Author Archives: Margie McCandless

The Making of the Presidential Library

If your mental image of a library starts and stops with your public library or university library, then you probably have never visited a presidential library. You may even think that a presidential library is just a room full of books, documents, and a few photos or portraits. That is what I thought until I visited the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY. I had no idea at the time of the significance of this particular presidential library or the role that FDR himself played in the modern presidential library. There was hardly a book in sight, but the 12,000 square foot space was filled with exhibits, many interactive, and all manner of memorabilia from his large collections, not only telling the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s time in office but also the events going on in the country at that time. It was a fascinating few hours.

As I was to learn later, FDR was actually the driving force behind the modern system of presidential libraries. From the earliest days of the nation, most of the documents accumulated during a president’s term in office were considered his personal property and went with him when he left office. Often they were divided up among family, friends, political colleagues, libraries, or historical societies, often ending up in basements, attics, and abandoned buildings. Some found their way to the Library of Congress, but many items were lost to time, others to deterioration resulting from poor storage conditions.  FDR, however, believed that these presidential papers belonged to the people and needed to be properly preserved, so he donated all his things, including thousands of items of memorabilia, to the National Archives, that was established while he was in office. He also donated a portion of his estate for the building of the library. His vision became the basis for future presidential libraries which were built with private funds, maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and open to the public.  Every president since has followed in FDR’s footsteps, with a presidential library operated in this fashion.

The Presidential Library System was officially established in 1955 with the passage of the Presidential Library Act, but unbelievably, it was not until 1978 that the Presidential Records Act was passed that changed the legal ownership for official presidential records from private to public. Today there are thirteen libraries in the Presidential Library System, including Barack Obama’s library which has not yet opened, and one for FDR’s predecessor, Herbert Hoover, who also decided to preserve his legacy in this way.

Presidential libraries are part library and part museum, providing a fascinating walk through the history and the events that affected the nation at that time. Besides the museum portion, which is all that most visitors see, another component of the presidential library is the Research Library. This is where the primary source books, documents, photos, letters, and other papers are kept, carefully preserved in archival boxes. Many secondary sources related to this president are available for use as well. This room is open to the public but usually requires a special visitor’s badge to enter the room. There visitors are free to use the resources and even make copies, though unlike regular libraries, nothing can leave that room. Most people using this room are doing serious research and desired teems can be retrieved upon request from storage by archivists, who are always available to help. Fortunately, thousands of items have been digitized, an ongoing process, and are available from the library website, making these documents accessible to even more of the public.

So what about all the presidents prior to Hoover, surely some of them have presidential libraries? This is true though they are not operated by NARA, and often open years after the president leaves office or has even died. They may occupy free standing buildings, or be housed in a public library or historical society. Most have a research library, as well, that is open to the public but may require an appointment. The documents in these libraries are mostly secondary sources while the surviving important documents are housed in the National Archives. Nevertheless, many include exhibits and artifacts that bring the presidency and the times to life. As with the presidential libraries in the system, many things have been digitized providing easier access.

So next time you have the opportunity, be sure to visit one of the Presidential Libraries or do a virtual 360 degree tour, available from most of the library websites. Much more information about these libraries can be found at the links below:

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum website

Barack Obama Presidential Library

FDR Dedicated the First Presidential Library

FDR Library Virtual Tour

George Washington presidential library to open Sept. 27 (USA Today)

Help Us Build the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library

Jefferson Library Collations

Learn about Presidential Libraries (National Archives website)

The ‘New’ Nixon Library’s Challenge: Fairly Depicting a ‘Failed Presidency’

Presidential Libraries and Records: Purdue University

Presidential Libraries: Laws and Regulations

What does a presidential building look like?

What is a Presidential Library? – FDR Presidential Library & Museum website

National Oatmeal Month

January is National Oatmeal Month, a time to give one of our most underappreciated and unpretentious, but nutritious, foods its due.  What better month than January, traditionally one of the coldest months of the year, to start the day with a healthy bowl of oatmeal, as people have done for at least three thousand years.  Continue reading

American Made Matters Day

Did you know that November 19 is American Made Matters Day? Of course you didn’t, until now!  To be fair, it has only been around since 2013, and the celebration is pretty low key – no parades or fireworks – just a request to buy American made. The organization behind it, American Made Matters, was founded appropriately on July 4, 2009 with a mission to educate consumers on the importance of buying “Made in the USA” products. Sponsors include American made retailers, patriotic organizations, and local businesses who understand that American made matters, not just on November 19, but every day.

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Demographics Now Database Review

What is in your neighborhood and why do you need to know? Location, location, location! Nothing could be more important for a new business; it could mean the difference between failure and success. That is why a thorough targeted demographic scan is such an important tool. DemographicsNow, a library database, takes the pain out of compiling this information, providing highly detailed data about any geographic area in the United States, from the entire country, to a state, county, metro area, school district, zip code, right down to your own neighborhood. Continue reading

National Frankenstein Day – Remembering Mary Shelley

What do you know about Mary Shelley? Mention Frankenstein to just about anyone and a nearly universal image of Dr. Frankenstein’s creation springs to mind, but mention Mary Shelley and what likely springs to mind is, well, Frankenstein. So associated is she with her masterpiece that people don’t realize that she wrote five other novels, several travelogues, as well as a number of articles, essays, and biographies.  Though most were well regarded, none ever gained the popularity and status of her first novel. But anyone who has penned a literary classic, while not yet out of her teens, that has endured for over 200 years, and is considered to  have created the science fiction genre, deserves to be celebrated. That is why August 30, has been set aside as National Frankenstein Day to commemorate Mary Shelley’s birthday and her life. Continue reading

Think Outside the Building: Not Your Typical Libraries

In spite of all the ways that libraries have been reinventing themselves over the past few years, when most people hear the word library they picture a building full of books.  But this does not work for everyone, as many people around the world cannot get to a traditional library.  Here are some of the non-traditional ways libraries come to them. Continue reading