A Bold and Persistent Staff
by Lynn Bassanese, Director, FDR Library
The renovation project that began at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in 2010 is the first renovation of the Library building since it opened to the public on June 30, 1941. It is also the first complete renovation of any presidential library. While it will not change the historic exterior of the building, the project brings its infrastructure up to National Archives standards for the long-term preservation of historic collections. The renovation also includes an exciting new permanent museum exhibit that delivers “A New Deal to a New Generation”. From the beginning of the project, our two major goals were that we always had something interesting and significant for our visitors to see and that we never close down researcher operations.
As wonderful and exciting as the renovation has been, the work has placed enormous challenges on the Library’s entire staff. We relocated staff and we moved 35,000 museum objects and 17 million pages of documents multiple times to accommodate renovation phasing. We moved research room operations into our Visitor Center and never closed to researchers and there were always museum exhibits for the visitor to see in the midst of demolition. We continued to loan museum artifacts and never missed a deadline on our many obligations to internal and external customers. And we tweeted, facebooked, and blogged about our adventures.
At the beginning of the project in 2010, the Library’s archival staff and collections had to completely vacate the Library building to make way for the renovation. The archives staff coordinated the packing and move of offices, researcher operations, and most of the Library’s historical materials to spaces in the Wallace Visitor Center (and back again) without ever closing to researchers. Additionally, nine tractor trailer loads containing 162 pallets of additional books, audio-visual materials, and ephemera were shipped to warehouse storage in Texas. Throughout the moves, the archives staff continued to respond to research requests, assisted other Library program areas, and expanded digital and online content for the Library’s website and social media platforms.
The Library’s museum staff and collections remained within the Library building throughout the renovation, requiring the move of staff and collections multiple times to accommodate the project’s various phases and the endurance of renovation noise and vibration. Additionally, the staff continued its collection re-inventory project, responded to requests for information, loaned museum objects, designed and installed an outstanding temporary photograph exhibition for museum visitors to enjoy during permanent gallery renovation, and designed and oversaw the fabrication and installation of the Library’s new permanent exhibitions.
Despite also being displaced from their offices during the renovation, the Library’s administrative and facilities staff continued to meet or exceed reporting and financial deadlines, kept visitors informed of changes in services, directed questions or issues about the renovation to the proper Library officials, oversaw staff training, supervised upgrades to computer hardware and software, and implemented changes to timekeeping and accounting systems. Meanwhile, the Library’s New Deal Museum Store and ticketing operations staff stabilized the Library’s revenue stream during the project by ensuring that the public was fully informed of the opportunities to experience the Roosevelt site during the renovation and by providing a full line of new and quality store products to extend the visitor experience at home.
Finally, throughout the renovation the Library’s public programs and education staff managed all visitor notices, signage, and publicity relating to the renovation. The programs staff prepared the Wallace Center storage spaces to accept the archival collections and reconfigured many aspects of programs and facility use operations to accommodate necessary changes. They also redesigned education programs to complement the temporary photograph exhibit. In the last phase of the renovation the programs staff designed and developed new programs, visitor experiences, and marketing strategies to prepare for a seamless transition from renovation-to-rededication on June 30, 2013.
In 1932 Franklin Roosevelt was running for the office of the presidency. Our country and the world were in the midst of the Great Depression. In a campaign address in Atlanta, Georgia FDR proclaimed to the crowd: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
The Roosevelt Library staff has been bold and persistent throughout our renovation. They have had to experiment and just keep trying. And their teamwork, collegiality, and pride in their collective accomplishment and our mission have made the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum truly a great place to be. We look forward to our rededication and the opening of our new permanent museum exhibits on June 30, 2013.