Libraries across Western Pennsylvania get dolled up for history
Libraries across Allegheny County plan to enhance history lessons for children next year by lending dolls along with history pamphlets.
American Girl historic character dolls and money to buy them are being collected so the Allegheny County Library Association can make doll kits complete with accessories and Pittsburgh-area history lessons available at 10 libraries.
Any patron with a library card will be able to borrow one of the popular dolls, along with clothes, hair brushes, books, carrying cases and journals for children to record their experiences.
“There are probably a lot of people out there that have these dolls and want to get rid of them, but they don't want to just give them to anybody,” said Carrie Lane, youth services coordinator for the association.
Starting in January, children may borrow doll kits for one week from the American Girl Lending Library program at libraries in Bethel Park, Bridgeville, Coraopolis, Green Tree, Jefferson Hills, Northern Tier, Plum, Robinson, Western Allegheny and Wilkinsburg.
Hayley Haldeman, 27, an attorney from Lawrenceville, came up with the idea of a countywide doll donation effort and contacted the association. She hopes to collect 40 dolls from donors, including local sororities. So far, six dolls have been collected.
Haldeman recalls that she and her two sisters played with the American Girls dolls.
“They were an important part of our childhood, but we're not using them now, so we want to pass them along to the next generation of women,” she said.
American Girl, a subsidiary of Mattel Inc., started in 1986 and has sold 25 million dolls and 147 million books, according to its website. The Arlington Public Library in Virginia and the New York Public Library have American Girl lending programs.
“We're thrilled to have libraries use our dolls as a resource like that,” said Susan Jevens, spokeswoman for American Girl in Middleton, Wisc.
The Allegheny County association modeled its program after one run by Northland Public Library in McCandless, which has been lending dolls in its service area for a year.
Ailidh Munro, 10, carefully brushed the hair of a recently returned doll at Northland, where she volunteers about once a week. She inventoried the kit to make sure everything was there.
Nicole Munro, her mother, said Northland's program is “a wonderful opportunity for a girl to learn about a different time period while playing with the doll.”
The Heinz History Center, meanwhile, is writing history pamphlets to go with the libraries' doll kits that tell what life was like in Pittsburgh during the time of the doll.
Girls who borrow Kit Kittredge, a Great Depression-era doll, for instance, will learn that 300 unemployed men once lived in a Shantytown in the Strip District in shacks made of scraps of lumber.
“I am an English teacher at heart, and I applaud any effort that gets children to enjoy reading and learning about history,” said Kate Lukaszewicz, lead educator at the center in the Strip District.
Of the three American Girl dolls that Haldeman had when she was a child, she said her favorite was Felicity, a Colonial doll from Williamsburg, Va. Current American Girl historic characters include Addy, whose family escaped from slavery; Josefina, a Hispanic doll from the early 1800s; Kaya, a Native American; Rebecca, a Jewish immigrant doll; and Samantha, a Victorian-era doll.
Emily Bryan-Reeder, children's librarian at the Wilkinsburg Public Library, knows well how girls identify with dolls and their stories.
As a child, her favorite doll was Molly, whose father served overseas in World War II. Bryan-Reeder said her father sometimes missed special family events because he served in the Air Force.
The Wilkinsburg library welcomes the pilot program because many of its patrons otherwise could not afford access to an American Girl doll, she said. A kit with a doll, book and accessories costs $134.
“Barbie has everything,” Bryan-Reeder said, “but American Girls are based in difficult times of hardship and pain for American families when things weren't always great.”
Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-772-6353 or firstname.lastname@example.org.