For four decades Tamworth Toy Library has played an integral part in developing children's imagination, while making life easier for frazzled parents with little storage space and a budget to stick to.
As the name suggests, just like a book library, Tamworth Toy Library loans out toys - currently housing up to 3000 toys - which cater for boys and girls, as well as children with special sensory needs.
The library has carved itself a special place in the Tamworth community, and will mark it's 40th anniversary on Saturday, October 28, with the help of staff and members, at the Tamworth Regional Botanical Gardens, between 10am and 12pm.
For many years the toy library catered only for children from six months to seven years, but recently the content has been expanded to include puzzles and board games which can cater for older children and adults.
Librarian Margo Bettington said this move was prompted by members asking about something for their older children.
The toy library was instigated by Easter Halliday and a team of ladies from Tamworth hospital. During the early years there were no memberships, and volunteers did shifts to keep the library open.
Today, to access the library families take out a membership, and there are three paid librarians who open and run the library four mornings a week, although volunteers are still relied on to assist with library activities, such as fundraising.
Mrs Bettington said in the past 40 years, an estimated 3000 families have used the toy library, which has had a number of homes in Tamworth in its 40 years, but has been at the Denne Street address for the more than 15 years now.
"Currently we have about 90 families and daycare mothers who are members of the library, but there are also a number of playgroups that also hold memberships, as well as occupational therapists (OTs) who work with children," she said.
Mrs Bettington said there could be an overlap between play and therapy, and OTs came to the toy library to recommend specific products to add to the inventory so parents can try a toy before buying it for a child, as not all products were suitable for individual children.
"Speciality products like that can also be quite expensive to buy only to discover the toy is not suitable," she said.
"A lot of school teachers also come to borrow toys during the first term of the year, looking for toys to use with their kindergarten students."
To access the library's treasure trove of toys, parents need to take out a membership, costing $22 a school term, which provides the family with low-cost access to toys and resources for children to use.
Librarian Julie Meyer said the standard borrowing period was two weeks, but toys could be returned early or retained a little longer, and there were "no late fees".
Mrs Meyer said joining the toy library saved parents on the cost of regularly buying new toys to replace toys when children lost interest in them.
"We like to say to parents: 'use our space to store your children's toys'," she said.
All toys are bagged with labels showing what is inside the bag and an identifying number. Mrs Meyer said most children using the library would fit within the six months to five years age bracket.
"We catalogue the toys just as books are catalogued in a normal library, divide them into sections such as, figures, role play, trains sets, play sets, construction, active play (for outdoors), first toys (for the very young), music, puzzles, vehicles, water play, dress ups, and discovery," she said.
"We don't loan toys with missing pieces .. if something is lost, members bring it back when they can find it or we replace the piece or toy."
Toy lifespans can range up to 20 years and down to as low as five years, depending on how popular the toy was, Mrs Meyer said.
"The more popular ones usually need to be replaced more often," she said.
As with fashion and most things in life, Mrs Meyer said toys also went through trends. At present some of the most popular ones were licensed figures like Bluey and Paw Patrol, or the Octonauts.
Accidents and toy breakages were part and parcel of life as a toy, and Mrs Meyer said the library had a close working relationship with Tamworth Men's Shed, who assisted by mending broken wooden toys, in return for donations.
"We try to repair toys where we can - we want to be as sustainable as possible - but toys are for playing with, they are not precious things," she said.
"We will fix them if we can, if not we will replace them," Mrs Meyer said.
A library member who arrived to swap over toys while the Leader was visiting described Tamworth Toy Library as "a great service" for local parents, and noted the library in particular offered "a better range" of toys to choose from than some toy libraries she had experienced in other centres.
Tamworth Toy Library opens from 9.30am to 12.30pm on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
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