Libraries that lend joy to your children for a nominal price are fast gaining popularity in the city. Priyadarshini Paitandy and Anusha Parthasarathy report

Beach Barbie, Transformers action figures, Hot Wheels, remote-controlled cars — with each day throwing up a new toy, it's not long before the woolly-haired rag doll is left to gather dust in the attic. So what do you do when your child outgrows one toy and demands another, something far more expensive? This is where toy-lending libraries step in.

With a wide collection of toys and nominal membership charges, they allow little ones to borrow what they like, keep them as long as they please, before they move on to other hot favourites. “I have a four-year-old child. Day by day her demands were increasing. Some of the toys wouldn't fit into my budget. I knew a lot of parents were facing the same problem. So I decided to start a toy lending library,” says Ami Shah, who began Toy Forest in 2010.

Just a year before that, Toy's Day Out, Chennai's first online toy lending library, began as a small space in Velachery. “Within the first year, we had an overwhelming response and realised that the space wasn't enough. Now we've rented a bigger space and also included a play area and a party area in addition to our library. This concept is very popular in Bengaluru but is still in its nascent stages here,” says Lokesh Lingaiah, an ex-IT professional who started the library.

These libraries have monthly and yearly packages: you can either rent toys from an online catalogue or take your kids there where they can play all they want. “Sometimes, children tend to get attached to a toy and don't want to let go of it. We allow them to keep it for a while and give the parents the option of buying it from us at a discounted price,” says Santosh Kumar, who started Bambaram along with Parul Sarin in 2010. An IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, Santosh says both he and Parul were quite interested in kids' education and after having volunteered with Children's Toy Foundation in Mumbai, he came up with this partnership venture.

If a child breaks a toy, a fine has to be paid. This also teaches them to be careful with their belongings. And it's not just the toys that keep them going, says Sujatha Gopi of Pandit Library, which began early this year. “Like the others, we also have toys, CDs and books for children from age three to 12. Books are as popular as toys and we have around 800 children's books. Educational CDs and those with rhymes and stories also go well with our customers. This concept of specialising in kids' entertainment is gaining popularity as NRIs who settle down here are on the lookout for such places.”

Since the toys are shared, hygiene is often a concern. But these entrepreneurs claim that all the toys are sanitised before and after they are lent. “We sterilise them with a steam cleaner and wrap them up in plastic to keep them germ-free,” says Lokesh. According to Santosh, some toys at Bambaram are replaced after a year.

And blame it on Master Chef if you will, even kitchen sets are becoming popular, especially with the boys — though puzzles, life-size toy bikes, educational toys and pretend play sets top the list. The ever-popular building blocks also manages to stay in the race. “Contrary to popular opinion, toy guns and action figures haven't moved much,” says Lokesh.

It's not just the kids who are happy. The parents seem to be a relieved lot too thanks to these libraries. As a parent jokes, “Earlier I would spend thousands of rupees on toys. Now I can save that money and maybe buy something for myself for a change.”

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Priyadarshini PaitandyJune 28, 2012