In order to modernize and expand its facilities and programs, Independence’s Truman Library & Museum will be closing July 22 for an approximately year-long renovation. Of the $25 million necessary to cover the project, the Truman Library Institute has raised more than $23 million.
This will be the library’s first major renovation in nearly 20 years, with $22 million dedicated to the renovation of the building and new exhibitions. The remaining funds, $1 million each, are delegated to enhanced education programs, expanded public programs and endowment.
Originally, the Truman Library had hoped to close shortly after the president’s birthday on May 8 and reopen on or about April 12, 2020 – the 75th anniversary of Harry Truman taking the oath of office after President Franklin Roosevelt’s death. After various delays in the design and approval process, however, that timetable isn’t feasible.
The renovations planned for the library include a visitor-friendly entryway, more access to handicapped and eldery patrons, and moving that main entryway to the east side, where most visitors already park, with a 3,000-square foot expansion. Visitors will then have an immediate view of the courtyard and gravesites.
Once inside, visitors will explore the exhibits in reverse order of the way they would today. Once the project is completed, the journey starts with Truman’s earlier life. The iconic Thomas Hart Benton mural, right now the first thing visitors see, will be a cornerstone of a room highlighting “Truman’s Independence,” focusing on the city he returned to and why it meant so much to Truman.
Kurt Graham, executive director of the Truman Library & Museum, said that currently the museum “is a choppy experience,” and doesn’t flow as well as it could.
“Visitors don’t have any sense (in the beginning) of the man before he became president,” he said. With the change in exhibits, this will no longer be the case, he added.
More than simply changing the order of exhibits, however, new artifacts and exhibits will be installed for patrons to enjoy, allowing the museum to expand on some parts of Truman’s presidency and history, such as the Korean War, recognizing the new country of Israel and Truman’s wife Bess.
“In the last 30 years, there’s been a tremendous amount of scholarship done on Truman,” said Graham.
The new artifacts and archived materials will augment, not replace, the existing material.
“We have a lot of good stuff now,” Graham said.
The exhibits currently on the lower level – Truman’s life and times – will be incorporated into the main level, allowing more space for temporary, rotating exhibits that will change every two to three months.
“We will always, moving forward, have something new,” said Graham.
Technology will be at the forefront of the renovations, telling the story of Independence’s favorite president through interactive installations and hands-on learning experiences, including immersive sound and light theaters detailing World War I and the Cold War, a 14-foot diameter globe exploring the problems of peace following World War II and an immersive role-playing game in which players examine the hunt for government disloyalty during the Red Scare.
Truman’s working office, which has been left as it was when he died, will remain undisturbed in the same location, and the replica Oval Office and courtyard also will not change.
“At its heart, the Truman Library is an educational institution,” said Graham. “And we are so thrilled to be able to offer a 21st-century experience and interpretation of one of the great proponents of American democracy.”
Gallagher & Associates, a museum planning and design firm that has done the National World War II Museum and the International Spy Museum, and architectural firm The Clark Enersen Partners designed the Truman Library renovations. JE Dunn Construction has the building contract.
With the Truman Library & Museum experience becoming more in-depth and expansive, the hope is to better connect with other Truman-based institutions in Independence, such as the Truman Home and the historic courthouse on the Square, said Independence Mayor Eileen Weir, a board member of the Truman Library Institute.
“One thing that’s been important is selling Independence along with the Library,” she said, explaining that Truman is the city’s largest tourism asset, and when people come to experience Truman, they should be encouraged to venture beyond the Library.
“We want people to spend more than a few hours here,” Weir said.
While the Library will be closed temporarily, the research room will remain open to use by appointment as normal. White Glove Wednesdays will not take place, as rare artifacts and archives can’t be taken off-site, but the various Truman awards and guest speakers the Library hosts will be available elsewhere in the city.
In addition, the Missouri Department of Transportation is replacing the U.S. 24 bridges over Bess Truman Parkway this year – one bridge at time, to avoid closing the road – and MoDOT and the city will work to enhance the entryway to the Library grounds.