The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library was the first presidential library, and the only one actually used by a president. Prior to FDR, presidential papers were considered private, and kept (or not) without any particular system. FDR decided to donate his papers to the nation, so he planned the library, built it with private funds and gifted it to the United States toward the end of his second term. When he broke tradition and ran for a third (and fourth) term, the fieldstone building on his estate in Hyde Park became his workplace away from Washington, DC.
Since FDR, all presidents have built libraries dedicated to maintaining their legacy and preserving their documents. To date, I have toured six, and hope to visit five more (sorry, Ford and Hoover). The libraries offer fascinating glimpses of their period and creatively reinterpret (spin?) the man they celebrate. Like all libraries, they are fact full, though that is not always the same as being objective.
All presidential libraries have a museum component, and FDR’s museum seems more balanced than most. In part, because the building constricts the extent of hoopla allowed; the limousines, helicopters and even planes at other libraries simply won’t fit here. In part, because FDR’s presidency is more distantly past, history has sorted out his successes and shortcomings. In part because, the events of his presidency were so momentous that the dramatic displays, updated in 2013, don’t come off as hyperbole. They match the tenor of those tumultuous times.
Kirsten Strigel Carter is the supervisory archivist at the library, the custodian of seventeen million documents arranged in 400 collections, available for unrestricted use in the research area by anyone who registers with the National Archive. Over a million documents have been scanned and are available online. Kirsten and her staff supply documents to over 700 in-person researchers every year and field over 2,000 online requests for FDR related information.
Kirsten is from Arkansas, a graduate of Little Rock’s famous Central High School, where she met Bill Clinton when he spoke at the 1997 Commemorative Event of that school’s integration. She came east for college, majored in Cultural Studies and went on to Library School. She settled in the Hudson River Valley because, ‘this place has everything, beauty and culture and history.”
How will we live tomorrow?