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Library offers interactive toys
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Librarian Lois Eannel shows off some of the adaptive toys that are available to borrow from the Palm Harbor Library. The library is one of only two in Florida with such a collection.
PALM HARBOR – Long gone are the days when a public library did nothing more than lend books.

Along came video movies on VHS, then DVDs. Most libraries got into the business of lending those movies. Then came the Internet and libraries had to equip themselves with computers so their clients could access the Web if they didn’t happen to own a computer.

None of that is news to anybody. What is little known, and for a long time has been restricted to the Palm Harbor Library, is the lending of interactive toys meant especially for children with developmental issues.

The library calls them Toys and Tools to Go, and they come from an adaptive toy collection that can only be found in two public libraries in Florida.

Lois Eannel, Palm Harbor Library’s assistant director and head of youth services, says the toys are simple yet effective for children with special needs.

“A tool could be a cup-holder for a child to use. That encourages eye-hand coordination,” she said. “Or a joy-stick affair that can be used as a wheelchair trainer where a child can turn and go back and forth without actually slamming into walls.”

Eannel said she brought the concept of adaptive toys with her from New York when she moved to Florida in 1999.

“When I was in New York working as a librarian we received a state grant making us partners with the state for inclusion,” she said. “One of the deals was we had to develop adaptive toys and I was made the toy librarian and learned all about these special toys.”

When her husband retired in 1999 and wanted to move to Florida to play golf in warmer weather, Eannel said she was happy to move.

“I figured I could be a librarian anywhere,” she said.

Soon after arriving in Florida she got a job with the Palm Harbor Library and unveiled the concept of the adaptive toys. She said it made sense for the library to get involved in lending these special toys to families with children who were handicapped in some way because of the cost of them.

“The cost was prohibitive for families,” she said. “Even agencies could not afford them so I thought if I could get the funds to have this kind of collection then I would do it.”

What interested Eannel back then was that nobody was asking for the special toys, perhaps because nobody had ever heard of them before?

“It was like the movie ‘Field of Dreams,’” she said. “If you build it they will come. Well that is what happened. I approached the Friends of the Library and they were supportive and we began the collection. We began meeting the needs of a segment of the population that otherwise might never come into the library.”

Eannel says the special toys and the library are a perfect fit.

“The library is much more than just a book depository,” she said. “It is a community center, it is there for everyone to use. We’re never closed, there is good access for families and therapists to come and borrow the material and use them. They just have to use their library card and come here and borrow the toys.”

Therapist Maria Dalrymple has been a long time borrower of the special toys from the library. She says they are a godsend.

“I’m a speech language pathologist with a lot of children who are physically involved,” she said. “Some of the children are hearing impaired, physically or motor impaired. Now they can play with the toys just like other children. We can adapt them with a switch or whatever so when they touch the toy it will react. They can play like other children.”

Dalrymple said the cost of the toys made it impossible for her to purchase them and that’s why she uses the library.

“I’m an independent contractor and I work all over Pinellas County,” she said. “Any materials I use I have to purchase on my own. If I worked for a large organization or in the schools they would be able to get the toys for me, but as an independent I can’t afford them.”

Until recently the Palm Harbor Library was the only one in Florida with an adaptive toy collection. However a speech Eannel made to the Rotary Club in Pasco County expanded the program.

“After I spoke to the Rotary Club they went to their local library and suggested a similar program be set up,” she said. “It was now the Pasco Public Library has a collection, but we’re one of the only two in Florida. I wish there would be more in Pinellas County so parents wouldn’t have to come from all over. It is a long drive for some of them.”

It all comes down to helping the children. Dalrymple says the special toys do the job, especially when you see the look on the faces of the children who use them.

“There is absolutely a positive reaction,” she said. “If they didn’t have the appropriate equipment they would not be able to do it. They couldn’t do it before the equipment was available. I have recommended this to parents and to other therapists. This is so incredibly helpful to me.”

The Palm Harbor Library is located at 2330 Nebraska Ave. The phone number is 784-3332.
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