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Arts & Entertainment

Pittsburgh Children's Museum opens the book on reading project

| Friday, March 29, 2002

A new program at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum turns the museum into one of the world's loudest libraries.

Bookracks are sprouting up in different corners of the museum, carrying related reading on the ideas behind the museum's exhibits. The books can be borrowed, then returned to any public library within Allegheny County.

The museum's collection is 222 books. It's small, but will grow as the museum obtains grant money to expand the collection, says Lois Winslow, director of education at the museum.

There are six separate areas offering books at the Children's Museum:

  • Around a two-story pink poodle statue covered with riddles, the "Poodle Sphinx" - or "King Pup," as some staffers call it - the books are all on riddles.

  • At the Natural History Machines exhibit, which features steel dinosaur skeletons that can be manipulated as giant puppets with levers and pulleys, the books are about dinosaurs and simple machines.

  • In the art studio, the books focus on visual art. There are biographies on legendary and seminal artists interspersed with how-to books on working in different media, such as sculpting or paper-making.

  • Over at the nursery, there are thick, cardboard picture books for young toddlers to read, and a collection of parenting books for adults.

  • The books in the theater serve to "bring stories to life," Winslow says. This is where the museum has its stock of Caldecott and Newbery medal winners.

  • Books in the older Riverscape exhibit focus on ecology and aquatic life.

    "To link people indirectly to the library is really important," Winslow says. "And, at the library, they can tell you, 'If you want to find out more, go to the Children's Museum.'"

    Lisa Dennis, coordinator of Juvenile Collections at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, chose the books for the museum's collection. The idea was to offer additional information on multiple aspects of each exhibit. "Within those topics, I chose an author and title I already knew - people who had something good and useful to say," she says.

    The children's books are a mix of fiction and nonfiction for age 12 and younger.

    Anyone, child or adult, can borrow books at the museum by signing them out. There is no registration. Borrowers needn't be registered at the Carnegie libraries, either. Any public library in the network will accept the books.

    "The whole (Allegheny) county library has a delivery system. You can return books anywhere in the county," Dennis says.

    Winslow isn't sure of how the program will develop. It started in February, and so far seems to be working well, she says.

    A few books went out and were returned. She is aware that some of the 222 books might go out and never resurface. Unlike the Carnegie libraries though, the museum won't charge late fees for overdue books.

    "We're interested in getting books in kids' hands," Winslow says. "We trust people ... will want to keep books in the museum."

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