You know, I've been at sessions at PLA and such by library districts that have created play spaces within their libraries. And I just read a piece on the ALA children's blog about another district doing so.
Even our central library has its play space now. I was over there last week and saw parents watching and even interacting a bit as their kids played in this separate area.
We don't HAVE a separate area in my library. But a few years ago I fell for the state's offer of an educational play center. Just install a long toy/block bookcase, filled with wonderful, thoughtful toys provided along with the bookcase. I'd try it.
The toys were in boxes, carefully marked and labeled with photos and words. Things for counting, things for matching. Stuff like that.
And our parents and nannies came in, let the babies and the toddlers and the preschoolers loose on the stuff, watched them dump it all over the floor, and then would either leave it as is, or just shove it into any random box.
Minimal interaction, minimal "purposeful play."
Several years later, all that remains of the state stuff is the toy shelf and a set of giant foam blocks. The blocks need to be replaced, because they are full of bitten (really) and torn spots.
I sent the rest of the stuff back to the state, and tried things that had fewer pieces and were more hands on. A toy kitchen that the Man built from a big cardboard box and a Little Tykes portable kitchen I found on Ebay. Pieces were constantly removed or stolen. The same for a Little People farm and doll house. Legos would be tossed all over the room instead of replaced in the basket on the Lego table. Puzzle pieces scattered everywhere.
I was dumb enough to add Foamnasium play pieces, and they were loved. People brought their kids in to play, didn't monitor them, let them run amok while they chatted or stared at their phones.
There is a foam playroom at a nearby rec center, but THEY are allowed to charge a play fee, and it's an enclosed room. As a result, the nannies/parents preferred to come to me.
I laboriously set up play times in our YA section two mornings a week after programs. I would cover all the shelves with tarps to keep the kids from pulling books off the shelf, bring out a whole lot of toys, and have to clean it all up when they were gone again. I tried doing the same in our story room. Again, time suck and nothing but nannies/moms setting kids to play and ignoring them.
Our room was being used as a play place and no more by most of these nannies and parents. They weren't reading to their kids. They weren't borrowing books!
So last year, when we had a major library renovation and I had to pack EVERYTHING away, I decided the toys would not come back as is.
The kitchen box was worn out, and went. The dishes were packed away. I gave the Little People farm and dollhouse to my daughters' old preschool, where I knew they would be loved.
The Foamnasium pieces now come out a few times a year for special "Baby/Toddler Obstacle Course" events. Otherwise, they are in storage.
So now the old foam blocks remain in the picture book area, along with a box of big plastic MegaBlox and a few of the type of puzzles that have few pieces, or have fixed pieces.
Our regular tables have a basket of Duplo blocks, and the basket is anchored to the table. There is another table with changing seasonal felt games--right now it is "Fall Tic Tac Toe." And there is another table with felt pieces on it. Right now there are two pumpkins and a turkey body to work with, but all are sewn firmly to the felt table cover, because when I've made big fancy pieces like cars or buses, they have been taken. Really!
Putting things on the table means they don't go too far away--unless they are taken as above. And generally the nannies/parents have to sit with them. Even if they don't actually play, they are right there.
And when I am about enough to supervise, I roll drawing paper over a fourth table and set out crayons.
Ironically, this is when I get the most purposeful play. Because judging by the drawings left on the table, many of our parents and nannies indulge in some purposeful play themselves.