Staff Perspectives

Bob Clark

Why should anyone care who works at the Roosevelt Library, you might ask? Well, it’s because we all view ourselves as just the most recent caretakers of the institution that FDR created and established.  It was FDR’s dream that the Roosevelt Library would house the papers, records, and memorabilia of his life and presidency so that Americans of later generations could gain in judgment for the future.  The Roosevelt Library itself is part of FDR’s legacy, and we all take our responsibilities very seriously.  So I think it’s important for the people who pay our salaries—you the taxpayers—to know who we are and what we do here.

I received my undergraduate and Master’s degrees in history at Texas Tech University. As a starving, penny-less student, I began working in Tech’s special collections library, the Southwest Collection.  I’ll never forget sitting at the partner desk in the basement at the Southwest Collection going through my first box of completely unorganized archival materials that had been rescued from a woman’s attic in Lubbock.  I fell in love with archival work.

But then I took an interesting turn.  I went to law school and practiced law for seven years.  While the law fascinated me, private practice did not.  So with the turn of the millennium in January 2001, I asked myself “when were you happiest?” The answer: when I was an archivist.  Soon, an archivist position opened up at the Roosevelt Library, and I moved to Hyde Park. It was one of the best decisions of my life.  I was named Supervisory Archivist in February 2005.

Today, I oversee the care of the Roosevelt Library’s 17 million pages of manuscript materials, including the papers of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt; printed materials, including FDR’s personal book collection of 22,000 volumes; and the audio-visual and photographic collections totaling some 150,000 items.  I also manage our research operations, which hosts nearly 1,500 on-site researchers a year and responds to over 3,500 research requests that come in annually from all over the world.  All this is done with one of the smallest (six people)—yet mightiest—archives staffs in the presidential libraries system.

The accomplishment of which I am most proud is that at the beginning of the renovation we managed to completely vacate the Library without ever closing our doors to research, even for one day.  The experience proved that archival theories and practices work on any scale—whether organizing that box on the desk at the Southwest Collection in 1986, or moving all of the collections and research operations out of the Roosevelt Library in 2010.

I will always be grateful for the professional and personal satisfaction that the Roosevelt Library gives me.  I work with some of the best and most conscientious public servants in government today.  And every day, I get to come to work and be inspired by two of the greatest figures of the Twentieth Century, if not all time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

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13 Responses to Staff Perspectives

  1. Chris says:

    The whole point of the FDR Library is to inform us about FDR, not about those who work there.

    If Library staffers want to tell us their life stories, they might at least include some words about what attracted them to work at the FDR Library. Was it their admiration for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt? Or was it the salary and benefits? One is hard-pressed to know from what is posted here by the staff.

    If staffers would spend as much time telling the story of FDR, his life, his presidency and his magnificent legacy as they spend telling us about themselves, they would come closer to fulfilling their professional responsibility.

    Yes, staffers are the caretakers of FDR’s legacy and if they have been vetted and hired by the powers-that-be at the Library, one can accept that they are qualified, but their life stories are not relevant to the FDR Library’s mission.

    If, in fact, Mr. Clark, you are “inspired” by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, then tell us why, tell us what inspires you, tell us what books you have read about them, what you admire about what they did. Otherwise, while one can be happy that the Roosevelt Library provides you with “professional and personal satisfaction,” one might well conclude that as long as you were doing serious archival work, you could have been as happy working in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library or the Gerald Ford Presidential Library.

    People come to this FDR Library website wanting to know about FDR, not the staff. Maybe you could create a separate page on this website where the curious can learn about the life stories of the staffers. I just don’t believe most people come to the FDR Library website to read about the biographies of the Library’s workers; most come out of a curiosity to learn about FDR.

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  2. Beth says:

    @Chris, this is a blog and the post is titled “Staff Perspectives”. It is interesting to learn about the archivists working with the collections. It may help you understand their motivations for working at the library and making the collections available to the public.

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  3. tpartridge1 says:

    Found your site. I earned an award in the Army for my role of Eleanor Roosevelt, during a Women’s History Month luncheon. I researched her biography and presented it in her own voice to an audience. She is very special toe me. Look forward to reading more of your blog postings.

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  4. Chris says:

    Beth:

    The title of this webpage is “In Roosevelt History”; the title of that one post is “Staff Perspectives” and it was so labeled because Mr. Clark wanted to tell us about himself.

    As I have suggested above, if staffers want to advertise their own biographical data instead of FDR’s, they could have a separate link to a page — as many websites do — called “About Us.” Then, if people come to the FDR Library website to learn about not FDR but about the workers at the Library, they can go to that page. I would wager that MOST people who come to a website titled the FDR Library come expecting to learn about FDR.

    If you would rather learn about the FDR Library staffers than about FDR, I have to wonder what made you come to the FDR Library website in the first place. Were you not curious to learn about FDR? It’s nice that you want to learn about the staffers, but I do not imagine that is what you originally came to the FDR Library website to discover.

    It is frightening to realize how little the Americans of today actually know about FDR or his presidency; they seem to know he is considered one of our greatest presidents but probably could not tell you why he is so considered.

    I am beginning to suspect the FDR Library staffers do not write about what made FDR a great president because they do not know much about FDR.

    The lessons we could learn from FDR’s presidency are ultra important to us today as we find ourselves, once again, in deep economic trouble; yet, we do not learn those lessons because those who know — or should know — are silent.

    FDR faced unprecedented economic challenges when he first became president, and he met those challenges with creativity, courage, intelligence, compassion and a willingness to keep trying to find solutions to the hideous problems this country faced. We could learn from that experience.

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  5. Chris says:

    Well, so far, I have checked out the Truman, Reagan, Hoover, Bush, Ford, Carter, LBJ, and Clinton Presidential Libraries and I have noted that at NONE of them does one see the self-advertising by the staffers that one sees at the FDR Library.

    On the other hand one DOES see great amounts of information about each of those presidents at his Presidential Library website.

    I encourage the FDR Library staffers to see what information is available to the public at those other Presidential Library websites.

    It is all well and good to tell us how many millions of documents exist in the FDR Library but if the FDR Library staffers do not avail themselves of all that archival material to tell the public the story of FDR, they are failing in their professional responsibility.

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  6. sayaveronica says:

    @Chris,

    I agree with you that not enough people are aware of FDR’s legacy. Perhaps if more people had knowledge of our nation’s past mistakes and triumphs in general, we could better deal with the challenges that face us today. FDR’s presidency is particularly important these days due to our current struggles with the economy and ecological concerns. His life and achievements are something that we, as a nation, need to keep discussing, because there are numerous lessons to be learned from him. It is my earnest believe that we need to remember all the good he and ER did, and strive to continue their fight for equality, security and freedom.

    However, this is not the only outlet for the FDR Library on the web. There *is* a website (www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu) that has a ton of information about FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, the New Deal, etc. I suggest you look there. Institutions’ blogs *in general* often focus more on “behind-the-scenes” topics than their websites do. Putting a spotlight on staff members, is, I would say, in good form. It ties together the past and present and lets the public know that there are real people at the library/museum who are knowledgeable and excited about sharing their passion for history with the public. How is that a bad thing?

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  7. Chris says:

    sayaveronica:

    Thank you for writing that you agree with me there is a shortage of awareness about the great good deeds both FDR and ER did. It is my firm belief that such lack of awareness about what FDR and ER did can hinder our present-day ability to solve problems similar to those they faced and addressed decades ago.

    But I am saddened that you think biographies of the staffers should be in the forefront of a website about the FDR Library. I strongly believe that MOST people who come to a website about the FDR Library come out of curiosity about FDR and NOT about the people who work at the Library. I have suggested here that the FDR Library staffers create a link to a separate page called “About Us” for those who wish to know about the staffers.

    The title of this webpage is, after all, “In Roosevelt History” — NOT “In FDR Library Staffers History”!

    If you go to ANY of the other Presidential Library websites, you will NOT see staff biographies front and center. In some of the Presidential Libraries, there are NO staff biographies posted at all, just contact info. The main thrust at all of the other Presidential Libraries is to enlighten the curious about the specific president. Most of the Presidential Libraries take very seriously their perceived obligation to emphasize the positive and de-emphasize the negative about that president — to such an extent that on most of the other Presidential Library websites, one will not see a negative word about that president.

    But, at the FDR Library website, we see everything but an emphasis on FDR’s greatness.

    If you click on “Roosevelt Facts” over on the left side of this webpage, you will note that the most recent entry is for October — we are now in July!!

    If the staffers at the FDR Library will not tell the story of FDR, who will?

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  8. fdrlibrary says:

    Chris, thank you for your comment and your continued interest in our blog. “This Week in Roosevelt History” was a category of blog posts which was retired last October, coinciding with the launch of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Day by Day Chronology, an extensive web resource. Day by Day includes President Roosevelt’s appointment diaries and schedules for his entire presidency, as well as countless documents and photographs relating to events from his time in the White House. If you are interested in the daily activities of the Roosevelt Administration we encourage you to explore Day by Day often because we continue to add new content on a regular basis: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/daybyday/.

    In addition to the Day by Day website, thousands of documents and photographs related to the Roosevelt era can be found on the Library’s official website: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/. The site features an extensive special features page where we continue to add new content related to the legacies and lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Here’s the link: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/aboutfdr/specialtopics.html.

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  9. Chris says:

    Well, there are two links over on the left side (of this page) that take one to the same page: the links are “Roosevelt Facts” and “This Week in Roosevelt History.” If you don’t plan to keep that linked webpage up to date and have in fact discontinued it, then perhaps it would be a good idea to delete those links (on the left side of this page).

    I would also add that I have checked in quite a few times at the site for which you provided a link, but I have found it quite a disappointment. There are list of agencies created by FDR to implement his New Deal programs but scant explanation about: (1) the problem each agency was trying to address, and (2) the extent to which, and the ways in which, that agency was successful.

    There are lists of names associated with FDR’s presidency but precious few narratives that tell a compelling story about those people, what they did, and the extent to which they helped FDR in his presidency.

    There has never been a presidential era to match FDR’s presidency — the story of those years is the stuff of legend — yet the FDR Library website posts lists of facts that make his presidency seem about as interesting as reading some grocery list. Maybe you need better writers OR maybe you need writers who are caught up in WANTING to tell the story of FDR’s presidency and his legacy.

    FDR was a man of immense optimism, confidence, creativity and commitment to the American people — he wasn’t afraid to try something new or to plan intelligently for a better future for America and the world. It’s a magnificent story and it needs better telling at the FDR Library website.

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  10. sayaveronica says:

    Chris,

    My point was that this is *not* the FDR Library website. You’re correct; if you look at the other presidential libraries’ *websites*, you will not find staff biographies. You will not find staff biographies on the FDRL’s website, either. But *this* presidential library happens to have, in addition to the website proper, this blog, which they use for a variety of topics, including staff perspectives, renovation updates, etc.

    If you think that there is a gap here in knowledge available online, why don’t you start your own FDR blog? I am being completely serious, not facetious at all. You seem to know a lot about the topic, and presenting that online using a blog is an incredibly fast and easy endeavor these days. I get that you want *this* blog to fulfill a certain role, but I personally think that your time would be better used in finding a way to educate people. Maybe you could even take a trip to the library and do some research, create something original online based on the documents they have….

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  11. Chris says:

    sayaveronica:

    It is the professional responsibility of the FDR Library staffers to tell the story of FDR; it is not my responsibility. They are paid to do it; I am not.

    This is very much an FDR Library website and it is run by FDR Library staffers, so it OUGHT to be a place where one can go to learn about FDR, his life his presidency and his legacy. If you look up at the URL, it begins with “fdrlibrary.” This particular page is titled “In Roosevelt History” — it is NOT titled “In FDR Library Staffers’ History.” This IS an FDR Library website.

    While it would be nice for me if I lived closer, I do not live anywhere near the FDR Library and since I have serious responsibilities where I live I cannot travel to the FDR Library to “do research.” Nor do I need to in order to know at least as much as the FDR Library staffers seem to. I know. For example, it was FDR’s own idea n to house his presidential papers in a Presidential Library so the public could have access to all of that information, and he donated his own property for the purpose. Yet, on the FDR Library website, one reads only that the FDR Library was the first of its kind — but nothing stating the concept originated with FDR. One could conclude, based on what is written there, that someone unknown created the idea for the FDR Library and the concept of presidential libraries. I also have to wonder why one reads more at the FDR Library website about Lucy Mercer than one reads about Harry Hopkins, who was FAR MORE important to FDR’s presidency and programs and policies than Lucy Mercer was or could have been.

    Unless you are related to someone on the FDR Library staff, I have to wonder why you originally came to the FDR Library blog webpage if not to learn about FDR. And I have to wonder why you spend so much effort trying to persuade me to stop criticizing the FDR Library staff.

    As I have said, they get paid to tell the story of FDR; they do not get paid to tell their own stories.

    I believe there are important lessons to be learned from FDR’s years as president; after all, he faced the worst economic situation in American history and the worst war in American history — and he led us through both episodes with great intelligence, great effort, great humanity and with great success.

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  12. Bob Meade says:

    Thanks, Mr. Clark, I appreciate knowing some more about the people doing the workntonpreserve FDR’s legacy.

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  13. RP says:

    As an aspiring archivist I really hate these kinds of articles. It makes it looks like it’s so easy to get into this field when it is not at all. Archivists really need to stop glossing over the details of how they had to struggle for 4 years working for free or juggling multiple part time, minimum wage jobs to get to the wonderful, personally fulfilling job they have now.

    Obviously I don’t expect Mr. Clark or any of the other staff of the FDR library to do that on their official work blog. But I don’t see many archives professionals willing to admit these things in any public venue.

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