What’s going on: The Truman Library in Independence is moving along with plans for a major renovation that could be done in about three years.
Why it matters: The library could enhance the way it tells Truman’s story, have more space for community events and exhibits, and deepen its connection to city.
The Truman Library continues to look at a major renovation and expansion to broaden the way Harry Truman’s story is told and to open the library to more events and more everyday connections to the community.
Although Truman wanted a library more about the presidency than about himself, Library Director Kurt Graham says “… there was a greatness about the man that needs to be chronicled.”
Just more than three years from now – April 12, 2020 – comes the 75th anniversary of the day Truman took office, and Graham said officials are looking at that as a logical date to have a refurbished library in place.
Visitors would see significant changes. The main entrance would move to the east side of the building. The permanent exhibit on Truman’s life and times would be moved upstairs into new space on the main floor, where the permanent exhibit on his presidency already sits. A visitor would see those exhibits and then end at the Oval Office replica and, in the nearby lobby, the prominent Thomas Hart Benton mural “Independence and the Opening of the West.”
“It reverses the order of the flow of the exhibits,” Graham said.
That also opens up possibilities. The current lobby, with the prominent mural, would gain some space when the gift shop is moved toward the new entrance, and it could be used for community events. Graham said there’s a demand for that.
The downstairs space, which has a relatively small area for temporary exhibits, would have enough space that one temporary exhibit could be going while another is being developed, so one is always open. And there would be room for bigger exhibits.
Graham said the Truman story remains compelling, with many of the issues and challenges he faced lining up with today’s headlines. Truman is still relevant and “ … what we’re really doing is investing in Truman’s legacy going forward,” he said.
The library sits on U.S. 24 in Independence. It’s part of “what I call the Truman triangle” Graham said, referring to Square about eight blocks to the south, the Truman Home about five blocks west of the Square and the Truman Library itself.
“The major pieces are already there,” Graham said. “They just need to be knit together.”
The library has become part of a broader discussion among civic leaders in Independence about capitalizing on community assets to improve tourism, investment and economic vibrancy generally.
Independence Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Hap Graff recently said the presidential library is a major asset and yet “we say good luck over there” rather than actively engaging with the library. For instance, officials have been talking about bike trails and other ways to link greenspace and make the city more inviting.
Library officials are thinking along some of the same lines.
“We sit on 14 acres,” Graham said. “What can we do to make them more appealing, more inviting?”
Several ideas are on the table. One is an amphitheater. Another is a water feature with a prominent sign telling passersby on U.S. 24 that this is the Truman Library, something the library currently lacks. There also would be walking trails with elements telling part of the Truman story.
Bike trails – there’s already one immediately west of the library – could be part of the equation, too. The idea is to connect with McCoy Park, a large green space across U.S. 24 from the library, and one major step toward the Square.
Mayor Eileen Weir used the same metaphor Graham did about important assets already being in place.
“So we’re looking at all of the elements and seeing what it would take to knit that all together,” she said.
Specifically, a bike rider for instance could slip under the U.S. 24 bridge over Bess Truman Parkway to get from the library to the park, but Weir suggests that’s not very inviting. The city, she said, has approached the Missouri Department of Transportation about redesigning that portion of the highway.
“We think there’s probably a better solution, but it takes partnering …” she said.
It’s often pointed out that Harry and Bess, unlike many first couples who have come after them, left the White House and returned to their hometown to relatively simple lives. He was, after all, known as the Man from Independence.
Graham is keen to pick up on that point.
“Independence mattered to Harry Truman,” he said. “Independence matters to the Truman Library.”