ITHACA, N.Y. —  Blocks, puzzles, costumes, dolls, instruments and toys of all sorts will soon be available for any child in the community to play with at the new Finger Lakes Toy Library.

The little library, tucked in the Clinton West Plaza, officially opens Monday. The colorful walls of the one-room library are filled with toys for children of all ages. The library was created to increase access to high-quality toys, foster creativity and encourage a culture of reusing.  At a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday, the space was filled with children who played at the center of the room on a road map rug rug with musical instruments, a wooden dollhouse and other toys plucked from the shelves.

The Finger Lakes Toy Library is for anyone in the community and operates like a normal library. Children can check out up to three toys, or one toy per child.

“To know that things that only get used for maybe six months can go to a library and get used by many children, that can get beat up and then cleaned up again and another child can use them,” Philly DeSarno, planning and economic developer in Ithaca, said. “I can’t tell you how wonderful this idea is.”

At center, founder and board president Debra Lewis cuts the ribbon at the Finger Lakes Toy Library ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Debra Lewis, founding board president, said the library was created to improve the quality of life in the community by increasing access to toys, supporting play and encouraging a culture of re-use and sharing. She said the toy lending library will function for toys and play in the same way that the public library functions for books and reading.

Lewis was inspired to create the library after having her daughter two years ago.

“I found myself increasingly aware of all the high-quality toys out there and the unaffordable price tag on them. And I kept thinking how great it would be if Ithaca had one big collection of nice toys for all children in the area to share,” Lewis said.

The nonprofit library is up and running as a result of a year and a half of hard work and planning and a number of local grants and donations. A grant from Sustainable Tompkins funded eco-education toys, while a grant from the Friends of Tompkins County Public Library has increased their collection of literacy-building toys. Other toys came from donations from the community and also HABA USA.

More than 400 toys currently line the shelves.

A membership to the Finger Lakes Toy Library will be available on a sliding-scale basis with no minimum. In the future, they hope to offer membership free of charge to everyone and will fundraise with that goal in mind.

The website says “For now, we hope that everyone who wants to borrow toys will choose to become a member, so please do not let financial concern get in your way. Feel free to contact us with any questions.”

To check out a toy, a parent or child can pick a toy from the shelf and bring it to the desk. The person working at the desk will find the toy in their catalog system and check it out. Toys can be borrowed for three weeks and renewed once.

When the toys are returned, they will be sanitized with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide, Amber Smith, board vice president, said.

Smith, who has worked with children for about 27 years, said many people in the community do not have access to high-quality toys. At the library, they are striving to offer toys that foster creativity and thinking.

“You get the plastic junk that comes from your Happy Meal or whatever at McDonald’s, but you don’t get some of the really open and the creative playthings. We’re really focused on things that don’t tell children how to play with them,” Smith said.

Visit the Finger Lakes Toy Library at 609 West Clinton Street, Suite 106, Ithaca. The library will initially be open for limited summer hours. The library will be open from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday; from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday; from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday; and from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday.

Learn more about the Finger Lakes Toy Library at their website.

Check out a few images from the ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday.

The Finger Lakes Toy Library opens June 26 at 609 West Clinton Street, Suite 106, Ithaca. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
The toys available are meant to foster creativity and learning. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
The Finger Lakes Toy Library opened June 22 with a ribbon cutting. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Two girls from Cortland play at the ribbon cutting ceremony. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
There are toys for children of all ages, including infants as pictured. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Play pretend with costumes and puppets at the toy library. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Costumes available to check out at the library. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Many toys are designed to promote literacy and get kids thinking. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice
Bridget and Laurel Wicker, both 3, look at toys with their mother, Sarah Wicker at the Finger Lakes Toy Library. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Featured image: From left, Marshall McCormick holds Province McCormick, 2, in the Finger Lakes Toy Library. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.