Renovated library opens next December with new exhibits


Elisabeth Dillon

Two security guards speak in the main lobby of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library Wednesday afternoon. New interactive exhibits that are part of a $10 million redesign project are set to open on December 22, 2012, which also coincides with what would have been Lady Bird Johnson’s one-hundredth birthday.

Bobby Blanchard

Visitors to the Lyndon B. Johnson Library & Museum will get the chance to act as advisors to former President Johnson on the Vietnam War in a new feature that is part of a series of renovations and redesign.

The library’s new exhibits will officially open on Dec. 22, which coincides with what would have been former first lady Lady Bird Johnson’s 100th birthday. The Gallagher & Associates design studio began designing the two-phased project to redesign the LBJ Library last December. The project is estimated to cost approximately $10 million. The nonprofit Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation is funding the project with private donations.

LBJ Library director Mark Updegrove said he aims to use innovative technology that did not exist during the library’s previous redesign in 1984.

“Interactivity is part of our lives now, and for so many young people in particular, it facilitates their ability to learn,” Updegrove said. “While this exhibit will look back at the ’60s, we want to do it in a contemporary way.”

One of the new interactive exhibits is called “Lasting Impact,” and it will show how the Johnson administration still affects Americans today. When the new exhibits open, visitors will have handheld touch-screen devices to serve as their guides by providing photos, audio and videos of the former president and his career. Along with these features, the library will also place 15 interactive locations throughout the exhibits, where visitors can listen to recorded audio of former President Johnson on the telephone.

While the library’s reading room will remain open during normal hours for researchers, the center will close the museum store during the first phase of the redesign and main exhibit floors during the second phase. The museum store is expected to double in size when it reopens in March.

The second phase of the redesign starts in March and continues until December, when Gallagher & Associates will do the work on the new exhibits and the replica of the Oval Office during LBJ’s time as president.

The redesign comes at a time where cutbacks on government spending and funding are under debate, but history professor H.W. Brands said he does not think the historical significance of LBJ’s political legacy will suffer. Brands said presidential libraries preserve records that allow historians and readers to see into the mind of decision makers as they formulate policy. Having such a resource close to campus is convenient and useful for students, Brands said.

“I’ve sent hundreds of students to the LBJ Library,” Brands said. “Some have gone on to become professional historians. Most others have come away with an increased understanding of how history is written and what it means.”

University Democrats treasurer Huey Fischer said he has visited the museum and feels it provides an impartial presentation which allows visitors to form their own judgements.

“The LBJ Library does seem to be favorable to Johnson’s legacy, but there are many exhibits that demonstrate the criticisms and darker periods of his presidency, such as the protests of the Vietnam War,” Fischer said. “A walk through the museum gives visitors a fair presentation of the facts and it leaves them to judge.”

Updegrove said he hopes the library will give all visitors the same feel it gave Fisher.

“I hope visitors come away with their own view of President Johnson — positive or negative — based on a balanced presentation of the challenges he faced and what he did about them,” Updegrove said.

Printed on Thursday, January 19, 2012 as: Renovated library to feature exhibits, modern technology