DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Toy Lending Library aims for many happy returns

When Ben Franklin came up with the concept of a subscription library, he probably didn't have the Toy Lending Library in mind. But what a great idea.
Nestled into a small room leased from the First Presbyterian Church at Wick Avenue and Wood Street in Youngstown, the independent, nonprofit library features shelf after shelf of brightly colored toys for children from birth through age 5. All are available to individuals and organizations for a minimal annual fee.
"It's not just good for parents, but for grandparents as well," said Laura Tellman, library director. "A grandparent might not have room to store lots of toys. This way, they can have new toys each time the grandchildren visit and no storage problems."
For an annual fee of $15, an individual becomes a member with the privilege of being able to borrow three toys, which can be kept for up to two weeks. Organizations such as day-care centers pay $45 but can borrow four toys for six weeks.
Looking like new
All the toys are neatly categorized according to age group. One set of shelves is devoted to toys for ages birth to 2, for example. Smaller items are zipped into plastic bags.
Said Tellman, "Only adults can enter the library because we have the toys sterilized and disinfected."
All toys are checked upon return as well, ensuring that all parts are present and accounted for. As a result, the toys look like new. "We make sure people care for the toys. If something is damaged, we assess a fee, but that doesn't happen often," Tellman said. "We have a good record."
Toys are chosen by a toy selection committee composed of people from the Parent Center/Toy Lending Library Board of Directors. These experts have stocked the library with every vividly colored, quality toy you can imagine. You'll find tea sets and doctor's kits, a plastic construction crane and a red wagon. There are items from Discovery Toys, Fisher-Price, Big Wheels, and even a full-sized playhouse available for loan.
Information books for parents, videos on parenting and CDs fill out the stock.
Tellman pointed to a little puppet theater with a candy-stripe curtain at the end of one line; it rests before a Little Tikes workshop and refrigerator.
Who uses it
Tellman says all different groups of people use the Toy Lending Library. "It's not necessarily for parents who can't afford toys," she said. "Some use it to decide which toys to buy later. They find out their child's likes and dislikes before committing to buy something for $50."
"We have a lot of toys available. But we also have a lot out on loan. The room just looks full because we need a bigger space," Tellman said.
The Toy Lending Library is part of the Parents Center since the two merged some 10 years ago. Outside the Toy Lending Library is a bulletin board and table covered with pamphlets and information for parents. Tellman called it the Parent Resource Bulletin Board and Resource Center.
Between the two is a large play space to which Parent Center users can bring children each Monday morning from 10 a.m. to noon.
"It provides time to visit with each other and to facilitate play because children grow through play," she said. "Children get to have interaction with new children and new toys. No reservations are needed."
Tellman says it is mostly toddlers who show up, and they are "constantly looking for new participants."
The library is funded strictly by donations and is "trying to apply for grants." Sometimes individuals will donate toys, and if they are in good condition, the library happily accepts them. "People can also sponsor a membership for someone who can't afford it," Tellman said.
XFor information, call Tellman at (330) 747-3514 or show up during playtime hours, 10 a.m. to noon Mondays.

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