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Overhead shot of tower built from wooden magnetic tiles, with child's hand adding a piece
Exterior shot of the toy library's original location, next to Shadyside Information Center
Child's hand playing with dolls in a wooden dollhouse, shot through the dollhouse

What is a Toy Library?

A toy library is just what it sounds like...a library that lends toys. It's a simple idea with a big impact.

Toy libraries exist in many countries throughout the world. In the United States, they were once more common than they are today. Writing for The Atlantic, Alexandra Lange examined the past, present, and future of toy libraries. Toy libraries might have different missions or emphasize different aspects of similar missions, but they all promote play.

We've found that many Pittsburgh parents and caregivers are aware of the PTLL as an indoor play space but don't really understand, or even know about, our toy library. It's in the name, but it's easy to skim over if you've never heard of a toy library before.

Believe it or not, even some of our members didn't find out that they could borrow toys until after they had joined!


Others wonder what the point of borrowing toys even is. Maybe they worry that their child will get attached to a toy and not want to return it, or they can't think of why borrowing could be better than buying...but those of us who borrow toys regularly understand the many benefits.

  • Have you ever had this experience? You buy your child a new toy, they play with it for a week, and then it lands in the bottom of the toy bin, where it lives untouched for a couple years until you find it, now broken, and move it to the trash can. What if you had borrowed the toy instead of buying?

  • Borrowing means that you can get that large, expensive toy that you otherwise couldn't afford, wouldn't want to spend the money on, or don't have room to store!

  • For families with limited funds, a toy library allows children access to a rotating inventory of engaging, developmentally appropriate toys. While we do have a membership fee that funds our operations, the PTLL offers "pay what you can" membership to any family with financial need.

  • A toy library allows you to try out new toys for a few weeks before you buy them. Make sure your child likes it before you pay for it.

  • Be a minimalist! Let your child play with lots of different toys without letting the toys take up ever-increasing space in your home.

  • Toy libraries are fantastic for the environment, too. Toy lending reduces waste by creating a cycle of constant reuse for as long as a toy can stand it.

We think you'll agree that the benefits of toy lending are many! Check out our lending collection, and learn what toy lending looks like during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information about toy libraries generally, and to find out about others in the United States, you can refer to the USA Toy Library Association.

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