toy Libraries provide a promising public vehicle to promote play, and support healthy play-literacy experiences for children and families from all sectors of the community. 

Toy Libraries also provide opportunities for resources to be used in the home – enriching the home environment and providing opportunities for sharing experiences and building memories together– further supporting family engagement, family literacy, school readiness and positive youth development.

Toy Libraries bring economic, environmental, health, education and quality of life benefits to their community. They help strengthen the image and branding of the town and region as desirable places to live, work and play. 

Toy Libraries strengthen core community values including:

Economic/business growth by offering supportive resources that retain young families and attract new young people to raise their families in the area, and by offering professional development training and employment opportunities,

Environment conservation by fostering a shared economy and reuse culture where resources such as toys, books and materials are shared and reused, extending their use, reducing waste and keeping them out of landfills,

Public health by promoting and fostering healthy, active life styles, advocating for play as a stress reducer for children and adults, and preventing chronic physical conditions such as childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease,

Education by increasing access to high-quality learning environments and staff, eco-friendly educational toys and engaging play-literacy materials, and by providing professional guidance and support to children, parents, childcare providers and educators,

Quality of life by providing safe, inviting, informal community play spaces and high-quality play-literacy resource materials, at little or no cost, that enable children and adults to come together from diverse backgrounds to learn and grow through enriching learning experiences.


Toy Libraries promote the value of play. They enhance the quality and frequency of constructive play experiences. They enrich the lives of children and their families and caregivers. They help strengthen family relationships. They empower parents to be partners in learning, and support child care providers and educators. They build community.  And, they promote quality of life and health of the community.