The 13 presidential libraries in the United States are perfect for families interested in studying history, particularly political history. Presidential libraries are more museums and archives than actual libraries, housing important documents and paperwork as well as memorabilia and artifacts from a president's term of service.
Presidential libraries originated when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt left office and didn't want his paperwork and documents destroyed. FDR raised private funds to build a library and then turned it over to the National Archives to manage. Presidential libraries today are built following that same model.
Here are four reasons that Presidential Libraries are worth your family's time.
Each museum highlights 4-8 years of U.S. history
I was thoroughly impressed with each of the three presidential libraries I have visited, and I hope to see them all someday. These museums generally spend some time exploring the early life of the president, with particular emphasis on the history leading up to his election and through his years in office. After visiting the George H.W. Walker museum in College Station, Texas, I felt like I had just seen an excellent snapshot of the early 1990s. Since I remember those years, it was very interesting to explore them as “history” in a museum.
After visiting the Lyndon B. Johnson museum in Austin, Texas, I had a much better understanding of the civil rights movement and all the social reforms happening in the 1960s. These museums highlight not only the president, but the significant issues the country faced during his time in office.
They are well done
Over the years, presidential libraries and museums have grown in size and depth. There is a marked difference between the size and scope of the LBJ museum and the George H.W. Bush museum. The more recent museums tend to be large and impressive.
They are a good value
I have visited three presidential libraries and never paid more than $10 for my entrance fee. These museums are good values and still offer the interactive exhibits, informative movies, and wonderful memorabilia that you might expect to find in higher-priced museums.
Look for free days and special events
Presidential libraries often host special exhibits or events. If you live near one, check out what is going on at your local library. Many presidential libraries are free on the birthday of the president they honor, and they usually have birthday celebrations and events those days.
A word of caution
Presidential libraries are generally built under the direction of the president they are honoring, and as such they will most likely contain inherent biases. While they do an admirable job trying to highlight all the main events of their time in office, major criticisms and downfalls of a president are not likely to be addressed. However, I have found these museums to be informative and interesting regardless of my political affiliation or feeling toward the president.
Locations of Presidential Libraries
For more information about presidential libraries, including links to each library's website, click here.
- Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch, Iowa.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York
- Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene, Kansas
- John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.
- Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, Austin, Texas.
- Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, Calif., and in College Park, Maryland.
- Gerald R. Ford Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Gerald R. Ford Museum, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
- Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, Atlanta, Georgia.
- Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Simi Valley, California.
- George Bush Presidential Library, College Station, Texas.
- William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas.
- George W. Bush Presidential Library, Dallas, Texas.
- FDR Presidential Library and Museum by FDR Presidential Library and Museum
- Clinton Presidential Library by Flickr user: Stuart Seeger College Station http://flickr.com/people/stuseeger/ [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons