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Controversial issues are part of every presidency. As a four term president Franklin D. Roosevelt had his share and as our exhibit design team and historians committee planned our new permanent museum exhibits we talked at great length about how to deal with them. Our decision was to address these issues head on. “Confront the Issue” are ten interactive touch screens strategically located throughout the exhibition that offer visitors the opportunity to explore digital “flipbooks” that contain documents, photographs, and excerpts from historians — with multiple viewpoints — related to controversial issues during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. Topics include “Japanese American Internment,” “FDR and the Holocaust,” “FDR’s Health,” and “Did the New Deal Really Work?”
The Confront the Issue interactives allow visitors to more deeply explore documentation from the Library’s archival collections and to read excerpts from all sides of the historical debate about these difficult subjects. Rather than telling the visitor what to think, the Confront the Issue interactives allow them to draw their own conclusions and to gain a deeper understanding of the historical and political context in which FDR did or did not make decisions or took or failed to take action. There are no easy answers to these questions. Our hope is that after exploring the Confront the Issue interactives is that the visitor will walk away from them with greater understanding and a desire to learn more about it.
Putting together a brand new 12,000 square foot museum exhibit has been quite an adventure. There are countless components that go into the design and fabrication of an exhibit. Currently, we are working with a design company, an interactive contractor, a fabrication company and an audiovisual production company.
One of the highlights of the experience came on May 6th when museum curator Herman Eberhardt and I traveled to New York City to meet our audiovisual contractor, Monadnock Media, to record the narration for our Legacy film. There are 17 audiovisual productions in our new exhibit ranging from silent film treatments to immersive theater experiences. But there is no more important film than the one which will be shown in the Legacy Theater, the very last thing people experience in our exhibit. Here our visitors should understand that the world we live in today is still very much the world that Franklin Roosevelt envisioned and fought for.
Our team struggled with the script for this important theater. Nothing seemed to hit the mark until our audiovisual producer found an essay that President Bill Clinton had written about FDR back in 2000. As soon as we read it we knew it was our script. Clinton captured the essence of FDR and his legacy.
I reached out to President Clinton through his staff and my dear colleague, Terri Garner, director of the Clinton Presidential Library. I was not only asking to use Clinton’s essay but I wanted him to read it as the narration for our film. A lot to ask one of the busiest former presidents in our country’s history.
I knew the one thing I had in my favor was that Clinton loved FDR. He had visited the Roosevelt Library three times during his presidency and once after leaving office. Fortunately for us he agreed to record – our last hurdle was working with his staff to find the time in his busy schedule.
We did the recording at a New York City hotel after he attended a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. He seemed a bit tired after a very long day but he was charming and gracious and the minute I heard him reading his words I knew we were going to have an amazing experience for our museum visitors. Our heartfelt thanks to President Clinton for his amazing generosity with his time and his words and to Terri Garner, director of the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, and Elizabeth Bibi, senior communications associate for the Clinton Foundation, for their assistance in making it all happen.
The installation of the new exhibits is continuing at a very quick pace! Here are some of the latest things things to be installed.
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.
The installation of the new museum exhibits has started! Here are some photos of what has been done so far.
Aquamarine Stone (MO 1947.115.1)
Several weeks after winning his second presidential election, FDR boarded the cruiser USS Indianapolis for a month long “Good Neighbor” cruise to South America. On November 27, 1936, the President stopped at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he met with Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas.
During this visit, President and Mrs. Vargas presented FDR with a stunning gift for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt— a 1,298 carat aquamarine (seen above). This remarkable stone was from the Vargas’ private collection and was the largest cut stone of its kind at the time. It was presented in an art deco style box, custom made by jeweler Casa Oscar Machado.
The stone was found in a mine in the State of Minas Gerais, about 880 miles from Rio de Janeiro. The mine, known as Laranjeira (Orange), was later renamed Pedra Azul (Blue Stone) for its rich finds. The rough stone, weighing 1.3 kilograms, was brought to cutter Gustav Reitbauer of Amsterdam Limited, purveyor of precious gemstones. It yielded two cut stones—the one that was given to the First Lady and another, at 865 carats, that was sold to the Maharadja of Kaputala.
In 1947, the aquamarine caused a minor controversy for Mrs. Roosevelt when syndicated columnist and radio personality Drew Pearson accused her of trying to sell the piece after she made an attempt to discover its value. ER ultimately decided to donate the precious stone to the Roosevelt Library and wrote of the incident in her autobiography This I Remember: “I think it does interest people and perhaps does serve a good purpose by symbolizing the kindness and generosity of Brazilian feeling toward our country.”
One of our most important jobs at the Roosevelt Library is to make sure our researchers have access to the Library’s holdings. Our research room is continuously busy with a mix of authors, students, academics, genealogists and interested people searching through our documents. We are always happy to hear about their experiences in our research room and enjoy sharing their stories with others.
Rabbi A. James Rudin has been researching at the FDR Library and wrote about his experience. We hope you will enjoy his recent article in the Washington Post as much as we did. To read Rabbi Rudin’s article, please visit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/back-to-the-future/2012/09/19/2df8230a-028f-11e2-9132-f2750cd65f97_story.html
Forty years ago this month a 20 year old Marist College student walked into the Roosevelt Library to start a part time job as an archives aide. The pay was $2.61 an hour, the work was physical; moving boxes and pushing carts, and the place was inspirational. Fast forward 40 years and I make a lot more money, I only push a cart once in a while to help out and the place is still inspirational.
On my way to becoming the acting director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library I was a GS 2,3,4,5,6,7,9,11,12,13,14, and now a 15. I held a wide variety of jobs from sales store clerk to archivist to director of public programs and even left for four years to pursue motherhood. But the one constant in this wonderful career is that I am inspired every day by the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the dedication, knowledge and enthusiasm of the people I am privileged to work with. We all take great pride in being civil service professionals focused on the mission of the National Archives. We safeguard and preserve the records of our government, and ensure that people can discover, use and learn from this documentary heritage. Our job is to make sure our visitors and researchers have access to the Library’s holdings and that we promote research and education on the lives and times of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their continuing impact on contemporary life.
We have much to look forward to. On June 30, 2013 we will open a brand new permanent museum exhibit and rededicate the Roosevelt Library to the purpose FDR talked about in his dedication speech on June 30, 1941. FDR said “a nation must believe in the capacity of its own people to learn from the past that they gain in judgment in creating their own future.” We believe that is the message we must bring to a new generation of learners and we plan to do just that with an amazing new exhibit, innovative educational programming and informative and interesting public programming. I hope you will join us on our new adventure!
Americans With Disabilities Act
To commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the National Archives is featuring Presidential records related to disability history on a new web research page. Following that theme, below is a brief description of how FDR’s disability affected the design of his private retreat and of the first Presidential Library.
The FDR Library Building
The FDR Library was conceived and built under President Roosevelt’s direction during 1939-41 on 16 acres of land in Hyde Park, New York. Roosevelt decided that a dedicated facility was needed to house the vast quantity of historical papers, books, and memorabilia he had accumulated during a lifetime of public service and private collecting.
FDR considered himself to be an amateur architect, and was intimately involved in the design of the Library. He was particularly fond of the Hudson Valley Dutch Colonial style of architecture, and the Library was built in this fashion. The building provided not only museum space for visitors and a formal office for FDR but also storage areas for FDR’s vast collections.
Because a 1921 attack of polio had left Roosevelt paralyzed from the waist down, FDR primarily used personally-designed wheelchairs for daily mobility. Since he intended to personally and regularly use the vast collection of papers and manuscripts housed in the archives at the Library, he made sure the storage area aisles were built wide enough to accommodate his wheelchair. He also personally designed the document storage boxes initially used to house his papers. To enable his own lap-top style reading while in the storage areas, a special box type was created that could lie flat on the shelf, open in a clam-shell fashion, and act as a sort of paper tray. For preservation purposes, these boxes have since been replaced with newer, acid-free archival containers, but FDR’s original shelving remains in place in many parts of the Library storage areas.
Architectural design to accommodate FDR’s disability is also seen at Top Cottage, the Dutch Colonial style retreat FDR built for himself in 1938. FDR played a large role in the design of the building, which features a number of accommodations for FDR’s wheelchair. There are no steps to the first floor of the cottage, and a natural earthen ramp was built off the porch to provide access. Within the cottage, there are no thresholds on any of the doorways that might prohibit FDR from easily accessing any of the rooms, and all of the windows inside were built lower to the ground to give FDR clear views of the outside.
Find more information about about FDR and polio on our Library’s official website.
Why should anyone care who works at the Roosevelt Library, you might ask? Well, it’s because we all view ourselves as just the most recent caretakers of the institution that FDR created and established. It was FDR’s dream that the Roosevelt Library would house the papers, records, and memorabilia of his life and presidency so that Americans of later generations could gain in judgment for the future. The Roosevelt Library itself is part of FDR’s legacy, and we all take our responsibilities very seriously. So I think it’s important for the people who pay our salaries—you the taxpayers—to know who we are and what we do here.
I received my undergraduate and Master’s degrees in history at Texas Tech University. As a starving, penny-less student, I began working in Tech’s special collections library, the Southwest Collection. I’ll never forget sitting at the partner desk in the basement at the Southwest Collection going through my first box of completely unorganized archival materials that had been rescued from a woman’s attic in Lubbock. I fell in love with archival work.
But then I took an interesting turn. I went to law school and practiced law for seven years. While the law fascinated me, private practice did not. So with the turn of the millennium in January 2001, I asked myself “when were you happiest?” The answer: when I was an archivist. Soon, an archivist position opened up at the Roosevelt Library, and I moved to Hyde Park. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I was named Supervisory Archivist in February 2005.
Today, I oversee the care of the Roosevelt Library’s 17 million pages of manuscript materials, including the papers of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt; printed materials, including FDR’s personal book collection of 22,000 volumes; and the audio-visual and photographic collections totaling some 150,000 items. I also manage our research operations, which hosts nearly 1,500 on-site researchers a year and responds to over 3,500 research requests that come in annually from all over the world. All this is done with one of the smallest (six people)—yet mightiest—archives staffs in the presidential libraries system.
The accomplishment of which I am most proud is that at the beginning of the renovation we managed to completely vacate the Library without ever closing our doors to research, even for one day. The experience proved that archival theories and practices work on any scale—whether organizing that box on the desk at the Southwest Collection in 1986, or moving all of the collections and research operations out of the Roosevelt Library in 2010.
I will always be grateful for the professional and personal satisfaction that the Roosevelt Library gives me. I work with some of the best and most conscientious public servants in government today. And every day, I get to come to work and be inspired by two of the greatest figures of the Twentieth Century, if not all time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.