Milford Library will loan out American Girl dolls

American Girl dolls are a bit pricey, running about $115.

But take heart, doll lovers, these popular dolls, most of which portray a girl from a specific historic period and come with a book that features historic fiction for that period, may now be borrowed from the Milford Public Library.

Danielle Valenzano, children’s library assistant, said she was trying to think “outside the box” when she proposed to library Director Christine Angeli that the children’s department try lending the dolls, along with the first in the corresponding series of books — just as books and other items are loaned from the library.

For those unfamiliar with the dolls, they are quite popular. Older generations might compare them to the wildly popular Cabbage Patch dolls that made their debut in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

According to the American Girl website, “the American Girl’s signature line of historical dolls, books and related accessories connects girls ages 8 and up with inspiring characters and timeless stories from America’s past.”

In Milford, the dolls will circulate beginning in June for seven days at a time; there will be a celebratory lemonade social this coming Saturday, May 14, at 11 a.m. at the library for children and their parents to meet the dolls. They may bring their own dolls or other favorite toy to the social.

The dolls arrived at the library last week, five of them, brand-new. There are Addy Walker, Josefina Montoya, Rebecca Rubin, Samantha Parkington, and Kaya.

“In a time when libraries are starting to circulate more ‘out-of-the-box’ items such as cake pans or tool kits, we could not be more excited for this project,” Valenzano said. “I believe the Milford Public Library is the first library in Connecticut to circulate American Girl dolls. This collection will give children a chance to borrow the doll along with a journal and the doll’s introductory book.

“Each doll and her story focuses on a different period in American history so the dolls encourage both creative play as well as a solid knowledge of American history … and, of course, a love of reading — since we also carry the series of books representing each doll,” Valenzano said.

The project is being funded by donations the library received in memory of Eleanor Cuneo, the mother of board member Constance Gaynor.

The program is starting with five dolls, which will be loaned out along with their stories, and journals for children to write about (or draw about) their time spent with the doll — all in a backpack carrying case.

Gaynor said her mother would love the program.

“My mom was an avid reader and traveler,” Gaynor said. “She started her teaching career in the Bronx and then continued when we moved to Milford, where she was a second grade teacher at Orchard Hills School for nearly 25 years. In her retirement, she was a volunteer at the Woodmont Library. She was passionate about teaching her students how to read and felt it would open young minds to a vast range of knowledge and possibilities.

“She would love the new American Girl Doll Collection being offered at the Milford Library as it encourages reading and learning about young girl’s adventures and travels as well as enables those that borrow the dolls to journal and share their personal experiences. When these dolls were first introduced, she gave them to my daughters – so to be able to share them with so many children would certainly make my mom very happy.”

Valenzano said she read about a library in another state loaning out the dolls, and indeed several libraries in various states offer the dolls, according to a quick Internet search.

One of those is in New York. Angela Montefinise, director of media relations for the New York Public Library, said the Ottendorfer branch of the New York Public Library in Manhattan has been loaning the dolls for several years.

“It has been enormously successful,” Montefinise said. “The doll has been embraced by patrons and the community, and each child who borrows it treats it with very serious care. The doll is not officially in the library’s system — which means kids can’t be fined for returning it late. Still, they basically return it on time. In this community, there are many families that can’t afford American Girl dolls, so this is an opportunity to experience that.”

Here in Milford, the dolls will be circulated as part of the library’s collection, so there will be a late fee, as there is with other items not returned on time.

People will be able to put a hold on the dolls, as they may with books and other items. When the dolls come back, they will be cleaned with antimicrobial cleansers, and their hair will be tidied if need be.

And, Valenzano said, in case of an unfortunate accident, there is an American Girl doll hospital, where dolls can be sent for repairs. But Valenzano is hoping for the best

There are no age restrictions on who can sign them out, though the dolls are typically popular with children ages 8 to 12, and both girls and boys are welcome to borrow them.

Valenzano thinks the dolls will be popular for several reasons, for the families who want one but can’t afford them, for those who want to make sure their child actually likes the dolls before buying one, and for those who want a doll to “visit” with the American Girl doll they already own.

Valenzano said she plans to create a pamphlet that corresponds with each doll, letting the borrower know that if they liked that particular period in history there are other library materials they might be interested in as well.

What next for a library thinking outside the box? Well, the library already lends out museum passes and the like, works of art, and e-books, plus the books and other material typically associated with library lending. And in the future, who knows? Maybe bike locks for people who ride to the library and don’t have a lock, and maybe fishing poles when the new Founder’s Walk is constructed along the harbor area outside the library.

“The library is constantly looking for new ways to connect with the community and enhance the lives of our residents,” said Director Christine Angeli. “As community needs change we have added new programs and services, such as wifi, computer instruction, e-books, passport services and career and job instruction. Our focus has always been in the areas of building community and promoting literacy of all kinds, print, digital, technological, cultural, etc. Through their accompanying books and accessories, the doll collection will introduce young readers to different historical periods in our nation’s history and hopefully pique interest to read and explore more. As for other new collections – nothing is off the table. Our collections are dictated by community need and interest, so we are open to exploring new ideas.”