Students introduce Clemons Library toy service for community members

Toy service program expands from Jefferson-Madison Regional Library system

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The toys can be checked out from Clemons for two weeks at a time.

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

Fourth-year College student David Birkenthal and fourth-year Curry student Madison Lewis kickstarted the pilot program for the University’s first toy service at Clemons Library Monday. 

Parents and children can look through a catalogue to decide which toys they would like to check out. The toys can be checked out for two weeks at a time and are currently located behind the front desk of Clemons. 

“It makes sense we would do it in Clemons because that’s where our children’s books are,” said Paula Archey, a teaching and learning librarian at Clemons. “We have our young adult collections. It would make sense to have all of that in one place.”

Birkenthal and Lewis first tested their idea with the Gordon Avenue Library by reaching out to the library in the spring of 2016 and setting it up later that summer. They ordered and prepared the toys for the service, successfully opening Charlottesville’s first toy library and establishing it in all Jefferson-Madison regional libraries at the beginning of last fall. 

Birkenthal said he gained inspiration for the idea from an introductory class he took with Architecture Prof. Timothy Beatley. Beatley described toy libraries in Australia and the lack of them in America to his students, and Birkenthal thought of the possibilities of introducing them in Charlottesville. 

“It is an idea that is popular in the U.S, but it’s not everywhere,” Lewis said. “It’s like libraries are a norm, but toy libraries aren’t the norm.” 

The students funded the toys for the new service through a grant from the Office of the Dean of Student’s Public Service Programming Board, an organization that grants money to small-scale service projects. 

“We filled out an extensive grant application, and waited patiently and got about a little less than $2,500 from them back in fall of 2015,” Birkenthal said. “We worked off that until the end of last year, so, until the end of spring of 2017, in which we received another $2,000 to do this for the [Clemons] expansion.”

Birkenthal emailed his idea to Archey, who currently acts as a liaison between the students behind the program and staff in charge of circulation and collections. Archey had previously heard of the toy library program and its success in JMRL and decided to test it out in Clemons.

“Right now, I guess it’s sort of a pilot,” Archey said. “We have 21 toys, so we’re going to see — we just started circulating this week, and toys have already been checked out, so I’m kind of excited about that.”

The service targets graduate and doctoral students at the University who have young families and aims to provide them with resources to take care of their children. 

“It’s hard to buy a bunch of toys, and kids get so interested and uninterested in toys so quickly,” Lewis said. “[Having] a way to get a toy for two weeks and come back without having to pay for a new toy every two weeks is really nice thing for families and for their kids.” 

Since both Birkenthal and Lewis are in their final years at the University, their main focus is on an “effective transition” for the service into the next year. In order to ensure sustainability, they have teamed up with Madison House and established a program with a steady volunteer base to help clean the toys. 

“It’s really useful to have a lot of professionals — both at JMRL and here — supporting the project,” Birkenthal said. 

The service has been advertised in JMRL, but Archey said she wants to get the word out to the University community. 

“I’m trying to figure out a way to advertise more towards faculty, staff and students who may have children,” Archey said. “I work with JMRL, and they have lists, so I might let them know they can refer people to us. But I’m hoping that it’s popular, and if it is, we’ll get more toys.” 

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