One hundred years ago, a Peters Township High School student named Elizabeth Douglass decided to compile what she called a “Character Book.”
“She went around to all of her classmates and would ask your name, address, what’s your favorite song? What’s your favorite food? What do you want to be when you grow up?” archivist Carolyn Friedrich said.
Today, the handwritten journal is available for viewing at Peters Township Public Library, where Friedrich is working with reference librarian Margaret Deitzer to preserve as much local history as possible for posterity.
The library long has served as a repository for donations of photographs, documents and similar items. “Character Book 1921,” for example, is part of an extensive collection from the Douglass and related Himmenger families.
Hiring Friedrich as a consulting archivist, through funding by the Peters Township Public Library Foundation, represents a major effort to provide a sense of organization to the wealth of materials.
“Through Carolyn’s professionalism with archives, we’re getting it done right,” Deitzer said.
“And I think that’s really important.”
A key element is developing a finding aid for each of the archived collections, featuring a summary, biography/history, collection scope and content note, and other relevant information.
“It’s really about trying to do the best we can for the original items, so they’re well taken care of and preserved, and then trying to make them accessible,” Friedrich said, noting the foundation also provides money for proper archiving supplies. “A lot of this stuff has been here. It just hasn’t been organized in a way that people can easily use.”
The Peters Township Public Library Historical Archives continues to grow, thanks in large part to Deitzer.
“Margaret is fantastic at being the liaison with the community. She knows everybody,” Friedrich said. “So things come in constantly. We’re always playing catch-up, because we think we have a collection done, and then she talks to somebody and brings in more.”
One of the more recent donations is a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and the like kept by a group called the Peters Association of Concerned Townspeople, which was active from 1971-84, a period when the township was undergoing a shift from primarily an agricultural community to a suburban home-rule municipality.
Developing an effective organization system for such materials, in turn, allows the library to offer more comprehensive programming with regard to local history.
“We know where to go to pull the different resources to then try to get the big-picture view of some of the topics that are important to the community,” Friedrich said. “This is the groundwork that allows all of that to be possible.”
Judging by what the library has presented over the years, celebrating the past is popular in Peters Township.
“You can tell that there are a lot of really dedicated people in the community who care about seeing this history live on for future generations,” library director Lacey Love said. “So I was very impressed when I first came here, and I think these programs are definitely worthwhile.”
The library’s “Stories from the Archives” series kicks off June 15 with a look back at the once-annual Peters Township Farm Fair, and Friedrich said future programs are likely to cover subjects such as schools and restaurants of yesteryear.
A Forest Hills resident, Friedrich is the archivist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and also has worked extensively with the Historical Society of Upper St. Clair. As a student at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, she had the opportunity to work with rare books and special collections, inspiring her career choice.
“The University of Pittsburgh had a really nice archives and preservation program, and so I came up here and specialized in that, and stuck around,” she recalled. “What attracts me is that you can kind of connect the dots and construct the story. It’s all about storytelling.”
Telling relatively recent stories is a valuable component of chronicling history.
“Really, it’s trying to convince people, OK, you might have community items, even just having been a resident for 20 or 30 years. So we’re encouraging people to bring those things out, whether it’s schools, whether it’s businesses or churches,” she said. “We’d love photographs, brochures, the kinds of things you might throw away otherwise.”
Those interested in donating original materials to the Peters Township Public Library Historical Archives can email Margaret Deitzer at MDeitzer@PT-Library.org. For more information, visit ptlibrary.org.