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Toys, games and more: Inside the library lending programs expanding in CT

New London children’s librarian Zoe Hayne shuffles through a box with the game “Hungry Hungry Hippos” that kids can borrow from the toy library the same way they would check out a book.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
New London Children’s Librarian Zoe Hayne shuffles through a box with the game “Hungry Hungry Hippos” that kids can borrow from the toy library the same way they would check out a book.

Across the state, having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card.

Toy lending programs with items for both kids and teenagers are now operating in over half a dozen participating libraries in Connecticut, and more are popping up statewide.

The programs allow people to use everything from toys to board games at participating libraries, where they can also check out two items at a time, for up to three weeks.

The Public Library of New London participates in the program, and after just a few years in operation, now gets over 75 toys a month checked out from its location. It fills a need in the community, said Madhu Gupta, the library’s executive director.

“Toys are expensive. What is the life of a toy at home? A few weeks, months?” Gupta said. “Kids need different toys to play with. They’re educational in nature.”

In New London, more than one in five people live below the poverty line, twice Connecticut’s average rate in 2020, Census Bureau data shows. This makes accessing high-quality items that foster play and learning especially important, Gupta said.

Founding nonprofit Traveling Toys helps secure grants for libraries to buy toys, and focuses its efforts on Connecticut communities where many families are struggling to pay for housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and technology.

The program mostly operates out of public libraries in various coastal communities, from West Haven, to Westbrook, Groton, Preston, and Norwich, Connecticut. But on Dec. 13, a toy library opened in Willimantic, with over 50 items in its collection.

New London Public Library Executive Director Madhu Gupta stands for a portrait in her office. She said that toy libraries can help parents save money and reduce waste.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
New London Public Library Executive Director Madhu Gupta stands for a portrait in her office. She said that toy libraries can help parents save money and reduce waste.

“As a parent myself, I know we can't buy every toy a child wants to play with,” Dan Paquette, the public library’s director said. “This is a nice way for some families to see whether they're really going to play with the toy. And then if they're really having a great time, maybe then go out and buy it, or just keep borrowing it from the library.”

Traveling Toys co-founders Diana Caty and Mary Didiuk are working to expand the initiative to more areas around the state, but access remains a challenge.

“We're able to serve all the children and teens who can get to the library,” Caty said. But for those that can't, due to lack of transportation, then we need to reach out to them.”

In January, another new toy lending program will open in Old Saybrook, followed by one in Ansonia. The five-year-old non-profit said it’s a valuable start.

“Our dream is that in the 169 towns and Connecticut … you could find a toy library for children and teens,” Didiuk said.

More information, including various libraries’ hours and locations, can be found on the Traveling Toys website.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla Savitt focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. Michayla has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that she was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.