Cincinnati Family Magazine

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June 6, 2023

Play Library Gives Gifts All Year Long!

Even the walls have fun. Covered with delightful sketches, the happy walls surround playthings for babies, kids, teens and adults. Visitors can play on the floor, at tables, in chairs, and on swings that will hold up to 800 pounds. “We want to appeal to everyone, young and old,” says founder, Julia Fisher. “Play is so important at every stage of your life.”


Located at 1517 Elm Street, the Play Library has only street parking nearby, so visitors may find it convenient to use the garage at Washington Park, or to park elsewhere downtown, and take the streetcar. The nonprofit Play Library is free to anyone who wants to visit and play, but there is a membership fee to borrow toys. “I think of it as ‘try it, before you buy it.’ Why put out $30 for a game at Target? You can take out two things at a time here.”


Affordable fun is a cornerstone of the Play Library. “Quality toys are often very expensive and out of reach,” Julia says. “I wanted to create a place so that all families can enjoy these things.” Fond memories of family games also helped inspire the Play Library. “I have great memories of our family playing together. A game’s a great way to connect — you can play, and talk in between turns.”


Originally from New York City, Julia was designing toys in Los Angeles when the idea of the Play Library came to her. She worked for manufacturers who used cheap materials to keep prices down, and felt that she “was simply creating colorful landfill.” Julia hated that idea, and also remembered how she felt about toys as a kid. “The toys at your friend’s house are always better than your own.” The Play Library solves those problems and at least one more. As everyone knows, kids grow up fast, and they always want something new or different.


“We lend everything except for costumes and dolls, because cleanliness is super important.” All items are cleaned with every use, and everything borrowed gets checked and sanitized upon return. “My parents are both doctors,” Julia says, “so I’m a little germaphobic.”


A tour of the Play Library showcases just a fraction of the actual inventory, since toys are rotated to keep things seasonal and fresh for visitors. For example, shelves of games are divided by age and interest, and there’s everything from Trouble, to Ticket to Ride, to game systems that “maybe parents used to play, and now they can share with their kids.” Educational toys, play sets, remote control toys, and laser tag sets fill the library. “REI even donated tents and camping gear, so kids can go camping or just set up in their backyard, or living room.”


While kids play, caretakers will enjoy perusing the collections. On loan from Chris Ruth, glass cases highlight toys from the past, many created by Cincinnati inventors. The Play-Doh Fun Factory, Spirograph set, and Easy Bake Oven evoke nostalgia, and the Justice League Superhero Playset echoes our Union Terminal’s architecture. Also like the Union Terminal, the Play Library has a ball tube powered by a crank, and a whisper tube that can deliver the softest phrases across the whole room.


In addition to all that the Play Library has to deliver, it welcomes anything anyone wants to give. “We take all toy donations. If pieces are missing, we can use what’s there as replacement pieces, or we can repurpose it. There’s no reason Batman shouldn’t play with Snoopy. Nothing should go in a landfill.”


The Play Library

1517 Elm Street




* Level 1: Two items at a time – $15

* Level 2: Three items at a time – $25  

* Level 3: Four items at a time – $30


* Level 1: Two items at a time – $150

* Level 2: Three items at a time – $250             

* Level 3: Four items at a time – $300













About the Author

Barbara David

Barbara David, mother of five and an award-winning columnist for Cincinnati Family Magazine, enjoys travel, writing, and restoring her century-old, west-side home.