Remarks made by the Archivist at the Grand Opening of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and DeVos Learning Center
June 7, 2016, Grand Rapids, Michigan
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What's an Archivist?
Steve Ford, son of late President Gerald Ford, introduces AOTUS
Greetings from Washington! I'm honored to be here today to celebrate the opening of the new Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and and DeVos Learning Center. On behalf of more than 3200 National Archives staff members in 43 locations across the country, I carry good wishes and thanks for this exciting addition to our national footprint.
The National Archives was created by an Act of Congress in 1934 with a mission to collect, protect, and preserve the records of the U.S. Government. And, most importantly, to make those records available so that the American public can hold its government accountable and learn from our past. We are the final destination of the most important records of the United States Government.
Today the collection has over 13 billion sheets of paper, 43 million photographs, miles and miles of video and film, and more than 5 billion electronic records—the fastest growing record form. These records start with the Oaths of Allegiance signed by George Washington and his troops at Valley Forge and go all the way up the Tweets that are being created in the White House as I speak. They include the U.S. Navy image of Gerald Ford playing basketball aboard the USS Monterey, his pardon of Richard Nixon, the Presidential Proclamation for the Bicentennial Independence Day, the Helsinki Accords, and the Housing and Community Development Act which he signed.
The National Archives administers the network of Presidential Libraries from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush. Thirteen libraries in total with more than 780 million pages of textual materials and 625,000 museum objects. Presidential Libraries are not libraries in the usual sense. They are archives and museums, bringing together the documents and artifacts of a President, his administration, and his family and presenting them to the public for study and discussion without regard for political considerations or affiliations.
The intent from the beginning was to have the Presidential Libraries located throughout the country where scholars and school children could learn about their government, the Presidency, and service in government. In dedicating his own library Franklin D. Roosevelt, who created the National Archives and the Presidential Library system, captured the essence of the mission:
"To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a Nation must believe in three things. It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future."
The new Gerald R. Ford Museum exhibit and DeVos Learning Center will continue this tradition and will emphasize the importance of education, civic literacy, and student engagement. It will augment and extend the global reach of the museum by providing digital access to the archival documents, now more than 500,000 in total, a project enabled by the support of the Ford Presidential Foundation. This digital component will enhance educational opportunities for students and learners of all ages, not only in Grand Rapids and West Michigan, but statewide, nationwide, and beyond.
The Presidential Libraries are a uniquely American phenomenon—a partnership of the Federal Government, a private foundation, and the President's family—working together to preserve the legacy of the President and his administration and to educate, inspire, and entertain. And, I hope, to excite young people about careers in public service.
I am very proud of what that partnership has accomplished here and I would like to thank all the Ford Library and Museum staff, led by Director Elaine Didier, who planned simultaneous projects for the exhibit renovation and the building of the learning center, while working in collaboration with the Ford family and Joe Calvaruso and his staff at the Ford Foundation.
And a big thanks to the Ford Presidential Foundation, the Ford family, and the DeVos family for their commitment to supporting the complete renovation, modernization, and expansion of this space both physically and in outreach and programming capability.
A grateful nation thanks you.