Judith Iacuzzi is the Executive Director of the USA Toy Library Association. In this interview she talks about the USA Toy Library Association, and shares her views on trends in toy libraries.
Lauren: Please describe the USA Toy Library Association, and your own role within it.
Judith: The USA Toy Library Association’s (USATLA) mission is to support toy libraries in the United States and help ensure they have the knowledge and resources to provide quality play experiences and materials to the families they serve. I am the executive director of the USATLA; I have been so for 30+ years. The organization hosts a website, a communications exchange among members, a Facebook site for information exchange, and offers a membership for $60 which includes a “how to start and operate a toy library” book written by toy librarians.
The approximately 400 toy libraries in the U.S. may be found in schools, preschools, social service agencies, recreational centers, hospitals, day care centers, colleges and, most prominently, public libraries. Public libraries, already involved in the “loan business” and catering to children’s reading needs, may more easily add loaning toys and other play materials to the mix. In fact, public libraries have provided homes to toy libraries for as many years as I can remember…except when federal funding for all libraries shrank in the ‘80s.
So long as educators and librarians see the value of play, quality toys, recycling and sharing, the concept has spread.
The USATLA supports toy libraries by:
- being a thought-leader on the value of toy lending and open-ended play
- embracing quality standards of professionalism and safety
- providing literature on how to start a toy lending library, and build a quality toy collection that considers the needs of the children in the community
- offering conferences to diverse audiences of professionals who teach and serve young children
- providing a network of information exchange for toy librarians
- encouraging the value of recycling and reuse
Lauren: What changes are occurring in toy libraries?
Judith: Pandemic changes. Some programs, like USATLA conferences, were suspended during the pandemic. However, the association launched a twice-weekly Facebook program titled “Parenting in the Pandemic.” In video and print formats, these playful posts, offered by USATLA experts, are directed to parents and kids to create toys using materials commonly found around the house. (Visit the posts — more than 100 — https://www.facebook.com/USA-Toy-Library-Association-118012331559912). Many toy libraries closed operations during the pandemic, wholly or partially, and are just now opening up their doors to families.
Lauren: What professional development do you recommend for librarians in toy libraries?
Judith: An early childhood background at the bachelor’s or master’s level is our recommendation for a toy librarian. Understanding children with special needs is valuable. Understanding the value of free play for all children is key to the program, above and beyond purchasing and lending toys. Understanding which toys promote free play and are reusable, or able to withstand repeat usage, is a key skillset of toy librarians.
Lauren: If you could give one piece of advice to toy librarians what would it be?
Judith: Advice to toy librarians: Keep reading the experts who understand from a high level what free play means to childhood development. Also, think practically and creatively. Start small and manageable and grow as the community support for your toy library grows. Finally, join the USATLA. We support you!
*If you are interested in learning more about the USA Toy Library Association, you can visit their website at https://www.usatla.org/
The website includes a list of toy libraries throughout the U.S.
Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent speaker on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her professional interests include information literacy, educational technology, library and information science education, teacher identity, and academic development. Please read Lauren’s other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets
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