Oral History Interview with
Director, Harry S. Truman Library, 1995-2000.
August 20, 2014
by Dr. Ray Geselbracht
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate
the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript]
Oral History Interview with
August 20, 2014
by Dr. Ray Geselbracht
GESELBRACHT: This is Ray Geselbracht, and Iím here with Larry Hackman, former director of the Harry S. Truman Library, to begin an oral history interview with him. It is Wednesday, August 20, 2014. Larry, thank you for doing an interview for the Truman Library. I want to get things started and just ask you, whereíd you grow up? Whereíd you come from? Where did you go to college?
HACKMAN: I was born and raised in Glasgow, Missouri, a small river town in the middle of the state, a historical town in the sense that it was founded in the 1830ís, there was a Civil War battle there, and it was in Howard County, part of the ďLittle DixieĒ region that ran across the state on both sides of the Missouri River. Howard was the Missouri county with the most slaves on the eve of the Civil War. I was born at home in the half of an 1841 house that my parents rented for $20 or $25 a month. Neither of my parents or any of their relatives had much of an education. My father made it to the seventh grade and my mother to the eighth grade. We were from German Catholic families, large families on my motherís side and my fatherís side.
A small number of the cousins in my generation began to go to college. At the time I needed to decide where to go to college, which I wanted to do, there was no experience in higher education among those close around me and no good high school counseling either. The University of Missouri at Columbia which is 40 miles from Glasgow was the most logical place to go so I did. I had no idea what to major in. I was a pre-business major for awhile, believe it or not. I was an economics major for awhile and was even inducted into an economics honorary society just on the basis of a high general grade point. Finally, when I was a second semester junior I believe, I found my way to American History. I earned my B.A. in American History in í64 and my M.A. in American history in í65. I already had a few graduate courses toward the Ph.D. by that time and I already had sent in my PhD dissertation topic to the AHA at that point, the topic being the Harlem Renaissance at a time when it was largely ignored. My major professor was Allen Davis who taught American social and intellectual History. But I also had had two upper class courses and two graduate reading seminars with Richard Kirkendall in recent United States history; he was the professor at that point who was sending the greatest number of graduate students and dissertation writers to do research at the relatively new Harry S. Truman Library in Independence. Kirkendall became a close friend and colleague many years later after I came to the Truman Library in 1995.
In the fall of 1965 I was a graduate teaching assistant in the Honors College section of the American history survey course as I worked toward the Ph.D. That was interrupted when I received my reclassification from my county draft board. I appealed that unsuccessfully and I knew that unless I did something, I would probably be on my way to Vietnam fairly quickly. I considered several alternatives in the military as an officer, but I knew I wasnít really interested, and then I scrambled into an Army Reserve Unit in Kansas City. In this same period, I found that I was not enjoying my first experience as a teaching assistant and I had nearly concluded that I was not going to enjoy being an academic historian in any case because I also did not enjoy primary research. Perhaps I would have learned to enjoy research if I had done more of it, and maybe I would have become a good teacher. In retrospect, I believe both were problematic. So I took a job in Kansas City with the regional
office of the new Office of Economic Opportunity, the War on Poverty program under President Johnson that Sargent Shriver headed. And I worked there for about six months.
One day I was approached by a more senior staff member in the regional OEO office who happened to have worked at GSA in Washington with a fellow named John Stewart who was then at the National Archives and had just been named the new director of the John F. Kennedy Oral History Project. That project was funded in those days by the Carnegie Foundation, but located in the National Archives. Stewart was interested in hiring an interviewer who had a reasonably strong background in recent United States history. So John came out to Kansas City by train because there was an airline strike on and he interviewed me at the Truman Library to become an oral history interviewer for the John F. Kennedy Oral History Project. I accepted the position. The work I was doing at OEO in reviewing applications from school districts in the very early days of Project Head Start was not very interesting to me. At this same time I had passed the Federal Management Intern exam and the interviewing process and was offered a job at the Department of Labor in Washington. Then this Kennedy job offer came along which sounded much more interesting and also raised my Civil Service status from a Grade 7 to an 11, a big jump for me.
GESELBRACHT: When was this?
HACKMAN: This was in the summer of 1966. Sandi and I were married in June in Columbia and rented an apartment in Kansas City. By September, we were living in Washington. In November, I was called into active duty at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in the Army Reserves. I had done only one or two oral history interviews before I was called to active duty. I did basic training and then wrote for the base newspaper for another couple of months before returning to the oral history job in April or May 1967. I was substantially involved in the Kennedy Oral History Project work for about four years. This was an intense, eye-opening learning experience in public history. I did research on a wide variety of topics and issues and met and interviewed an incredible array of people at high levels, just listening to and learning not only about the Kennedy period, especially the 1950s and early 1960s, but also about how people at high levels in government and politics and the media went about their work, how they got things done. I interviewed some members of the White House staff and other close personal associates of John and Robert Kennedy, leaders in various Cabinet and executive agencies, ambassadors and high officials in the State Department, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, members of the press, and some governors and other leaders in politics around the country. Many of these people were household names then. Many of the transcripts of those interviews have been used by scholars since that time and almost all are now available on-line.
I canít think of a better, more fortuitous experience for someone with my limited background to have over the first five years of a career than learning about so many policy areas and also learning how to feel comfortable in discussing such a wide range of subject matter with so many different kinds of people involved in these issues. I did a great deal of reading in those days, nonfiction, journals, newspapers, magazines, even many novels about government and politics and recent United States history. I just learned a lot and gained confidence, which you need to do oral history at a high level . So that was a great first work experience. It also introduced me to a limited extent to presidential libraries and to the National Archives and to their cultures and some limited amount about the way they thought about things.
GESELBRACHT: You were based in Washington this whole time?
HACKMAN: Based in Washington in a third or fourth floor office in the National Archives; not back in the stacks. We operated with big Wollensak reel to reel recorders, which seemed very cumbersome, and were certainly compared to todayís equipment. We had a staff of part time transcribers, mostly college students, and a couple of editors. After a few years, the Kennedy Library proper began to organize a pre-Kennedy Library operation out of the Federal Records Center in Waltham, Massachusetts. Thatís where the Kennedy papers were transferred and where after a few years researchers could come to research papers as we began to open files and oral history interviews under the terms of the relevant deeds of gift. Some of that early research was quite good given the limitations on access.
In 1970, I applied for the Littauer Fellowship to the School of Government at Harvard and I was awarded that Fellowship. Frank Mankiewicz, who had been a Peace Corps official and then Robert Kennedyís press secretary wrote my main recommendation. I knew I didnít want to continue to do oral history forever, and I was kind of casting around for something else to do. Iím not sure that I learned a great deal from that year at Harvard, which gave me a masterís in public administration. I sort of paused, I took a relatively easy course load, they gave an easy one-year masterís program. Almost everyone in that program was a mid-career civil servant and I was much the younger of that group. As some aspects of a Kennedy Library began to take shape at that Federal Records Center, I went to work there as an employee of the National Archives proper, no longer on Carnegie funds but on regular appropriated funds. I didnít do much collections management even though my title was senior archivist. I did work a lot with the early researchers who came there because I knew a lot of the history, the content of many oral history interviews, a lot of the people, where some of the papers were, and so on. I negotiated the deposit of some Kennedy-related papers to the Kennedy Library.
GESELBRACHT: So you were still working on the Kennedy Library staff at that point?
HACKMAN: Right. I was working on-
GESELBRACHT: But still in Washington?
HACKMAN: No. This was all in Waltham. After the year in Cambridge.
GESELBRACHT: After Harvard.
HACKMAN: We bought an old 1832 two-family house on the Mystic River in Arlington and started our family. After a couple of years we bought another on Little Pond in Belmont, Massachusetts. For five years, I worked for that operation out of the Federal Records Center. After Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, for a couple of years I and a new staff member stationed in Washington had focused on oral history interviewing with the people around Robert Kennedy in the Justice Department, political campaigns, the Senate, and so on.
The early oral history experience had been a great first learning experience. Another learning experience came while I was in that Kennedy operation in Waltham when I was given a new title, because of some programs we were trying to develop there, as Director of Special Programs. This may have been an informal title of convenience as I worked over the next couple of years. The work included community outreach, working with secondary schools and universities, doing a wide variety of public programs, a few modest exhibits, being executive producer of an interactive film on Presidential decision making ó which is
where a lot of ideas came from that I later brought to the Truman Library ó a little fundraising, learning to work with all kinds of institutions, nonprofits, educational, local governments. We developed one program we called the Community Visitors Program where we would find someone who had been active in the Kennedy period ó Nicholas Katzenbach, former Attorney General; Frank Mankiewicz, Robert Kennedyís former press secretary ; Tom Wicker of the New York Times; Sander Vanocur of NBC; Stewart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior, and others. We would bring one of them to the Boston area or to Massachusetts for a day, give them to a particular community around Boston or in Massachusetts, collaborating especially with the League of Women Voters. The ďvisitorĒ typically would have a couple of interviews on radio and television. They would meet with social studies teachers in the schools. They would maybe have lunch with the Chamber of Commerce leadership. Meet with some college students. We were just giving a community access for a full day to someone who had rich experience and interesting perspectives. This is something that helped me later in my career in learning how to work with different groups on everything from an events arrangements level to working with the media to serving as a kind of a consultant and mediator. It was just another good piece of experience which I was able to draw on later.
GESELBRACHT: Now were you in charge of this operation?
HACKMAN: No. A man named Dan Fenn was named as the first Director of the Kennedy Library probably around 1971. Dan was first the Director of the Library ďin progress.Ē And John Stewart who had hired me, who had been the Director of the Oral History Project, John became Fennís deputy. During most of my time in Waltham, I reported to John. But when I became this Coordinator of Special Programs or whatever the title was, I probably reported directly to Dan Fenn, at least on some of the projects, because the things we were doing, we were thinking of as kind of prototypes, or possibilities at least, for a permanent Kennedy Library wherever it was located. At that point, the decision had not been made that it would be built at Columbia Point. There was still a big battle as to whether it would go to a site near Harvard Square or to other alternatives.
GESELBRACHT: Did you have a staff working for you, or were you responsible for all these coordination duties on your own?
HACKMAN: I was able to draw on several staff people who didnít work for me full-time. There were some young people on the staff particularly who could work for me on a particular community visitor program, for example. I probably directly supervised only two, three, or four staff and then called on some other people. Some of the people I was supervising were doing the Robert Kennedy oral history editing and transcribing. I canít remember the exact lines that we drew; they didnít count for much in that kind of small operation. It was very fluid in those years I would say at least as far as I was concerned.
GESELBRACHT: How did you identify what would work in terms of bringing people in and taking them out to the community? What was effective, how did you recognize what wasnít going to work? What was the kind of structure that became apparent to you when you were trying to think how to match people with the opportunities in the community?
HACKMAN: Well in that situation you fairly quickly develop something like a template. You don't fill in every part of the template for every community. With Stewart Udall, for example, the longtime Secretary of the Interior, we brought him into Lowell, Massachusetts. Lowell, Massachusetts was a historical city in terms of the Industrial Revolution and the labor
movement and ethnic groups. One of the things that the City of Lowell was trying to think through was how it could use its history to revive itself. It was a very depressed, challenging area at that point. So we scheduled Udall for discussion with some of the town leaders after he had been taken on a tour of the old locks and mills and neighborhoods perhaps. Out of that, I believe, came some time later, perhaps several years, the proposal for the first National Urban Cultural Park, or something like that, folded into the National Park Service. But we would have taken Udall perhaps to meet with teachers who were teaching, if there was such a thing then, courses on the environment. We would relate the subject matter as much as we could to the background and interests of that person. If we brought in Tom Wicker, a distinguished journalist, he would perhaps meet with the nearby college journalism classes, or classes in current politics. Since we worked in communities with the League of Women Voters chapter as our coordinating partner, they almost always had good suggestions as to other organizations that would be interested and consequential. I don't recall that that part was all that challenging once we got into the program and had done it two or three times.
Most of these communities were small communities around Boston, though we went out to Springfield and the western part of the state a few times. In most cases, they were so pleased to have a household name coming to their community, and for free, that they were excited and usually amenable to suggestions and had good suggestions of their own. So it was a really good program and I was surprised that the Kennedy Library didnít keep it in that form. The later Kennedy Library when it was developed did bring in a lot of very distinguished speakers but mostly did that at the Kennedy Library as opposed to sending them out in the community. I think that a community visitor type program would have been something that almost every presidential library could have done with people who came out of the administration or who covered politics or were knowledgeable about it in that period. That would have been relatively easy to do in greater Kansas City or up and down the Hudson from Hyde Park or in lots of places around a presidential library. Once you get too far away in years, most of these potential visitors are dead and gone. But in the first 10-20 years after an administration, you could have done a lot with that as a kind of standard program. One of my frustrations with the National Archives and the Office of Presidential Libraries is that I always thought they should spot good things in one presidential library or another and then really promote it very actively to other Libraries almost as a best practices kind of thing. I didnít see a lot of that kind of leadership coming out of that office.
GESELBRACHT: I agree. Did you create the partnership with the League of Women voters, did you recognize that thatís the partner you needed to help you?
HACKMAN: As in a lot of things, Dan Fenn, who was a longtime resident of the Boston area, had been a member of the Tariff Commission during the Kennedy Administration, taught at the Harvard Business School before and after that, had headed many organizations, participated in the Boston area, he knew everyone. So he knew Lucy Benson who at that point maybe was or had recently been the national president of the League of Women Voters and had been the leader in Massachusetts. So we met with her for lunch or something like that, and that idea came out of that conversation. Dan was from Lexington, Massachusetts and in many communities he would know people, and he knew some of these people who we brought to Massachusetts whoíd been in the Kennedy Administration because Dan had been in Washington early on involved in recruiting people for the Administration. So he just knew a lot of people. He was a wonderful resource as well as a wonderful human being. He made a lot of things possible once that operation was in the Boston area.
GESELBRACHT: So did you talk with him quite often about organizing these different programs?
HACKMAN: Yeah. I learned a lot.
GESELBRACHT: Would he come to you with an idea for Ė he said, "You know, I talked to Udall last night. Heís going to be coming into town and give him a call" and that kind of thing?
HACKMAN: It would be more that we would talk about who we might be able to get or who might be appropriate for a certain area. Dan would usually either write the letter describing the program or get on the phone with whoever it was and invite them to come in. It probably would operate a little differently at different times whether we had the guest first or the interest of community first or we knew somebody was coming to town for some other reason. It usually took several months to set one of these days up and to get things organized. So it might work in different ways at different times. But I learned a lot from Fenn just because he knew so many different people in so many different organizations and because he was extremely open to ideas, very welcoming. He wasnít a directive person and he was much more helter-skelter than I ever was in my approach to things. I was more structured at that point in the way I did things and more organized I guess in some ways. So it was a good combination.
GESELBRACHT: When the guests arrived, did you drive him or her around? Is that part of your duty too?
HACKMAN: Yeah. Because usually I would be the person basically briefing them on what was coming up next and with some suggestions on who we were going to be talking to and what they might be interested in or what you might talk to them about. Often, if Dan Fenn had the whole day, he would be in the car and I would be in the car with whomever was coming in. One of the things we were trying to do was to build relationships that would endure for what would become the Kennedy Library proper. So we were always interested in putting somebody important in the community in the car with whomever the distinguished guest was. So you might have the principal of the high school on our way to the high school. Or you might have the owner of the local newspaper or the editor in the car while we were going down to meet with the journalists on the Lowell Sun or whatever the equivalent might be ó which again was a learning experience for me in terms of how you maximize the use of people who are coming in to do something for or with your institution. We probably should have done much more of that when I was at the Truman Library.
While I think of it Ray, I should mention that some years ago the Kennedy Library called four of us "founding fathers" together for a group oral history interview. That group was Dan Fenn, John Stewart, Larry Hackman, and Bill Moss who we hired to do oral history interviews several years after I came and then he also moved to the Waltham operation and served as the senior archivist, especially on records relating to foreign and military affairs. He wrote a book on oral history, a manual, and was later State Archivist of Tennessee. He died several years ago. Dan Fenn is over 90 and still teaching. John Stewart is 82 and still playing basketball and softball regularly. I am the lazy one of the bunch.
GESELBRACHT: Youíve mentioned to me that you had some experience with the Kennedy Library involving an educational program that was decision-based that was later important to you when you came to the Truman Library. Could you describe that?
HACKMAN: I might not get the sequence exactly right, but I believe someone came to Dan Fenn, the president and maybe the chief rabbi of Temple Mishkan Tefila, a conservative Jewish congregation in Newton, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. They wanted to do something ambitious with the Kennedy Library. Out of those conversations came a proposal to do a Presidential Festival at Temple Mishkan Tefilaa festival that ideally would involve to some degree all of the presidential libraries. That desire eventually evolved into the loan of artifacts, at least one but usually several on loan from each library, to be displayed in exhibit cases at the Temple. This included the famous Torah from the Truman Library, now on permanent display there. We brought in interesting artifacts from every presidential library mainly as an audience draw. We brought in a series of prominent speakers to give public presentations. I remember Arthur Schlesinger, for example, and a couple of former White House staff members. This all took place over a week or maybe two.
Quite in advance of the festival we had this idea to do something with decision-making. Perhaps at first we thought of developing case materials for group discussion. Dan was very accustomed to this approach in his teaching at Harvard Business School. I canít remember quite how the idea of doing a film evolved. But since it was basically my assignment, they eventually called me the executive producer of the film. We hired a firm from Cambridge, Envision Inc, to come in and work with us. And Dan knew a mechanical engineer on the faculty at MIT and he figured out how to make this film interactive by using electronic voting devices that you could be wired to theatre types seats in a small auditorium at the Temple. So we made this film and the core structure was a series of background points, mostly with the camera moving around on still photos a la Ken Burns, then a question related to the background, then a pause for discussion and a formal decision, then on to the next issue. You would stop several times during this 16 mm film to discuss and vote, literally stop the projector. The film was about Kennedyís 1962 Executive Order on discrimination in housing. The name of it was With the Stroke of a Pen. Kennedy had committed himself in the 1960 campaign to sign an Executive Order on discrimination in housing. So we provided in the film background about that commitment, what some of the political and legal issues were related to this matter. Then at appropriate times we stopped the film and the script explained the political and advocacy situation just before the November 1962 mid term elections "Would you sign the Order?" Then, if so, "Would you sign it before or after the election?" Then after further legal background, "Would you sign a narrow Order or a broad Order?" The case was basically a consideration of moral, political and legal issues.
We used the film with groups during the Festival and then in some other places with audiences ranging from junior high school students to former members of the White House staff, from academics from Harvard and Brandeis to general audiences, a wide range. And it worked with everyone. Audiences got super engaged in it. With some of the higher level groups, they would go from the film and treat it then in a much fuller discussion around the table with people talking about it in a more sophisticated way. The film was 17 minutes, but a group of high school students might be there for letís say 45 minutes, seeing the film, stopping for discussion and for voting, then for reflective discussion after the film was over. That film won a number of silver medals or bronze medals in various competitions that Envision entered it in. I still have copies of some of those certificates somewhere ó or maybe they're at the Truman Library by now, Iím not sure.
I left the Kennedy operation soon thereafter to go to Washington to work for NHPRC, but I carried that experience in my mind for 20 years before I came to the Truman Library. When I thought about Presidential Libraries in the meantime, which was not often, I thought also
about what I felt the Kennedy Library proper had become, and that film often popped into my mind as an example of something that was highly engaging. It was highly respectful of an audience, gave them accurate background information but didnít draw the conclusions for them, challenged them to think about it and to go through a logical, informative decision making process, overall an experience that would give them something to take away from their visit that they would want to think and talk further about and share with others. They would almost certainly have learned from the experience in a participatory and interesting way. So that small one-time experience was useful to me when I got to the Truman Library and it influenced both the decision theaters in the presidential exhibition and most of all the White House Decision Theater.
GESELBRACHT: No, I agree. It sounds like you're describing the White House Decision Center and the way it basically runs and the way people react to it. All different kinds of people reacting as the different types of people you brought into this film reacted.
HACKMAN: As the years went by I sometimes visited other presidential libraries, and more of them after I was at Truman. Several of the other presidential libraries did something around presidential decisions but these were not as informative, challenging, engaging, open ended. Their goal, I recall at Reagan in particular, seemed to be to promote the reputation of the president. I never could understand and I still don't to this day why presidential libraries don't take a more challenging approach with their visitors. And I donít mean challenging them by overwhelming them with information, which most do. What I mean is conveying one way or another the message that history is never settled and that policies and events need to be rethought and that visitors can be engaged in that process. I believe that many people will go away pleased and excited by an experience that is not simply predictable and that provides for contingencies. Involving them in rethinking and remaking decisions from the past is a good way to convey that.
GESELBRACHT: Itís thrilling to me to hear the origins of our White House Decision Center which weíll talk about more later. I think the Decision Center is Ė well one of the most important parts of the legacy that youíve left to the Truman Library, as vital today as it was when it was first opened, maybe even growing in vitality as it matures and flourishes. As you're describing this, Iím wondering why the National Archives and Presidential Libraries haven't done more of this type of thing. I canít help but think that what you're describing at the Kennedy Library in those old days was a very creative process that you were a part of. Maybe you were primarily responsible for that, maybe you had good partners, but there was vitality and creativity in it. Maybe those things are just rare and thatís why we havenít seen more of it in the Libraries. Before we leave the Kennedy Library, youíve mentioned to me that you got some sense while working there of the presidential library as an institution with strengths but also weaknesses and problems. Can you describe how this model you were perceiving struck you?
HACKMAN: Probably not very in any great detail, Ray. Itís hard for me to sort out when I formed certain impressions. I believe I had visited the Truman Library at least once before I came for that interview which led me to the Kennedy Oral History Project job. I returned maybe a couple of times over the years. I was not impressed with the public part, with the exhibit part. It just seemed to me that having rooms filled with Presidential gifts, big objects which had no meaningful historical relevance to the Truman period other than they were given to the White House, that always disappointed me ó that you couldnít do something more impactful and engaging for the public. And Iím sure that the public wasnít very discontented with it. The publicís expectations of presidential libraries I thought have been
very low. I think they're higher now, but they were not very demanding.
Over the years, I went back two or three times to the Kennedy Library after it opened. The Kennedy Library, because of the magic of the name Kennedy and the continued family involvement in politics and public affairs and so on, always drew a lot of people that I thought of as on a pilgrimage to a great cathedral where the saintís bones were kept ó rather than looking for a more substantive experience. Which is too much to hope for, I know. But it seems to me the Kennedy Library ó pandered is too strong a word ó did not do much in the way of its exhibits and the experience that the public had while they were at that site other than wow them with a few objects and spaces and appeals to nostalgia. I don't think you went away with any of your impressions changed or that you had gotten involved in anything in any depth that really challenged you. It was an impressive site and a strong architectural statement, as I.M. Peiís buildings often are.
Ray, you had written a question somewhere, would I have thought of working for any other Presidential Library than Truman? And the answer is no. After I left that Kennedy Library pilot phase, I never had any interest in going to work for a presidential library except for Truman, and that one mainly for more personal reasons. So I did not come to Truman feeling that presidential libraries are just the greatest thing and Iím honored to be a part of such a system, and now I just need to preside over something thatís doing wonderful work and thatís going to be a capstone for me. It was quite far from that view.
GESELBRACHT: Your next stop along the way, on the road to being Director of the Truman Library, was at the National Historical Publications Commission, soon to become the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. How did you make that next move and when did you arrive?
HACKMAN: That was as surprising a move as falling into the job with the Kennedy Oral History Project. I had never thought about having a career in archives. I had never read deeply or hardly at all about archival theory or methods. I had never done much in the way of collections management, and what I had done, I did not think I did well ó a bit on the Robert Kennedy papers at the Kennedy Library. I had known almost nothing about NHPC (The National Historical Publications Commission), and I didnít pay any attention to it. Iíd hardly known it was part of the National Archives.
A group of state archivists had lobbied for several years in the early Seventies to have a separate national program created which would provide substantial funding to assist state archives ó which they might then use some of it to do other things in their states to improve archival conditions. That advocacy effort did not succeed on their terms; instead, the Congress decided to take an existing commission, the National Historical Publications Commission, and add an R for Records to it. The National Archives was given a program which it never asked for and frankly did not want. I took a call one day from Ann Campbell who was the first paid Executive Director of the Society of American Archivists, located in Chicago. Ann told me I ought to think about applying for the new position as director of the new Historical Records Program at NHPRC. Maybe she knew I was restless at Kennedy. I didnít want to stay a Kennedy person for my career. Ann Campbell had been on our staff at the Kennedy Oral History Program. Sheíd been the chief editor and administrative officer if I recall correctly. She was incredibly bright and hard-working and personable.
So I looked into this. I donít know who I talked to but surely I must have talked to some people who knew NHPC and also could provide some background on the new program.
Sandi and I liked living in Belmont, in the Boston area generally, we had two young children, but I didnít see other opportunities on the horizon, in part because I did not know what I wanted to do in career terms. I knew I didnít want to continue to do Kennedy stuff for very long. The more I looked at this new position, the more I could see that there might be both another great learning experience and opportunities to develop a new and significant national program. I say that, maybe thatís the way I thought about it, but I really don't recall that with confidence.
So I tried to investigate the situation really carefully almost as if I were preparing to begin in the position before I had applied for it or been selected for it. Frank Burke in the National Archives had just become the new Executive Director of NHPRC and he wrote an article for the American Archivist some years ago about the early development of the Records Program, which he calls ďThe Hackman Years.Ē He recounts the large quantity of questions that I was asking and all of the materials, background that I was asking for, and all of the ideas that I was proposing as possible approaches before I even began work in Washington. When I did get there, Herb Angel, who was the former Deputy Archivist of the United States, had drafted initial regulations to set up the structure as to how the new program might operate within NHPRC. You don't really need to know all of this in this interview.
I took that job, and we packed up and moved back to Washington. I was there for five years. It was a third opportunity, another great learning experience for someone who didnít come really out of the archives community, and it meant a much greater level of complexity, scope, responsibility, and visibility for me. It helped me to understand as well as develop my leadership ability and some other skills as well. I had the opportunity, in fact was required, to know the archival community in a really rich sense. I came to know everybody it seemed in the leadership across the country, in all of the regional and state organizations, as well as in the Society of American Archivists. I learned a lot about many individual archives, both by visiting them but especially through their grant applications to the Historical Records Grant Program. I worked with the leadership of the profession over and over again, became involved personally in leadership in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference and in the SAA. I learned a good amount about the issues facing the profession, what the current methodologies were and the best practices, about the issues that people were really grappling with at that point and who the key people and their projects were. And I began to develop my own sense of what the major challenges were and how they might be addressed.
In those days there was a very limited archival literature beyond the American Archivist journal. Our first records grant was to support the first five basic manuals on archives, how you do arrangement, description, reference, surveys, security. It was a kind of take-off period in some ways for the profession because the SAA had a full-time staff for the first time, was developing a formal publishing program for the first time, was much more ambitious and energetic and effective. The NHPRC Records Grant Program was new, and it created a statewide network of state coordinators and advisory boards appointed by the governor in every state according to NHPRC guidelines. For the first time in the states, people started assessing conditions and needs and setting priorities together. For the first time, the state archivists were called together by the NHPRC, usually at least once a year, to talk about common problems, talk about funding, begin to form kind of a nascent advocacy group on a broader scale than it had been when the legislation was passed. A new organization, the National Association of State Archives and Records Administration (NASARA) was created; it later became the NAGARA, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators. They were regarded at times as rivals by
the SAA. Since the NHPRC supported some meetings of the state group, as well as making grants to the SAA, we often got caught in the middle of that.
I looked at hundreds of grant proposals to the NHPRC. As the Records Program director, I recommended them up or down, or to be modified or made conditional upon some further contribution by the applicant. We met with the Commission members three or four times a year; it had a member of the Supreme Court, a member from the Senate, a member from the House, representatives from the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the American Association for State and Local History, the Society of American Archivists and public members appointed by the President. So I learned how to work in a board governance structure and process. The Executive Director, Frank Burke gave me incredible latitude on almost all aspects and he was very supportive, so I had a real chance to take hold of a new national and nationwide program and to help shape it.
GESELBRACHT: To what degree were you responsible for this new situation among all these different actors that you're describing? Did you create this? Did you bring all the state archivists together and do these other things that you're talking about?
HACKMAN: No. Given the regulations that Herb Angel already had written and I believe already just had been adopted when I came, there was in them the outline for state boards and coordinators to be created; so I didnít create the mechanism but I was certainly extremely active in making it a reality in practice. I was drafting the letters to governors or calling their staff to get them to appoint the state coordinators and members of the state advisory boards. And then I went to meet with many of those boards in their early meetings to help them shape an agenda and make sure they understood the NHPRC requirements and grant review process.
I divided up the states in terms of who would be our day to day liaisons. I took at least a third of the states. Bill Fraley took some and Edie Hedlin took a portion. All of the proposals with staff recommendations for action would come through me. If West Virginia and Indiana were Bill Fraleyís states, he would communicate with the people who were trying to develop grant proposals from those states, then at a certain point in the process he would have to draft his staff recommendation which I would then review and work with Bill, often to make revisions to his recommendation, often to return it to the applicant for revision before that. After I finally signed off on our recommendation for action by the Commission in an upcoming meeting, Frank would have to sign off on them too. He seldom recommended revisions at that point. Then they would go to the commission for a formal vote. Some proposals didnít come through the state mechanism but were considered national proposals, e.g. from the SAA or the American Association for the Advancement of Science or the Leadership Conference of Women Religious or the National Nurses Association. We would send them out for reviews by archivists and experts in those fields.
So I didnít create the program through advocacy or set up the initial regulations. I was basically the main implementer of the program. But in the implementation process we created the first national priorities that had ever been created for archives in the United States. And we drafted the preferred approaches that we thought should be taken to address the highest priority archival issues. Again I felt it was a great opportunity to learn and to provide some real leadership. Inevitably in going around and meeting with the state boards, meeting with all of the archival associations, meeting people in advisory groups that were set up to deal with particular issues that we were interested in or that they might want to come to us on, I could have an influence on a lot that was going on in the archival world in
the United States. Itís almost laughable at how small the Historical Records Programís grants budget was commensurate with the influence that it had in those years. If you were to talk to people who were active in the archival profession in those years, some of them would say, I believe, ďMy God, NHPRC had such a substantial influence even though they had so little money to do what could have been done and should have been done.Ē We tried to create and seize opportunities to address key archival issues through those small funds and by influencing other organizations and individuals to lead and to provide support in projects to address important issues. We constantly sought ways to leverage our funds and our influence.
GESELBRACHT: Did your interest in what you call archival advocacy develop through your time you were at NHPRC?
HACKMAN: It did, Ray, and from two directions. One was that given the paucity of funding and the fact that it was a new program, we had to work really hard to get the White House and especially the Congress to understand what we were about, to get people all over the country to write those letters and make phone calls pointing out that the NHPRC was operating a nationwide grant program in its first year with only $200,000. Thatís laughable, so you need to get it to a million, then you need to get it to two million and then try to increase it to much much more. So a lot of advocacy was needed from the grassroots into Washington and we worked hard at that. And then I learned about advocacy from a different perspective with a different purpose. As I visited the various states and a lot of individual archives, it was fairly easy to see that a lot of these archives were extremely weak and that even the State Archives in quite a few states had a tiny influence and were themselves very small in staffing and other resources and had weak and poorly qualified leadership; one state archivist was a former used car salesman, another a former undertaker. So I could figure out pretty quickly that if things were going to improve in many cases to even a minimally acceptable level, that somehow programs were going to have to get more resources and that meant having more influence and that that was going to happen only if you had stronger leadership and more visible and active advocacy and promotion.
One of the things we tried to do and that I still believe strongly in, and I put this argument in that advocacy book I put together that was published by the SAA a few years ago, is that there is considerable potential leverage in the grant application process itself ó if the applicant and the granting source are willing to use the process as an advocacy tool. As an example, suppose an archives asks a philanthropist or a federal grant program for a $200,000 grant. Often the applicant should be pleased, not disappointed, if the granting program offers perhaps only fifty thousand the first year and fifty the second year and zero the third year, all of it conditional upon firm agreement from the administrative bishop or the mayor or whoever the chief officer is for the applicant that the organization will agree to provide the other $50,000 the first year and $50,000 the second year and to keep the new project staff archivist on for a third year or beyond. Those conditional grants that provide leverage for the archives program within the applicant organization are not easy to pull off. But such leverage is one thing you're always looking for because it can be a tool to change the stature of an archives program within an organization. To be effective in advocacy you have to identify, create and use influence, and looking always for leverage is part of that. One way or another in developing an organization, you're always looking to gain influence. Often it is within the organization itself, whether itís influence with the president or the the budget officer or the legal officer or the head of the automation department. Or outside, it is seeking influence from ďsignificant others,Ē the people who are significant to people on the
inside who control the resources. You're always trying to find that kind of influence and apply it to strengthen your program.
Advocacy also relates especially to something weíve talked about before, to a part of strategic planning, to setting an agenda. When I was writing my sections of my book on advocacy, my wife Sandi read my long introductory chapter on basic advocacy principles and techniques. And she said at one point, ďWell, itís really simple. Advocacy is just figuring out what you need, figuring out who has what you need, and figuring how to get them to give it to you.Ē That is basically what it is. But a lot of people don't give much attention to that first step: What do you need? That relates to creating a vision for what you want the organization to be and an honest assessment as to where it is now; and then that gap between these becomes the agenda that ordinarily requires effective advocacy. Itís not just: well I want to advocate for this little project and then maybe another project. You have to have a framework and an agenda within it before you can be smart in how you go about your advocacy and for what. Otherwise itís just taking a few little bites rather than moving along to get the whole loaf.
I learned an awful lot during those five years at NHPRC about advocacy. In part, it was being able to recognize where it wasnít happening. Who wasnít able to do it? Who didnít recognize that it needed to be done? Who didnít think that it was in their job description to do it? You can find a lot of folks in any organization who say, ďWell, we really need to somehow get to be much bigger or to have resources adequate to our present mission. But I donít know whoís going to do that. Iím hoping the boss does that at some point. Or maybe weíll get a new governor and heíll love archives.Ē So part of building an organization is trying to get more people to recognize the importance of advocacy and to be willing to participate in doing it one way or another just as you go about your work every day.
GESELBRACHT: Now you're making me recall that somewhere along the way you told me that your real interest in any job you approach is in the institution and how to realize its potential and make it a healthy organization based on some clarity of vision and appropriate resources and all of that. I hear you describing that with what you're saying about archival advocacy and I know that you brought that point of view to the Truman Library. I've wondered in the past where it came from because in my experience this was a very unusual way to approach all the questions surrounding the presidential library. I used to think well maybe he learned that at the Harvard School of Government. Now as I listen to you, I think this is something that grew incrementally out of all of these work experiences that you had.
HACKMAN: Absolutely, absolutely. It just came along the way. And much the richest experience was the third one and that was at the New York State Archives. That is where I remained the longest and established and addressed the broadest and most ambitious agenda and achieved the most dramatic results and left the strongest legacy.
I was thinking about this when I was looking at your draft questions. A couple of things became clear to me. It relates to what you always describe as my unique way of looking at an organization. I don't think itís unique, but perhaps itís not common in the kinds of organizations that you and I have worked in most of our careers. Also, thereís a negative aspect to it, and that is that I have never had a deep interest in the historical subject matter of any program that Iíve been working with. When I was doing Kennedy oral history interviews, I had to be very interested in the Kennedy Administration and the people and issues around that. So thatís a major exception. When I was the State Archivist of New York, I was never deeply interested in New York history. I read books about it, enough to make
intelligent conversation and persuade others of the importance of the documentation of this history. But I was never knowledgeable enough to go on a scholarly panel related to issues in New York history. The same is true with the Truman Library. I always have felt that as the leader of an organization my main interest, my preoccupation, needed to be the development of the organization. On other content, you need to know enough to get by. I've never taken the history-related subject matter home with me at night as what I most wanted or most needed to spend most of my time on. Because I havenít had that interest or curiosity, itís left me with much more time that I could devote to advancing the organization. I have been very interested in the design and content of exhibits and educational programs rather than scholarly research, perhaps because I can see a more direct impact on a broader audience and on the public visibility and reputation of the organization and those are often very useful to the development of the organization itself.
Another thing I learned about myself came from personality type profiles Ė- the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator and a couple of other instruments that have been administered in management seminar programs I participated in. Every time these indicated that I had a strong desire to create a framework to operate in, a high interest in ďbig pictureĒ thinking and in an organized agenda, an intense dissatisfaction with incrementalism, a limited interest or capacity in technical issues, limited empathy for folks who don't think the way I do or who donít appreciate someone who thinks that way. I was always very ambitious for the program or organization I was involved in, especially if I was the director. The lack of empathy could be a real challenge at times for me as a manager and for some staff members around me. Iíve read enough about these indicators to believe that thereís a good deal of validity in those instruments, that I do come at things from an atypical perspective. The first thing I always wanted to do with an organization was to scout out the whole territory and to somehow draw a big picture of it in which then I can begin to think about an agenda and about strategies to do big things. I donít have a lot of patience with what I might feel is thinking small. Because of this, along with a lack of patience and empathy, I am far from being a great manager. A good leader, but not always a good manager. I sometimes lose interest in or patience with issues that a good manager needs to deal with.
So learning how to do the things well that my mind and personality also naturally gravitate toward was a gradual process. By the time I got to Truman, for better and for worse, you might say I was fully formed, or however you want to describe it. Maybe just set in my ways would be another description.
GESELBRACHT: You're helping me to understand something that I've been feeling as weíve talked about all these, from my perspective, steps along the way to your arriving at the Truman Library. That is that in each case, in graduate school, at the Kennedy Library, in your different assignments that you had at NHPRC, thereís a you in the story. Thereís something that makes up you that you're describing partly in terms of the Myers Briggs results that create the special character of that part of the story. Somebody else would have had all those experiences youíve described and it just would have been totally different with completely different outcomes. But thereís something in you that created the situation that developed. Iím thinking to myself that Iím sure, and I imagine you, with your toy fort or toy soldiers or the cowboys and Indians type stuff, all these things I imagine you when you were a child that your mother or your aunt who liked to observe such things could have seen that personality that there just was a you that was going to go through life in this way that weíre describing. No? You're saying no?
HACKMAN: I don't think so. Not at all. I think at that point my parents probably would have
worried some because I Ė it wasnít that I was at all a recluse or didnít enjoy going to school and with lots of friends. But there were a lot of the things that the people around me did that I had little interest in. When relatives would get together to play cards, if I possibly could get by with going in the other room and reading a book, I might do that. I was not a people person or letís say a small talk person in the way that small town and extended family culture values highly. So it wouldnít surprise me Ė my father died when I was 16 and he was sick a long time Ė if my parents were worried about how I would fit in. Because they didnít have the background to see what kinds of things I might do in the future and what kind of characteristics might be valuable to success. Certainly they had very high expectations for my sister and brother and I, but I don't think they would have seen me as having great strengths other than being bright in school, at least enough to do really well in what the nuns at St. Maryís grade school wanted us to do in the classroom. Basic math and reading and writing, answering by rote the Catechism questions they would drill us in, and being well behaved and respectful.
In college and graduate school, I learned for the first time that I could work incredibly hard. I had not worked hard when I was growing up because I hated the kind of work that there was in front of me. It was only in those jobs that weíve been talking about where I learned more about what I was interested in and what my strengths and my weaknesses were ó enough to be able to make good use of the strengths and downplay the weaknesses. It was just what you said, it was gradual. Which is why I can look back on those experiences and feel so positive about them when I think of them as learning experiences. While I feel I was successful in all of my professional positions, and almost spectacularly so in New York, I don't assess them strictly in terms of the legacy. I also view each as a learning experience and in that way I can relate each to what came next.
GESELBRACHT: Your next position was as Director of the New York State Archives. What made you want to leave a good career at the National Archives to take this position? How did you perceive the challenge of the new job and what were your experiences there that made you into our Truman Library Director, the future Director?
HACKMAN: I left NHPRC for a combination of reasons. Ronald Reagan and his Budget Director, David Stockman, proposed in the Federal Budget for fiscal year 1981 or maybe it was for FY1982 to abolish all funding for NHPRC grants, which was tiny anyway, maybe $4 million for both programs divided 50-50 between Publications and Records. Even more than that budget proposal but related to it was the fact that I was disappointed with the leadership of the National Archives. The National Archives hadn't wanted the R in NHPRC and never could see what I believed was its potential advantage to the National Archives itself. Here you have a grant function in which you can relate to organizations all over the country and through which you can relate to every governor and to the state archivist and a board of sometimes significant folks ó and all of those boards could become stronger and more active as advocates over time. And yet the National Archives never seemed to want to even think about this, doesnít even want to face the challenge of turning that nationwide structure into an advocacy mechanism that could help the National Archives as a whole. They only saw it as a potential drain on their funding for their core programs.
This is similar to my view later on presidential libraries; I could not understand why the Office of Presidential Libraries and the National Archives could never figure out how to take all of those nonprofit support and partner organizations with their many influential board members and bring them together to the extent that they could become a powerful advocacy organization for not only the Office of Presidential Libraries, but also for the National
Archives. You could have harnessed that group, and the Board of the National Archives Foundation, and the Coalition to Save our Documentary Heritage, and developed stronger advocacy on behalf of the National Archives. At least you could have tried.
In any case, this lack of vision and imagination in the National Archives was one factor in my leaving NHPRC in 1981, because I couldnít see that getting better. Also, I had no interest in staying around and trying eventually to become the Executive Director of NHPRC. I hoped that Frank Burke would stay there for a good while, but also I had no interest in dealing with all of those historical editors who were scholars preoccupied with funding for their long term editorial projects. I didnít believe that as much funding should be going to editing projects as to supporting work on historical records around the country. So it seemed to me that in the long-term NHPRC was a place that would frustrate me.
Some background on the New York State Archives: We used to say when I was there that New York was the last state to create a state archives. All through the twentieth century there had been just a staff of a couple of people within the state library; they didnít even call it the state archives, it was just the archives and manuscript staff of the state library in the State Education Department. After they first passed legislation sometime in the 1970s to create a state archives, not a very strong law, they were going to hire the first state archivist proper. And I went up and talked to the Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Education who would make that selection. I met the people in the state library; they were about as odd as some of the older people in the National Archives when I first went there, and I decided not to apply. A person who did apply and became the first real state archivist in New York was Ed Weldon, and he then stayed for four or five years and then took the job as Deputy Archivist of the United States when Bob Warner became the Archivist of the United States. Ed Weldon had assembled a small but good staff at the new New York State Archives. And it was about the time of the Reagan attack on NHPRC when Ed Weldon moved to the National Archives.
Incidentally, in my papers, which have been deposited at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, is the journal that I kept that year, 1981, and I titled it ďJournal of a Plague Year.Ē Out of that Reagan threat, a little coalition formed which began to call itself the Coalition for our Documentary Heritage. It formed around that crisis and later became the core of the advocacy group that eventually helped pass legislation whereby the National Archives was removed from the General Services Administration and became an independent agency as it is today. And I testified on behalf of that legislation after I was in New York before a Senate Subcommittee chaired by Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri.
Anyway, New York seemed to me like a good place to go at that time. The Records Grant Program had just made a series of grants to a small number of states to undertake for the first time a statewide assessment and planning and reporting project. What are the problems? Whatís the agenda that needs to be addressed and howóand so on? Most states took those little $25,000 grants and hired a new staff person, put that grant funding all into staffing to doing a survey and then applying the findings to setting priorities. When I went to New York, probably the smartest thing I ever did in my life was to say, "Weíre going to do this all with our present staff and with whatever assistance we can scrounge from within the State Education Department. Weíre not going to rush it in three or six months; weíre going to do it right. And then weíre going to put all of the grant money into publication of the report. Itís going to be an impressive, handsome report that will get attention and respect, and people will be impressed with the level of work weíre doing." Bruce Dearstyne was the guy who really did yeomanís work on this project. We put a lot of time, effort,
resources, and strategic thinking into preparing that report; we involved and engaged and consulted with organizations and key individuals all over the state. And then we communicated the findings and recommendations and engaged the leaders in government and politics and in the archives and records communities. I later wrote a separate article about that project in the Public Historian called ďFrom Assessment to Action in the Empire State.Ē That report, Toward a Usable Past: Historical Records in the Empire State, is the best single piece of work I ever did anywhere, though of course I had a lot of help from others, and especially Bruce. That report more or less became the agenda for my 14 years in Albany. We accomplished an awful lot of that agenda in the way of new legislation and appropriations and performance and services on archives and records in state and local government and in assisting in development in the non-government sector as well. We consolidated the State government records management program with the State Archives and just really did well overall.
But my real point above was to link NHPRC to New York, because when I went to Albany that planning and assessment grant had just been made. In fact, I had gone up to meet with the New York State Historical Records Advisory Board to talk about what they might do with it. Then I took the New York job and took that little $25,000 grant and we really made a lot out of that by thinking hard about what we wanted to do with it and how. New York state government was no longer in the expansive Rockefeller years. Hugh Carey was the governor when I went to Albany and then Mario Cuomo was elected for his several terms. George Pataki came in as governor just before I left. The New York State Archives was just a great challenge and it presented a great opportunity to take everything I had learned before, especially at NHPRC, about the archival community and archival needs and conditions and archival theory and methods, and so on, and about advocacy to the extent that I had learned something about it, and to apply all of that in a state archives which was very much still in an initial stage of archival development.
We were still very actively identifying and then bringing in the records from the construction of the Erie Canal, the original land survey records, and so on; so many records going back to the Colonial and statehood periods were still out in state agency custody, often in a warehouse or a basement, and in some cases agencies did not want to give up physical custody to important records they had held so long, or records that perhaps they felt might reflect poorly on the agency. Ed Weldonís staff had made a really great start on that identification, survey, negotiation and accessioning process. We also had to do some very basic things like adding lots of new movable shelving and repairing the roof and developing the expertise for a functioning preservation laboratory.
Then we passed comprehensive modern legislation on local government archives and records; we did this by working with local officials and their state associations and their lobbyists to get a strong piece of legislation passed. A second piece of local government records legislation, the Local Government Improvement Fund law, gave us the annual funding to create nine regional offices and to award seven to ten million dollars each year for archives and records program projects in local governments. Then we worked with the Governorís Office of Management and Productivity to convince the Cuomo Administration that they ought to link the Records Management Program which was then in the Office of General Services ó and that OGS cared almost nothing about, were not doing it well, just a warehousing and retrieval operation ó to the Stateís archival program. They agreed to transfer the records management program and authority to the State Archives and we became the New York State Archives and Records Administration. And we greatly strengthened and expanded the records management function, especially in training and
technical assistance to state agencies and we built ongoing working relationships with most agencies. Then we secured legislation called The Documentary Heritage Program to make grants and provide technical assistance to non-government repositories statewide. I won't go into any detail on these programs, but we did get a whole lot done during my 14 years in Albany. And l learned a lot about advocacy and promotion and working in a large bureaucracy ó the State Education Department was very large.
I had inherited the core of a really strong, professional staff, and we grew that a lot over the years, from just over 20 to over 100 staff positions. We were very aggressive about getting around bureaucratic restrictions in recruiting a strong staff nationally. We worked hard to bring in some highly qualified professional staff and recognized leaders from around the country. We were intensely involved in the archival community locally, regionally, statewide, nationally, internationally. We may have had more international visitors coming to see the New York State Archives and what it was doing in this period than came to the National Archives in these same years. I believe that while I was State Archivist, we had more staff elected as lifetime SAA Fellows than probably any other archives in the country, including the National Archives. We won awards for advocacy, outreach, and publications, and received the SAAís Distinguished Service Award which only goes to one organization in the country and in some years to nobody. So we were intensely involved in the profession. We also were very aggressive in seeking and receiving national grants from NEH and NHPRC. We set up a mechanism under another new piece of legislation, the New York State Archives Partnership Trust, to enable us to raise private money and to control its use, and in the process to create a high powered board that could help the archives as advocates. I believe that by the time I left, the New York State Archives was regarded as the strongest state archives and the most energetic and active leader in government archives in the nation.
During my years in Albany I also became a leader in the archives profession. I was elected to the SAA Council for a four year term and was elected by my fellow Council members to serve on the Executive Committee. I served on several SAA program committees and chaired the committee for the annual meeting in Boston, the best attended to that time. I was the driving force behind the first ever Committee on Goals and Priorities for the Archives Profession. I was made a lifetime Fellow of the Society and the nominations committee selected me to be a candidate for president of the Society, a close election that I lost to Frank Evans. I also wrote significant articles during this period for The American Archivist, History News, The Public Historian, the journal of the International Council on Archives and other journals, and I represented the United States on two international committees of the ICA. So it was a time when I was demonstrating to myself and to others that I had earned a respected reputation among my peers within the professional archives community.
monthly and made frequent presentations to the Board of Regents Committee on Cultural Education and sometimes to the full board. The Regents were appointed by the State Legislature and had very useful relationships with people in their districts . So every single day was focusing on ambitious program goals, always in terms of how you could accomplish them. Many different parties were either engaged or potentially engaged that we needed to bring to bear on the agenda that we were addressing. Building relationships was very important. And the entire leadership team in the State Archives was active at building those relationships, especially by providing excellent professional services.
On the other hand a highly energetic and highly qualified staff like we built at the State Archives can mean that no one is ever entirely satisfied or happy about anything. Strong staff have high expectations. We were constantly struggling to improve our internal communications, coordination, planning, procedures, priorities and so on. That can be a wearing process where half of the staff are feeling they're not being asked enough for their advice and that others are being asked too much for their advice. Some of these people that I brought in on the staff are notorious in the archival profession as hard chargers with very high expectations for themselves and others, and also outspoken and often discontented. So that was a more intense and demanding experience than Iíd had before with a staff.
So when I came to the Truman Library, I was coming out of an experience involving incredible change, rapid growth, constant assessment, thinking, rethinking, revising, strategic planning, intense engagement with what was going on in the field of archives in the country and to a certain extent in the world. The Truman Library culture was very different. It wasnít engaged on any of the archives functions very much with other parts of the profession, even those that might have many similarities with it. It wasnít accustomed to big changes, rapid changes, and it wasnít accustomed to strong, positive experiences other than the very positive feed back the archives staff received from many researchers. I know that the Libraryís museum staff had wanted to have much stronger permanent exhibits for a very long time and that the Library had not been able to accomplish that. For a long time that had not been a high priority with the leadership in the Library or the Institute. As you know, I felt from my direct personal experience and from observation of many other archival programs, that when you're an archival shop surely you would have procedures and priorities that everybody understood in appraisal and reappraisal, in the systematic creation of excellent finding aids, and that there would be a real preservation administration framework, surely much more than substituting copies of documents on permanent acid-free paper ó which I don't think of as a viable long-term approach. So the staff experiences and expectations at Truman were simply different than the environment that I had been in and had helped to create.
I should pause here, Ray, to make clear that while the culture of the Truman Library was different from what I was accustomed to, part of that was because in many ways it was a more mature organization, it had been around for nearly forty years. When I was there, the Kennedy Library was just in the very early stage of development. The Historical Records Program at the NHPRC was new and had not even made its first grant when I arrived. The New York State Archives was new and small and in the early stage of development. So Truman might have been expected to operate in more settled ways and with less sense of urgency. And it is important to me to recognize that I worked at the Truman Library with some of my very favorite colleagues ever, some very talented and dedicated people.
Just off the top of my head, I think especially of you and how helpful you were to me in several capacities over the years, all of them important to me and to the Library, including
some very complex issues and special projects in collections management and also so many important presentations to groups small and large as we sought to engage and educate key potential supporters. Clay Bauske made a great contribution throughout the renovation and exhibit preparation process, often under frustrating and under-appreciated circumstances. If the new permanent exhibits turned out to his satisfaction, he really deserved them because he was central to all of that. Rhonda Cook was a smart, willing, tireless administrative assistant during almost all of my time at the Library. Day to day life would have seemed impossible without her. Until she resigned after a couple of years, Vicky Alexander was a superb administrative officer and a great source of strength for the Truman Library as a whole. On the Institute staff, Kay Morris and Lisa Sullivan were smart, energetic, well organized, patient, and essential to holding the Institute together during a period of transition and then putting it on a more successful path. Jeffrey Byrne was very effective overall during his several years in staffing the capital campaign and shaping a stronger development operation overall. And there were many other willing and able staff members who would have been a credit to any organization.
After I arrived at Truman, and regardless of whatever internal Library issues I would have liked to dig into more deeply, it didnít take long to conclude that Institute operations and the major renovation initiative were in deep trouble and that unless the situation was addressed effectively I was going to be not only disappointed and frustrated, but also I was going to be part of a huge and very visible failure. So almost all of my energy went to addressing that complex challenge that also involved lots of other people. The exception was when a crisis reared its head elsewhere, like the classified materials issues, which became almost all-absorbing for a period and was as much as anything else what I worried about because who knew what was going to wind up in the newspapers and in the courts. That situation had the potential to compromise everything else, the other crisis that I was dealing with on the renovation project. A continuing public series of charges and countercharges over the management of the classified materials might have easily led some people whose support was critical to conclude, "I don't want anything to do with that organization."
My wife Sandi, as we talked recently about how I got to Truman, was reminding me correctly that there was at least as much push as pull. The pushes were several. One, Iíd been in Albany nearly 14 years. We had never liked Albany as a place to live. I had done almost everything I thought that I could do on archives and records progress in the state. There were still a couple of issues remaining and the main one that would need to be addressed over the next five years, decade, and beyond was electronic records and information management. There were technical parts of that in which I absolutely had no interest, and very little ability on either. I just canít get my head around a lot of the technology and information management issues. And 14 years is a long time relative to our record of moving to a new job and a new city every five years before we came to Albany. In 1994-95 our son and daughter had just finished college. I made a list and I have it somewhere of pluses and minuses about taking the Truman job and leaving Albany. The only big negative about leaving Albany was that Sandi had a job as the Director of Operations at the New York State Museum that she was really beginning to like. Then you add to this the fact that the day that I was introduced as the new Director at the Truman Library we found out she had breast cancer. That was the most difficult summer and fall I had ever spent if I looked at it only in terms of the Truman Library and Institute challenges. But for her, it was a terrible time. If you put the two of us together, it was incredibly hard. Kate had just graduated from Williams and in the fall went to New York City and was working herself to death with three jobs. It was just a really hard time for all of us, including Alex who was working in Boston but worried about the rest of us. So thatís why I say that there was push. It was time to leave Albany
particularly for me ó and our children had no attachment to Albany at that point either.
GESELBRACHT: Sounds like it.
HACKMAN: On another of your questions, yes I had thought about the Truman job occasionally over the years but there was never really an opening. When I did think about it, and certainly as I did in 1995 when I was ready to leave one thing and go to another, the Truman opening was of interest for a couple of reasons. First, because of the opportunity to return to Missouri where we had aging parents. And second, because I had a sense that the Truman Library was a place that would benefit from stronger leadership than I thought it had had. When I was out there and first interviewed for the Kennedy Oral History Project job, way back in 1966,I had met Phil Brooks, J.R. Fuchs, maybe Milton Perry who was the museum curator at that point, maybe a couple of other people, probably Liz Safly and Phil Lagerquist. Then after I left NHPRC one time I was a consultant for the Missouri State Historical Records Advisory Board on their strategic planning grant, the equivalent of the assessment project that we had done in Albany after I went there. And Ben Zobrist was on that Missouri board, and I was not at all impressed with him. He laughed a lot and was a really nice fellow, everybody liked him, but I couldnít see anything impressive that he was engaged with or contributing to on the planning project. Maybe I had gained some other impressions of Ben and the Library along the way.
Jumping ahead, Bob Warner told me at a conference at the Johnson Library that during his years as Archivist of the United States they had considered several times firing Ben Zobrist as director of the Truman Library, and Bob wrote that to me in a letter as well; that letter is now with my papers at the University of Wisconsin. It was only after I had left the Truman Library that Dick Jacobs also told me that for some time before I arrived, perhaps for years, the Office of Presidential Libraries had regarded the Truman Library as the weakest Library in the system. I donít believe that he gave me any particulars other than poor leadership.
HACKMAN: Ray, Iím not sure what else to say about New York. Iíve already talked too much about it. I learned a lot about strategic planning and advocacy as I said and working in a large agency and in a political environment.
GESELBRACHT: Was there anything else in your experience that was important in creating the person who became our Director in July, 1995? We've talked a lot about how you developed the ideas that you brought to the Truman Library. I of course was part of the NARA culture, it was all that I had known after graduate school. I had been in presidential libraries my entire career, and Iíd never seen anybody like you before. I think it took me quite a long time after your arrival just to understand some of the language that you used, what it meant. Weíve talked quite a bit about how you developed that way of thinking and the language that followed it. But was there anything else in your experience that you think to mention that came with you to the Truman Library that helped to make those very eventful five years in the Libraryís history?
Do you want to stop here today?
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