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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.
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.
During Phase 2 of the FDR Library’s building renovation special measures have been taken to protect the largest object in the Museum collection—FDR’s 1936 Ford Phaeton automobile. This vehicle, which features hand controls that allowed the President to drive it without the use of his legs, has been on display on the Library’s lower level for over 65 years. Because of its size, the car could not be removed from the lower level while demolition and construction work took place there. So conservators were brought in to build a special crate to protect the car and allow it to be moved to different locations on the lower level as renovation work progresses there.
The photographs below depict the extensive protective measures. The car was sealed inside a wood crate lined with Marvelseal, an aluminized nylon and polyethylene barrier film that resists the transmission of water vapor and off-gassing from wooden surfaces. The crate was lined with over 100 packs of desiccant to maintain proper humidity levels. A temperature and humidity sensor inside the crate constantly records readings. It can be viewed through the crate’s windows for easy monitoring. ShockWatch labels at several locations on the crate indicate any rough movement.
FDR’s car will be back on public display in the summer of 2013 when the Library’s building renovation is completed and the Museum premiers its new permanent exhibits.
Michelle M. Frauenberger
Twenty years ago I began an extraordinary journey with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Fresh out of college and looking to gain experience working in a museum, I applied to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. As luck would have it, the Library was in the process of expanding its public programs, and I was hired to assist the Pubic Affairs Specialist.
Several years into my time at the Library, I was offered the opportunity to work in the Museum Department – an offer I leapt at – and thus began my on-the-job education in the world of museum work.
In my transition from public affairs assistant to Museum Collections Manager, I have had the chance to examine Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt through a variety of resources: documents, photos, films, books, etc. Add to these sources the objects in the Museum collection, and the Roosevelts truly become dimensional figures.
Like the museum collections in all the Presidential Libraries, our collection of over 34,000 objects is wonderfully varied. It ranges from personal items collected and used by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to objects associated with their public lives and the eras in which they lived – and everything in-between.
As the Museum Collections Manager I have the day-to-day responsibility of managing this rich collection of artifacts. This entails the accessioning, cataloging, and tracking of the objects, insuring their safe storage, conducting preservation work on items, and arranging for outside conservation work when necessary. All this is made especially challenging as the Library has been undergoing a multi-year major renovation project. My duties also extend to researching objects, coordinating the loan of objects to institutions around the world, working with the Director and Supervisory Museum Curator on the acquisition of new objects, assisting with exhibit development, and – perhaps one of the most rewarding tasks – answering research queries. All facilitated by the camaraderie, cohesion, and support of a fantastic Library and Museum staff.
As the FDR Library and Museum moves into the final year of its renovation, I am looking forward to the beginning of an exciting new era for the Library (I may even get a little giddy over the new storage and processing facilities we will be gaining for the Museum collection!). An era in which we will bring increased public awareness of our Museum collection through dynamic new exhibits, web-based programs, and the continuation of loans to outside institutions.
Check out the latest progress of our library renovation!
April 30, 2012
Today is a day of mixed emotions. We are closing the permanent exhibits at the Roosevelt Library to turn the spaces over to our general contractor for a much needed renovation. And immediately following that work an exhibit fabricator will start to install a brand new permanent exhibit.
Some of our current museum exhibits have been in place since 1972. An alarmingly long time for any museum exhibit so the prospect of change is exciting. But for many, those exhibits are like old friends. In my very first job at the Library in 1972 I was a part time archives aide and pressed into service assisting the museum staff as they worked to complete the First Fifty Years Gallery. The exhibit was done completely in house and my job was to paint the paper we were using for exhibit labels. After the tan color paint dried I would roll the paper into a typewriter that had a special ball with a large size font. Then I very carefully typed the label copy on the paper and cut it to fit into its wooden frame. It was a long process and one mistake sent you all the way back to painting more paper. You can bet I will be grabbing one of those original labels for my memory box before the demo crew comes through.
In the last 40 years I have taken so many people through our exhibit spaces; heads of state, celebrities, journalists and countless tourists who just looked a little lost as I was passing through the galleries. I was often late for meetings because I had stopped to point out something interesting in the exhibit to one of our visitors and a brief stop turned into a mini tour. What can I say—I love the place and I love showing it off!
So we bid a fond farewell to an amazing chapter in the Roosevelt Library’s history. And in the same breath we proclaim the coming of a new and powerful permanent exhibit opening in late summer 2013. New state-of-the-art installations on the life and times of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt will tell the story of the Roosevelt presidency from the depths of the Great Depression and continuing through the New Deal years and the Second World War, while also covering their early years and FDR’s heroic struggle to regain his strength and political career after polio. Concluding galleries will consider the Roosevelt legacy today and guide visitors through Mrs. Roosevelt’s work in the years following the President’s death. The exhibit features special interactives and audio-visual theaters designed to bring the new deal to a new generation.
And in the meantime from spring 2012 to late summer 2013—while our permanent exhibit galleries are closed for the final stage of the Library’s renovation—the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum is presenting the largest photography exhibition ever assembled on the lives and public careers of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. “The Roosevelts: Public Figures, Private Lives,” is a new and very different kind of exhibit that takes visitors on an immersive photographic and film journey through the lives and times of the Roosevelts. The exhibition features nearly one thousand images that vividly depict both their public and private lives.
These photographs include famous and familiar images, many reproduced in dramatically large formats. But the exhibit also presents visitors with new visual perspectives on the Roosevelts through large numbers of unique and rarely-seen personal photographs from the unparalleled photographic collections at the Roosevelt Library. Shot by family members, friends, government officials, and other insiders, these images offer fascinating views into the private lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their family and political associates. The highlight of the exhibit is a multimedia presentation featuring original audio recordings of Eleanor Roosevelt speaking about her family life.
One of our primary goals throughout the Library renovation has been to keep the Museum open to the public. This new exhibit was designed by our museum staff to serve not just as an interim exhibition but also a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our visitors. Never before have this many photographs of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt been assembled in one place. If a picture is worth a thousand words just imagine the story 1,000 photos can tell.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the enormous support of the Roosevelt Institute, the Library’s private partner. They are providing all of the financial support for the design and installation of the new permanent exhibit and our temporary exhibit. We owe so much to their Board of Directors led by Anna Eleanor Roosevelt and their amazingly supportive staff led by President and CEO Felicia Wong.
The Roosevelt Library owes its biggest gratitude to Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel and his outstanding leadership in the revitalization of the Roosevelt Library. Many years ago he accepted the enormous challenge of raising millions of dollars in support of building a new Visitor Center and new permanent exhibits. He, along with Anne Roosevelt and the Roosevelt Institute Board, was also instrumental in securing congressional funding for the building renovation. I know of no individual who has worked so tirelessly in support of the Roosevelt Library and its mission. We are forever indebted to Bill for his generosity and support.
Existing Permanent Exhibits to Close April 30, 2012
NEW PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION OPENS MAY 1, 2012
This is an exciting time at the Roosevelt Presidential Library. We are undergoing a major renovation scheduled to be completed in late summer 2013. As part of the last phase of renovation, the existing permanent exhibits will close on April, 30, 2012. This is the first renovation of the Roosevelt Library building since it opened to the public in 1941. While it will not change the historic exterior of the building it will bring its infrastructure up to National Archives standards for the preservation of historic collections. The renovation will include an exciting new permanent museum exhibit that will bring a new deal to a new generation.
During the interim period we hope you enjoy our new exhibit, “The Roosevelts: Public Figures, Private Lives” — the largest photography exhibition ever assembled on the lives and public careers of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. For more information about the new exhibit visit the exhibit information page on our website or read the press release.
You have to break a few bricks to renovate a Presidential Library
With FDR looking on we continue to make progress in Phase 2 of our Library renovation. Demolition work is all around us, the roofers are putting on a beautiful new slate roof on the original 1939 building, and the new stair installation is proceeding. As soon as the stair is in place we will move Library staff to the attic to give the remaining spaces in the building to the contractor. Our permanent museum exhibits close on April 30th and we open our exciting photographic exhibit on the lives and times of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt on May 1st.
Hard hats are mandatory and it’s starting to look like a construction site again as Phase 2 of the Library renovation gets into full swing. Workmen are in the temporary exhibit gallery getting it ready for new windows and minor changes. As soon as this work is completed we will start to fabricate our new photo exhibit so we can turn the permanent exhibit space over to the contractors. In the Library basement abatement and demolition are underway. Messy but very necessary work.
To prepare the lower levels of the historic Library building for the next phase of renovation the Museum staff is moving all 35,000 artifacts to the attic floor. ARTEX Fine Art Services is assisting the staff with the move.
The massive museum collection—including campaign memorabilia, ship models and naval prints, clothing and presidential gifts—will be returned to storage on the basement level after those spaces are fully renovated in early 2013. The new permanent museum exhibits—designed by Gallagher and Associates and scheduled to open in summer 2013—will feature many items from the collection that have rarely been seen by museum visitors.