Don’t let the word “library” mislead you. While there are thousands of papers and personal records of our presidents to read, as well as spaces for scholarly research, there are just as many opportunities to explore, touch, see, listen and learn about American history at each of the 13 presidential libraries located across the United States.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to establish a presidential library, followed by each succeeding president, as well as predecessor Herbert Hoover. In fact, President Obama is already considering where to locate and what to put in his own presidential library after he leaves office in 2016. The National Archives and Records Administration oversees the 13 presidential libraries.
Similar to the Passport to Your National Parks, the presidential libraries offer their own passport program, making it fun for little ones to visit and explore each of these historical libraries. The Passport to Presidential Libraries program debuted in 2011, enabling visitors to collect stamps in special passport booklets to mark their visits. Once they fill up their books, visitors can redeem them for a special gift at any of the presidential libraries.
If you plan to visit any of our presidential libraries, here are 13 highlights sure to please you and your kids:
1. Introductory Videos. Most presidential libraries offer a brief video (10-20 minutes) to give visitors a background on the president’s life before, during and after his presidency.
2. Oval Office Replicas. It’s fun to see the actual desks where presidents worked, as well as the set-up of the entire Oval Office when that president was in office.
3. Childhood Mementos. Look for report cards, toys, even clothing on display for each president.
4. Personal Artifacts. From love letters Ronald Reagan wrote to Nancy Reagan to pictures Caroline Kennedy made for her father, these displays provide an intimate insight into the president’s “off duty” life.
5. Campaign Memorabilia. Each presidential library features a comprehensive collection of campaign signs, buttons, t-shirts and ads used to help them win their elections.
6. Audio Clips & News Broadcasts. Look for audio clips, television interviews and news broadcasts from each of the presidents. You can even hear portions of the infamous Frost-Nixon interview at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in College Park, MD.
7. Gifts. You’ll also see gifts on display given to presidents and first ladies from other countries. The vast collections range from china and jewelry to sculptures and paintings.
8. First Lady Exhibitions. Exhibits on display celebrate America’s First Ladies and their important role in the presidencies. Look for personal effects (clothing and jewelry), but also details on programs they spearheaded, like Lady Bird Johnson’s mission to beautify this country and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign.
9. Philanthropic Beginnings. Many presidents started philanthropic organizations that made a real impact on this country. Learn how the March of Dimes got its start at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY. Or, read up on the Peace Corps at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston.
10. Rotating Exhibits. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley, CA currently has an exhibit on display through September 4, 2014 on the history of baseball. Or, head to the George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum to check out an exhibit on fashion designer Oscar de la Renta through October 5, 2014.
11. Gardens. Many libraries have expansive gardens, such as the Nixon Library Gardens. Look for docent-led tours to learn more about these beautiful gardens.
12. Community Events. Head to the presidential library websites and check the event calendars as many offer author lecture series’, story hours for children and family movie nights.
13. Proximity. As a bonus, many presidential libraries are located in close proximity to other popular attractions in major cities like Boston, MA and Austin, TX. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum is conveniently located just minutes from downtown Atlanta.
About the Author: Jenn Record, a high school English teacher from Trumbull, Connecticut, enjoys exploring the country with her husband and two young children.
Photo Credit: TomW3