August 22, 2004

Andrea Almond
Associated Press
Simi Valley, CA Mary McKnight calls herself Ronald Reagan's No. 1 fan. Gazing somberly at the 40th president's tomb, the retired nurse from Kansas murmured, "It's humbling to be here."
Nearby, a boy in a New York Yankees jersey seemed less impressed by Reagan's library and museum, muttering something about wanting to go to Disneyland.
The contrast illustrates the challenge facing the nation's 11 presidential libraries - soon to be 12 with the opening of Bill Clinton's this fall - as they compete for visitors at a time when many tourists would rather be riding a roller-coaster than sifting through presidential archives.
Although Reagan's death has led to a surge in visitors to the library, attendance at the nation's presidential libraries during the last five years has declined about 13 percent. To reverse the trend, libraries are adding attractions, turning to more aggressive marketing tactics, and leaning on nearby tourist attractions to promote themselves ...
"For all the libraries, tourism depends on how the institutions are promoted," said Jay Hakes, director of Jimmy Carter's library in Atlanta. "Across the board, we need to be more aggressive, and I think we're seeing some of that now."

The Reagan library has not needed any intense marketing efforts this summer. More than 110,000 visitors have poured into the mission-style complex northwest of Los Angeles since the facility reopened on June 14 after a weeklong memorial to the late president.
That is more than half the attendance that the most popular library - Lyndon Johnson's in Texas - sees in an entire year. The Reagan library, which had seen a 31 percent drop in visitors until the former president's death, expects to log an unprecedented 400,000 visitors by the end of the year.
"If you'd told me on June 6 that we'd have such a spike and see it continue at these high levels, I never would have believed it," said John Langellier, assistant director of the complex.
The presidential library tradition began in 1939 when Franklin Roosevelt raised private money to build his facility. He then turned it over to the U.S. government to operate through the national archives.
The Johnson library in Austin, Texas, has drawn the most visitors in the last five years, averaging about 200,000 annual visitors. The John F. Kennedy library in Boston was next, averaging 192,213 visitors. The least visited presidential library is Herbert Hoover's in West Branch, Iowa, which attracts an average of 66,209 visitors.
Regardless of size, the goal of all the libraries is the same - to keep the past fresh. Their strategies include regularly rotating exhibits, hosting speakers and educational series, offering school tours and adding attractions that appeal to all generations ...
"It's a challenge for all libraries and museums, not just presidential ones, to draw young visitors when competing with the Disneylands and other amusements."

Don't know where to find the library near you? They're all listed here
Go see 'em!

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