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Political commentator and historian Jonathan Alter signs copies of his book "The Defining Moment" at the 2006 Reading Festival.

Political commentator and historian Jonathan Alter signs copies of his book “The Defining Moment” at the 2006 Reading Festival.

This year is a year of anniversaries for the Roosevelt Library. The recent rededication of the Library building itself on June 30, 2013 marked the 72nd anniversary of the dedication of America’s first presidential library — a milestone in an ongoing effort most people refer to as “open government” today. President Roosevelt left some 17 million papers here so the American people could “learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.”

But 2013 is also the 10th anniversary of the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Home. We’ve greeted nearly 1.5 million visitors there. Our community has gathered in its meeting rooms year after year. We’ve held many special programs and events there. One such event is a unique program that was designed specifically for its versatile spaces. It is a program that could have never occurred in the limited programming areas of 1941 Library building. It is the Roosevelt Reading Festival — a free public program — and it too is in its tenth year.

Roosevelt grandson Curtis Roosevelt speaks about his book "Too Close to the Sun" to a standing room only audience at the 2009 Roosevelt Reading Festival.

Roosevelt grandson Curtis Roosevelt speaks about his book “Too Close to the Sun” to a standing room only audience at the 2009 Roosevelt Reading Festival.

In six concurrent sessions throughout the day, as many as fifteen authors of works that draw upon the Roosevelt Library archives speak about their research, their areas of expertise, and their books. Attendees can choose from many lectures throughout the day — starting on the top of each hour — and create their own experience learning about the Roosevelt era.

That the Roosevelt Library has hosted over a dozen authors of new works on the Roosevelt era each year is no small thing. It is a testament to FDR’s vision that America will continue to learn from the past so long as institutions like the Roosevelt Library are accessible to its citizens.

The 10th annual Roosevelt Reading Festival is this Saturday, July 27, 2013. The twelve featured authors this year include Joseph E. Persico, author of ROOSEVELT’S CENTURIONS: FDR AND THE COMMANDERS HE LED TO VICTORY IN WORLD WAR II and Eleanor Roosevelt historian Allida M. Black speaking on Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1963 work TOMORROW IS NOW which Dr. Black republished in 2012. Copies of all of the authors’ books will be available for sale in the New Deal Store. The program begins at 9:45 a.m. with coffee and refreshments. Attendees can visit the Library’s new permanent exhibition with free admission throughout the day. CLICK HERE for the complete list of authors and the agenda.

Historians Michael Beschloss, James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn discuss the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt at the 2011 Reading Festival.

Historians Michael Beschloss, James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn discuss the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt at the 2011 Reading Festival.

by Lynn Bassanese

Most days at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum are really good; some could even be classified as great. But every once in a while a day becomes exceptional. Last Thursday, July 11th was one of those exceptional days.

We were hosting 120 school counselors and college and university professionals who were attending the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC) conference on the Marist College campus from July 9-11. Marist College is just down the road from the Library and a terrific partner; hosting our website and working with us on digitization projects. Marist arranged for several regional excursions on the last evening of the conference and the Library was very pleased to host part of the group.

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Their visit started in our auditorium seeing the engaging orientation video and then Education Specialist Jeff Urbin welcomed them with the story of King George and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Hyde Park in 1939. We hoped to make our visitors feel as special as the Roosevelts had made the British monarchs feel. Yes, hot dogs were on the picnic menu that Marist was providing later in the evening.

Next we sent them over to our new permanent museum exhibits and set them loose. During their time in the exhibits they had the opportunity to visit our Dutchess County conference room to see some of our most famous original documents. I walked through the exhibits as they visited, answering questions and encouraging them to see everything.

IMG_0808At six o’clock the group gathered in our Visitor Center for a delicious picnic supper. During my welcome at dinner I explained to them what a presidential library was and how important access was to our Library and to our agency, the National Archives and Records Administration. And I reminded them that it was FDR’s vision that people could learn from the past to better create their own future that was the driving force behind all the Library did.

As the folks were getting back on the buses to leave so many people stopped to tell me how much they enjoyed their visit and the new exhibits. So far, I was thinking this was going into the great day category because what Library director does not get a special feeling when people appreciate and love what we have presented. But then an older woman came up to me and took my hand and said she wanted to thank me. She said she was from Venezuela and with tears rolling down her cheeks she squeezed my hand and told me how much this visit meant to her.

“This is what democracy looks like,” she said with the most beautiful smile. And all of a sudden July 11, 2013 became one of the Library’s exceptional days.

These days much of our time is spent on reports and audits, and we must spend so much time looking for ways to cut our budgets and doing more with less. But we should never forget that at National Archives facilities all over the country; at our presidential libraries, at our regional centers, at Archives I and II; we are what democracy looks like. I will always remember the lovely woman from Venezuela who reminded me of that. And how could there be any more important and rewarding job than that!

IMG_7483aby Lynn Bassanese, Director of the FDR Library

I think FDR would have been pleased with the way we rededicated his Library this past week.  It was a gathering of friends and neighbors; short speeches spoken from the heart; and a masterful storyteller, Geoffrey Ward, delighting the crowd with the story of how President Roosevelt planned and built the simple fieldstone building which houses his papers and all of his wonderful things.  We let everyone in free on opening day following the example FDR set on June 30, 1941 when he opened the museum for the very first time.

By all reports, our new museum has been very well received although a common complaint has emerged – there is just not enough time to see everything!!!  So when you plan your visit make sure you leave lots of time to see our amazing new exhibits.  Hope to see you soon.

“It seems to me that the dedication of a library is in itself
an act of faith.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hyde Park, June 30, 1941

On Sunday June 30th, the FDR Library was rededicated after the completion of a three year renovation of the library building. The rededication weekend included the unveiling of new museum exhibits.

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