A Conversation with Washington Leaders
Articles,  Blog

A Conversation with Washington Leaders

(audience applauds) – So this is a rare
opportunity to hear from three of the most important
people in Washington, D.C. who run three of our most
important cultural organizations, and I don’t recall the three of them being on a panel like this before. Maybe they have been, but have you been together
on a panel like this? – [Lonnie] Separately. – Yes, but all three, okay. – [Carla] This is the first
time with all of our new roles. – All right, so let me
give them an introduction, which they don’t need, but
having spent some time with them, I do know their backgrounds a bit, so on my immediate left is Carla Hayden. Carla is the Librarian of Congress. She is now serving as the
14th Librarian of Congress, and she is the first
librarian in a long time to actually serve as
Librarian of Congress, but also the first woman ever to serve as our Librarian of Congress, and also the first African-American
to serve as Librarian of Congress, but more important than that, she’s from Baltimore. (audience laughs) So she was, for 22 years, the head of the Enoch Pratt Library in my hometown of Baltimore. Before that, she served
as the Chief Librarian of the City of Chicago Library. She has her PhD from my other alma mater, University of Chicago, so she has all of the qualifications you need to be a Librarian of Congress.
(audience laughs) University of Chicago, Baltimore,
and other great features, so she has taken this position. She was appointed by President Obama, and assumed this position in 2016, right? Okay, then David Ferriero,
whose building this is. (audience laughs) David is, of course, the
Archivist of the United States. He’s the 10th Archivist
of the United States, and he assumed his position
in 2006, is that right? – Nine.
– Nine. From, President Obama
appointed you, right? And he is the longest serving Archivist of the United States, now
having just completed 10 years. – Yes. – He is, among other things,
a Vietnam War veteran. He’s also a person who has served as the Chief of the New York
Public Library, the head of New York Public Library,
and head of the MIT Library, but most importantly, most importantly, (audience laughs) he has been the head of the
Duke University Library, right? (audience murmurs) So you cannot get a– (audience applauds) And even more significant than that, he commutes to Durham from time to time, and goes to a fair number of
Duke basketball games, right? – Right, but not as many as I would like. (audience laughs)
– Okay, so on his– – That was a hint. – I’m sorry?
– That is a big hint. (audience laughs) – Take that hint. – Okay, well, I’ll tell you this. If it’s legal, and we get to
the NCAA finals this year, (laughs) you’ll come with me, okay? (audience laughs) So, on his left is Lonnie
Bunch, who has just been sworn in a couple weeks ago,
but he’s been on the job for five months as the 14th
Secretary of the Smithsonian, and in his case, he is the
first historian to be the head of the Smithsonian, and also
the first African-American to be the head of
historian, and also somebody that I have worked with
a lot over the years, as I’ve worked with David, and I’ve worked with Carla as well. I am Chairman of the
Smithsonian so I spend some time with him from time to
time, but before that, he is a native of New
Jersey, got his degrees at American University here,
worked at the Smithsonian, went to be the head of the
Chicago Historical Society, and then was asked to come
back in 2005 to be the head of the new African-American
History and Cultural Museum, which didn’t, at the time,
have any money, any land, any authorization for money,
had nothing, but he came back and he built what is now one
of the most impacting museums in the United States, the
African-American History and Cultural Museum, which
he picked the site for, and because he did such
a wonderful job there, among other things, he
was selected unanimously to be the next Secretary
of the Smithsonian, so he’s doing that now. So– (audience applauds) So, let me just start, Carla,
what actually is the Library of Congress, because does
Congress really have anything to do with it, or is it
really for other people, and who gets to use it? Can you take a book out, and if you don’t bring
your book back in time, you got to pay a fine, or how does that work?
(audience laughs) – Or have a hearing. – Or a hearing, okay. (audience laughs) – Well, we truly are
the Library of Congress. We started in 1800, with about 600 books in
the Capitol, and over time, it has grown into the
world’s largest library, and there are about 400
staff members there, economists and analysts
and embedded librarians. I love that term, embedded
librarians, policy issuers, that are the research arm for
Congress, so you have that, and then you have librarians
and curators and people who take care of collections that range from the largest
collection of comic books, the largest collection of Bibles, collecting in 470 languages, and the general public
can use those materials. – [David Rubenstein] Okay, so– – But you can’t take them out. – [David Rubenstein] Can’t take them out. – No, it’s a reference library. It’s a research library. – [David Rubenstein] So can anybody go to the Library of Congress and
use the facilities, anybody? – Yes, and you can have a reader’s card when you’re 16 years old. – Okay. – So you can walk in and do that. – Okay, now, you’re in, how many buildings in Washington do you have? – Three buildings. The Thomas Jefferson Building. When the Library of Congress
grew from those 600 books in 1800 to this wonderful
photograph that we have, and the archives has it, so you’ll hear there’s
gonna be a lot of synergy between the archives and all that, yeah.
– Oh, synergy. Yes, synergy, not
competition, not competition. – There’s a photograph
of books lining the halls of Congress, because the
library had just grown so, and so in 1897, the
Thomas Jefferson Building, the first federal building
to have electricity, opened right behind the Capitol,
and then they outgrew that, and in 1938, the John Adams Building, right by the Folger Library, there’s that, and then they outgrew that, and now there’s the
Madison Building, 1980, and the David Packard
Center for Motion Picture and Sound Recordings, 45
acres in Culpeper, Virginia, six storage units in Fort Meade, Maryland, and six libraries in six countries. – Okay, so why did they name
it after Thomas Jefferson? I mean, he has a lot of
stuff named after him. Why does he deserve that? – Well, there was a great
unpleasantness in 1812 in this city, and in 1814, the British really got unpleasant,
and they started a fire in the Capitol around that time, with the books from the
Library of Congress. In the fireplace, you can
still see the scorch marks. Thomas Jefferson retired
by then to Monticello, and he had the largest personal
library in the country, the most comprehensive,
about 6000 volumes, in every subject, and
so he offered them to– – [David Rubenstein] He offered
them, yes, he was broke. He needed the money, but he sold it. – Well, then, and he had a
wonderful wine collection too, but he didn’t sell that. (audience laughs)
– Okay. – So the books, he thought
he can always buy more books. – David, our country
started the government in, let’s say, the late 1700s. If having an archive is
such an important thing, how come they didn’t get
around to having it until, let’s say, 1930 or so? What were they doing before
with all the records? – I think that’s a good example
of how our government moves. (audience laughs) There was acknowledgement
from the very beginning that we should be doing
something with the records. Thomas Jefferson writing from
Paris in 1769 makes that case, and it wasn’t until Franklin
Roosevelt became president that he signed a legislation that created the National Archives. Before that, the records
were stored in attics and basements all over
town, and succumbed to fire, and succumbed to flood, and you
heard about the War of 1812. Well, in 1814, a clerk in
the State Department realized that the Charters of Freedom were at risk, and the night before the
fire, he rolled them up, stuffed them into linen
sacks, commandeered a wagon on the street, and took them
into the hills of Virginia, which is the only reason
that the Charters are sitting in the rotunda today. – [David Rubenstein] Now, the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the great rotunda here
was built to house them. – Here we go. – Yeah, that’s true. – From 1921 ’til about 1952, they were in the possession
of the Librarian of Congress. Why didn’t they move down here until 1952? – Because the Librarian of Congress, they refused to give them up. The fight.
(audience laughs) – And you found a
wonderful letter, though. – But eventually, Harry
Truman had to send a tank up, and they brought them down, is that right? – Many tanks.
– Many tanks. – And there are photos. – She’s still sore about that. – And there are photographs
of the tanks going right to the steps of the
Jefferson Building there, to get the Declaration and all of that. – Seize it, seize the
Declaration, and bring it here. (audience laughs) – Now, I should have asked,
how were you appointed? You were appointed by the president.
– The president. – And you have an indefinite
term, is that right? – That’s right. – Okay, and Carla, you’re appointed, even though called the
Library of Congress, you were appointed by the president? – Right. – Okay, and– – I’m confirmed by Congress. – Confirmed by Congress, and then you were confirmed
by Congress as well. Lonnie, you’re different. The President of the United States doesn’t appoint you, right? – [Lonnie] I think that’s true. – Right.
(audience laughs) – So the Smithsonian is a
self-perpetuating organization, and where did the name come from, and where did the money
initially come from? – Well, the Smithsonian, it’s almost surprising that it’s here. A British scientist was in
love with America, and thought, how do I celebrate the independence of that wonderful country,
and he decided that he, on his death bed, he would
leave money to this museum, to this institution, for
the increase and diffusion of knowledge, but he initially
left the money to his nephew, and if the nephew had
children, or survived, the money would have never
gotten to the Smithsonian. The nephew conveniently died,
and as a result of that, the Smithsonian was sent this money, and the U.S. Government
wasn’t sure how to handle it. Should they accept it? What does this mean? What does it mean to have an institution for the increase and
diffusion of knowledge? It took the Smithsonian years
to figure out how to do it. In fact, the Smithsonian
took the original money, and basically used it in
ways that they lost it when there was one of the
periodic economic busts, so there was no money. Finally, years later,
Congress passed the money to create the Smithsonian, and it’s been here now for 173 years. – [David Rubenstein]
So, how many museums do you actually have? – We have 19 museums, 21
libraries, seven research centers, three telescopes, and the national zoo. – [David Rubenstein] And a
partridge in a pear tree, right? (audience laughs)
– That’s right. – [David Rubenstein] So,
the original building that was built on the Mall, is what’s now called as the Castle. That was opened in 1840s or something? – Yep, mm-hmm. – [David Rubenstein] And at that point, it was the tallest building in Washington? – Right, the Capitol was the
tallest building in Washington, so much so that during the Civil War, Union soldiers went to the
top to spy on the Confederacy. It was also the place where the Union practiced its
ballooning, so it really was that important in terms of its presence on the National Mall, and it
was the place that also had, in the 19th century, it
had the largest auditorium in Washington, seated 1500 people. It was a center of education and learning when the rest of the city was just mud. – [David Rubenstein]
So, today, what museum, of the 19 you have, is the
one that’s most visited? – The Air and Space Museum is one of the most visited museums in the world, followed by the Natural History Museum, the American History Museum, and the African-American History Museum, and I love all the museums equally. (audience laughs) But I always want to make sure the newest
one is still shiny. (audience laughs) – So, the African-American History and Cultural Museum is fairly unique, because the government didn’t
put up most of the money. They put up about half. How much did the government put up, how much did you have to
raise in the private sector? Can we just recount briefly, how did you actually
get this off the ground? Because when you came in
2005, there was nothing. – Right. When I came, there was a
staff of two, counting me, no money, no collections, no
idea where the museum would be, but what we had was this
wonderful vision that said that America had waited a long
time to understand itself, and to understand itself, it needed to understand the
African-American experience, and so we used that to get people excited, but the reality is, this was
a real hard struggle, because, one, 50% of the money had
to be raised privately, and 50% from Congress, but there was no guarantee
you’d get the money from Congress, so every year,
you had to go and figure out, do you get money for the building? Do you get money for staff? And then we were able to
ultimately raise over $650 million, of which almost $400 million
came from the private sector, and so it really was
this amazing opportunity where public/private partnership not only worked, but flourished. – [David Rubenstein] So when you started, you had no artifacts. You went around, you
got a lot of artifacts, 35,000 or something like that now, but of all the artifacts
you have on display, three or 4000, you have the
Emancipation Proclamation. You’ve got the 13th Amendment. You’ve got Harriet Tubman’s shawl. You’ve got Nat Turner’s Bible. What is the most popular
single thing in that museum? – So as a historian, I thought
it would be very important, the seriousness of history
would come through. The artifact that everybody loves is Chuck Berry’s candy apple-red Cadillac. (audience laughs) Now, the story of how we
got this is it tells you how little I know, so
that I wanted Chuck Berry, the great early musician in the 50s, I wanted the guitar he wrote
some of those early songs on. So I called him and said,
“I’d like the guitar,” and he said, “I’ll give you
the guitar if you take my car.” And I’m like, “I do not want this car,” but my staff said, “I don’t know, “it’s really important, take the car.” So I said, “All right,
fine, we’ll take the car.” I sent out this young man to actually go and get Chuck Berry to sign the deed of gift and mail everything back. He goes there, and the next day, he calls me that Chuck Berry is angry. He’s screaming. He’s saying, “He doesn’t trust you. “He doesn’t trust you.” And I get on the phone,
and I say, “Mr. Berry,” ’cause he was Chuck
until he didn’t trust me, now he’s Mr. Berry. (audience laughs) I said to him, “Could you
explain to me why you’re upset?” He said, “I just found out you work “for the federal government.” (audience laughs) And so I said, “Well, what do I have to
do to get you to trust me?” He said, “Have your
guy eat lunch with me.” So I said to young Kevin,
“Whatever he serves, eat it. “I don’t care.” (audience laughs) Chuck Berry brought out
25 ice cream sandwiches. When Kevin ate the 13th,
he signed the deed of gift, and that’s what happened.
(audience laughs) – [David Rubenstein] Now,
if you want to learn more about the creation of this
museum, there’s a compelling book that Lonnie has written,
which is entitled– – “A Fool’s Errand:
Building the National Museum “in the Time of Bush, Obama, and Trump.” (audience laughs)
– Okay, so I highly recommend it, and David, now, every single document, every single piece of paper in the federal government
every day that’s created, does that come to the archives, or what do you actually get here? – Thank God it does not. (audience laughs) Every executive branch
agency has a records schedule that’s created with my
records appraisal staff. They kind of describe it just like Duke has a records management
program that describes what kind of records are created, how
long they need to be retained in the agency for business
purposes, and at the same time, the top two to three percent of the most important
records are identified in the record schedules, and it’s that two to three percent that comes to us. – [David Rubenstein] So
the papers that are created by a President of the United States, why don’t you just keep
them all in right here? Why do you need to have all
these presidential libraries around the country? – The theory was, and this
started with Franklin Roosevelt, that it was important for the library to be out where he came from,
so that you get a sense, not only of the president when
you’re visiting these places, but what his environment is
like, and that has been the case throughout the reign of
the presidential libraries. – [David Rubenstein] Now, of
all the presidential libraries, the most attended, the
most visited, is that, which one is that? – Reagan. – [David Rubenstein] Reagan. – And that’s because– – [David Rubenstein] He’s got the– – Air Force One. – [David Rubenstein] Right,
and the least attended is the– – We don’t talk about that. (audience laughs) – [David Rubenstein] Well, there’s one. – Herbert Hoover in West Branch, Iowa, in the middle of a corn
field, but I recommend if you’re over there
– I’ve been there, I’ve been there. – Go for a visit. (audience laughs) – [David Rubenstein] Now,
Barack Obama’s building his, eventually, I think, if it
ever gets approved somewhere in Chicago, but I read that there’s not gonna
be any papers there, so how can you have a
library with no papers? – Well, there’s no papers to put there, because 95% of his
records were born digital. So this is gonna be their very first electronic
presidential library. – And what about, if the
president were to tweet, would that go in a library at some point? (audience laughs)
– Perhaps the tweet messages. – What is that? – President Obama was the
first president to tweet, so we have eight years of Twitter tweets from President Obama, so that will be part of the new presidential library. – [David Rubenstein] Okay,
so the Library of Congress, among other things that you do, is you started the National Book Festival. Describe what that actually
is, and why it’s a good thing. – You should know that David
has been very supportive of us. – Well, that’s not what I asked, but– – But he has,
(audience laughs) because we’re gonna get
you a library started. – Okay, all right. – 200,000 people come to
hear over 150 authors, children’s authors, David
McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Annette Gordon-Reed, one
day in Washington, D.C., and Laura Bush, first lady Laura Bush, started the Texas Book Festival when she was the first lady of Texas, and when she became the First
Lady of the United States, she said we need a National Book Festival, and my predecessor, Dr.
Billington, said, yes, we do, and they got the support,
and it’s gonna be in its 20th year, and it’s
free and open to the public, and we had last year, one of the authors was
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was wonderful. – [David Rubenstein] So, the
library focuses on books, and you have maps, and
you have comic books. You have everything. Anybody that writes a book, do
they have to give you a copy or something like that? – In 1870, and it’s really
fun when you’re talking about these historic institutions that you’re, centuries, decades. In 1870 the Library of Congress became the
administrative operation for the U.S. Copyright Office. It was in the Smithsonian before that, but it’s the official, and part of registering for a copyright, if you create something right now, you automatically have copyright. You don’t have to register. You only have to register
for copyright if you want to be able to pursue
something in the legal system. That’s how you can that. And part of registration
is to submit two copies of whatever you are registering. People may not realize you
can register wallpaper. You can register video
games, all of these things, and so the Library of
Congress, each working day, selects about 15 to 20,000
items from those deposits. – So Thomas Jefferson
sold his library to the, and at the time, all this is in addendum, because he was considered
not that religious, he was a deist, he didn’t
really believe in Christ, people thought, they went
through every book to make sure that he was not infecting
the Library of Congress with books that didn’t believe in Jesus, I guess, something like that. Anyway, they bought all
the books in the end, and where is that collection now? – It’s housed in the
Thomas Jefferson Building, and it’s in a wonderful
circular area, and over time, there was another fire in the 1850s, and a lot of that original 6000
volume collection was lost, and so over the last about 15
years, they purchased them, and they’re there, and
you can be surrounded by Thomas Jefferson’s
books, including a Quran. He had a Quran, and there’s a testimony, the Congress people saying
we should not have a Quran in the library. – [David Rubenstein] Now
you have a Gutenberg Bible, is that right?
– That’s one of three, on vellum. The other two are at the
Bibliotheque nationale and the British Library. – [David Rubenstein] Okay, so is that your most valuable, single book? – It is quite something,
but there are others that are very valuable, and the Bay Psalm. You might want to mention that. – [David Rubenstein] You have
one, and it’s a good copy. – It’s a good copy. (audience laughs)
It’s a good copy. You can tell them how we go. – [David Rubenstein] It’s a good copy, but anyway, so let me ask you this. – Several million. – One of the problems that we have in our country is that 14% of our adult population is
functionally illiterate. They can’t read past
the fourth grade level, so are you doing something
to promote literacy, and particularly with children, what are you doing at
the library about that? – The library has, and we
sponsor literacy awards, and it’s for organizations
that promote literacy from the very youngest to
adult literacy as well, because that’s something that
people might not realize, that adult illiteracy has an
economic effect on the health of a nation and communities,
and so we do that, and we also make sure that we
have a young reader’s center, and things like that. – So, Lonnie, you have the national zoo, and 80% of people who go
to the national zoo care about the pandas. – [Lonnie] Right. – What is the obsession with the pandas, and why do people get upset
when the panda cam goes down when the government is shut down? What is the obsession?
(audience laughs) – That’s what I get the biggest call on. The panda cam is not working today. (audience laughs) I know, heaven help us. I think that part of it is that
for people of a certain age, they understand that
those pandas speak volumes of diplomatic work under
the Nixon administration, but for most people, we frame the pandas as the cutest animal in the world, and so every kid wants to see the panda. Every parent wants to take
their child to see the panda, and as you said, 80% of the
people who come to the zoo, the first thing they
want to see is the panda, so I never thought in my career I’d be like the panda guy. (audience laughs) – [David Rubenstein] So
the federal government runs a big deficit. It’s about $1.3 trillion
a year, that’s pretty big. So why doesn’t the federal
government pick up some money by charging admission to
the Smithsonian Museum? So have you thought of that idea? – We have, probably every three years, had a discussion about, what
if the Smithsonian charged? But then we realized that in some ways, there is something wondrous about going to the Smithsonian for free. You go to every other city,
you’re paying $20 to go to the Field Museum, or this
money to go to the Road Museum, and so what we love is
the fact that, in essence, we’re saying people will pay
an entry fee with their taxes, and then what we want you to
do is to be able to come in, regardless of your economic status, regardless of your education,
we want you to come in and revel in the wonders
of the Smithsonian, so while, as an administrator,
there are times I’d sure like to have that money, but I
think it’s better for us to be the place that says, “Here’s where the world
comes to understand America “and itself, and it
doesn’t cost you anything “but a little bit of your imagination.” – [David Ferriero] Unless
you want to see butterflies. – Well, butterflies are so special we have to charge for them. (audience laughs) They die a lot. – I want to talk about, the Library of Congress has
the papers of 23 presidents, up until now. – So let’s see, Lonnie,
you report to whom? Who do you actually report to? – I report to you in the board meetings. (audience laughs) (audience applauds) – You actually, you have a board now. There’s a board of regents. There are six congressional
regents, nine citizen regents, from different cities and
states, but you have a board that oversees you theoretically,
and then obviously, they’re not on top of everything you do, but you have a board of regents. Who do you report to? – The president. – President?
– President of the United States. – Does the president ever call you? Does Donald Trump ever say, “Hey, tell me how the archives
are going,” or something? – Not yet. – Not yet? (audience laughs) Has he visited yet? – Not yet. – Not yet, okay. Where do you think his
presidential library’s gonna be? – We get queries from the press just
about once a week wanting to know what we know. The president decides. We don’t get to decide about where it is, but we look for signals,
and when Barbara Bush died, he made an announcement that
he was going to be buried in New Jersey, so we maybe think that perhaps that’s where
his library would be also. – [David Rubenstein] Well,
we’ll see what happens. Okay, so who do you report to? – [Carla] Congress. – Congress, so the president appoints you, but you’re not dealing with the president. – You have to be confirmed,
and it was interesting, because the president nominates
the Librarian of Congress, and then you go through the
Senate confirmation process, and I went through that,
and I have to tell you, my mom knows everybody
that voted yea and nay. (audience laughs) She has it on the official record, and when somebody’s on
TV, she’s like that. – What was your confirmation vote? – 74 to 18, if I’m counting, and that was pretty good at that time. – What was your confirmation? – It was unanimous.
– Well, you were in a different time. – You were confirmed unanimously or– – Different time. – Unanimously? (David Ferriero laughs)
– Oh, okay, that’s pretty good.
– Yeah, yours was really good. – What was the difference?
– Mine was right at the end. I was the last nominee of
the Obama administration, so things have gotten a little more intense.
– All of you could have given your talents. You all could be pursuing a
higher calling of mankind, which is private equity, (audience laughs)
but you’re not. So, Lonnie, you get paid a, thoroughly better than a
government scale salary, but why do you do this? You’re killing yourself
working around the clock. Nobody thanks you every
day for what you’re doing. What’s the appeal of that job you have? – Well, for me, it really
starts out with the fact that I’m a historian, and that
history, to me, is my tool to help a country understand
itself, and I think that part of my job is to help a
country find understanding, to find reconciliation and healing, so that always motivates me,
but candidly why I wanted to do this job at the Smithsonian is if I can tell a quick story. When I was 10 years
old, it’s the centennial of the Civil War, and there are all this, like many kids interested
in the blue and the gray, and one Easter, we were
gonna drive from my home in New Jersey to visit my
mother’s family in North Carolina, and as we’re driving, I see
all these signs for museums in Richmond and Petersburg,
Museum of the Confederacy, and I keep saying to my dad, “I’d like to stop,” and
he always had an excuse. “I’ve gotta go 20 more miles
to get gas,” or whatever. He’d never stop. So, on the way back, I thought
I’m gonna be strategic. 20 miles before we get to a
museum, I’m gonna let him know so we could get the
gas, and we could stop. He didn’t stop, but instead of
going straight to New Jersey, he turned into Washington,
D.C., and he pulled in front of the Smithsonian, and he said, “Here’s the place you can
go to understand history, “and not be worried about
the color of your skin.” So for me, the Smithsonian
was always that place of fairness, of possibility, that helped a kid understand himself when other places would not, so for me, this is about giving back to
the institution that helped me believe in an America that
often didn’t believe in me. – [David Rubenstein] Okay, and
the term you have, you have an unlimited term, right?
(audience applauds) You’re appointed, and you
can stay, essentially, there’s no limit, right? So David, you have an
unlimited term too, right? So what’s the appeal of this job? When you’re at New York Public
Library, or the Duke Library, you can make more than
a government salary, so what’s the appeal of
this job relative to Duke? – Duke was a very important place for me. My eight years there
were the best in terms of my professional career, and
I learned a whole lot there. That’s why it’s so nice to
have so many friends here in the room with me. I got the call when I was
at the New York Public, from this poor kid who was
working on appointments for the president, and it just came out of the blue. It was not something I was prepared for. Archivist of the United
States, it’s usually, someone’s given a lot
of money to a campaign, or the former governor of
Kansas was the Archivist, and I turned him away twice. He called on a Friday afternoon, and he called back Monday
morning, and finally, they sent an adult to
New York to talk to me, (audience laughs)
about what they were looking for, and this vision of open government,
transparency, collaboration, and participation really
resonated with me, and frankly, it was the Obama administration
and the opportunity to work in that administration
on those issues, and to take what I’ve already learned, and all of my experience, and give back. That’s what it was all about. – [David Rubenstein] So when
you became the Archivist, you did some work to see whether letters that you had written to the President of the United States when you were a little
boy were still around. What did you find? – That was a real shock. When I met with the
directors of the president, we were responsible for the
14 presidential libraries, when I met with them for
the first time, the director of the Kennedy handed me a copy
of a letter that a kid wrote to the president, asking about
the proposed Peace Corps, and it’s a letter from me,
and it was pretty stunning, because I remember it being
interesting, the Peace Corps. I don’t remember writing the
letter, but it was from me, but more stunning was to
watch the faces of the other, at that point, 12 directors, like, oh, my God, how am I gonna top this? (audience laughs) And sure enough, two weeks
later, the Eisenhower called and said they’ve gotten
two letters from me to President Eisenhower,
and when I was at LBJ, they handed me a copy of
the letter that I wrote to LBJ congratulating him for
signing the Civil Rights Act. – [David Rubenstein] Ah, okay, so– – [Carla] I love it. – [David Rubenstein]
Today, how many people visit the archives? – About 1.5 million through the rotunda, but then we have 14 presidential
libraries with museums, and we’re in 44 facilities
around the country. – Now you have the
Declaration of Independence, but it’s sort of faded, and
you have the Constitution. It’s in reasonable shape,
but there’s a rumor that if a nuclear bomb goes off, they go underground so that
they are preserved forever. Can you confirm that? – I can’t confirm that. – You can’t confirm that. (audience laughs)
Okay, okay. All right, but you– – I signed a, on my first day on the job, I signed a non-disclosure statement, and we don’t talk about security. – Oh, okay. Okay, so– – “National Treasure” is not right. (audience laughs) – There you go. Yeah, we’re in the second movie. – Carla, do members of
Congress actually use the Library of Congress?
– Oh, yes. – What do they do? – Well, I mentioned the
Congressional research service. We call them the special
forces, so the staff members, the members of Congress, any policy issue, they’re serving them,
but they also use them, and can I quote your book? – [David Rubenstein] Okay. – I’m gonna quote the book. Mr. Rubenstein has a new
book, and it’s based on one of the best things the
Library of Congress is doing to serve Congress, the
Congress members personally, they are able to, we call them
the Congressional dialogues, and every month or so, we
bring in a top notch historian. Doris Kearns Goodwin, David
McCullough, all of these people, and they are able to, one,
be together, no press, just the Congress people, and they listen to a historian be interviewed
by Mr. Rubenstein, and they get to ask questions,
and they get to be together, and it’s a different
atmosphere in the last– – [David Rubenstein] The theory of it was people don’t know much
about history so much anymore. We don’t teach civics or
history as much as we used to. You can graduate from any
college in the United States without having to take an
American History course these days, and you can
be a history major in 80% of the colleges without having to take an American History course. On civics, we don’t know
much about it anymore. We don’t teach it so
much, and so for example, if you’re a naturalized
citizen in this country, you have to take, every five years of residency, a citizenship test. 100 questions, you have
to pass 60 of them. 91% of the people who take it today pass. 91%. The same test was recently
given to native-born citizens in this country to see how
they would do without studying, and the citizens of 49
out of 50 states failed. It was only in Vermont where
the majority of citizens, they would have passed
the citizenship test that naturalized citizen
would have to pass, which makes the point that
we don’t really know much about our history or civics, and the most amazing thing is 10% of college graduates now believe that Judge Judy is a member of the United States Supreme Court. (audience laughs) So anyway, we came up with
the Library of Congress, Jim Billington, Carla’s
predecessor, started a mission. Now Carla’s gone to every
one we’ve had, and we bring about 250 members of
Congress, their guess, maybe sometimes 300, and
we go through a discussion of American history by
interviewing the authors, and there’s a book back
there, I think, for everybody, and it’s a book that has
some of the interviews, and it’s not a book like
Jill Lepore has written, a 900-page book on American history. It’s a great book. I’ve interviewed her on it. That book is a more
serious, scholarly work. This is a summary of the
interviews, but it’s a light way to kind of go through some
of the most important things that have happened in
our country’s history. I’ll just tell you one anecdote before we open up for
questions for a moment or two. One of the people I wanted
to have was not a historian, but it was John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the United States. I thought he doesn’t really
know members that well, and they don’t know him, because
their jobs are not really to be working together, so
I thought if I could get to know him better, or get
members to know him better, it’d be good, and he is
actually the chancellor of the Smithsonian. Technically, he’s over
the chairman of the board. He’s the person who presides,
and he actually comes to the meetings, so he’s
pretty actively involved, so I know him pretty well, and I asked if he would let me interview
him, and he said yes. So I said at the beginning
of the interview, “Mr. Chief Justice, did
you always want to be, “as a little boy, the Chief
Justice of the United States?” He said, “Well, no, that
wasn’t my ambition.” “Did you want to be a justice “of any type on a court,
associate justice?” “No.” “Did you want to be a judge?” “No.” “Did you want to be a lawyer?” “No.” “Well, what did you want to be?” “I wanted to be an historian. “That’s all I cared about
was American history. “I loved American history. “That’s all I studied. “My father said, “‘John, there’s no money
in being an historian. “‘You’ll starve to death. “‘You’ll write books, and
nobody will read them, “‘and you won’t be able
to support your family, “‘and you’re not gonna
find it fulfilling.'” John said, “I don’t care. “I just want to be an historian.” So, sure enough, he went out to Harvard, and he majored in history. So he came back from his spring break after his sophomore year, and
got in a cab at Logan Airport, said to the cab driver,
“Please take me to Cambridge.” “Are you a student at Harvard?” “Yes, I am.” “What are you majoring in?” “I’m majoring in history.” The cab driver said, “Well, when I was a student at Harvard, “that’s what I majored in also.” (audience laughs) So he decided to law school. (audience laughs)
– Okay, how much time do we have? We have a few minutes more. Any questions for, yes, right here? – [Man] Lonnie, you talked about writing and the putting together of the center and the opportunities. How do you, as a historian, so I hope you don’t mind me
saying that, (muffled speaking) about the screening process? What do you (muffled speaking)
go out, (muffled speaking)? – In some ways, what we did was we spent
two years just talking to the public, understanding
what they knew, what they didn’t know, and then
we spent three years working with the best scholars in
the country to figure out how to tell a narrative story, and it was really shaped by two issues. First was, if I wasn’t a
historian, I’d be a filmmaker. I love films, so if you
go through the museum, it’s got a cinematic feel. It’s got this narrative sense
of pause and juxtapositions, but the other reason that
really shaped it was, early in my career, I ran into somebody who was a sharecropper who
lived in a plant on a plantation where his own grandmother
was an enslaved person, and he told me the stories about
it, and then he said to me, “I’m not sure what a historian
does, but maybe your job is “to help people remember
not just what they want “to remember, but what
they need to remember,” and those two things shaped
what we did in the museum. – [David Rubenstein]
Okay, other questions? If not, oh, yes, one more? – Yeah, I do, (muffled speaking),
so Lonnie, I want to say, first of all, I want to
say the museum is fabulous (muffled speaking), that
they thought it was great, and then my wife (muffled
speaking) similar to that, (muffled speaking). I feel like every time that I (muffled speaking) exhausted, and they’ve learned so much. – Thank you. – I want to ask you about something else: the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. It’s popular and fabulous. I’ve had meaningful, personal
memories I won’t go into, but how did that come about? And did any of the Smithsonian, I don’t remember something
like that, like these. – Well, the Smithsonian
has done some things where we’ve projected on buildings, but nothing as extensive as that. This was a wonderful
idea that was implemented by Ellen Stofan, who’s the Director of the Air and Space Museum. It meant a lot to me
because I began my career at the Air and Space
Museum, but the notion was that we would celebrate the
50th anniversary by doing this, making it look like the Washington
Monument was taking off, but also having the surviving astronauts, Mike Collins and Buzz
Aldrin, and to be honest, we thought it would have an impact. We didn’t expect it to
have the number of people, 50,000 people turned up, and
it became a way at a time when America is trying
to figure out who it is, that they can celebrate
what America once was, and so I think that was really just one of the most wonderful moments
that we’ve had on the mall. – [David Rubenstein] They
took an act of Congress because the idea of projecting something onto the Washington Monument,
the Apollo 11 going off, was not something that
the National Park Service, which controls the Washington Monument, thought was a good idea. They thought it was a terrible
idea, because they said, “Well, if this gets projected, “everything will be projected.” Everybody will call up and say, “I want this projected on
the Washington Monument, “so let’s not get this thing started,” so they actually opposed
it, so to get it done, we had to get an act of
Congress, and then it was passed, we weren’t sure if President
Trump was gonna sign it, and at the last minute,
apparently he did sign it. I’m not sure he understood
what it was all about, but he did sign it, and so it got done. It was pretty impressive. Anything else? Okay, so, yes, one last question. – I’m interested in
museums (muffled speaking). What are the areas that you
can use the (muffled speaking)? What would that be (muffled speaking)? – I think that it’s important for museums to recognize the 21st century
is not the 19th century, that you’ve got to understand
your audience is better. You’ve also got to grapple
with technology, not as a way to just celebrate
technology, but to use it so that you’re allowing younger audiences to find ways into history,
find ways into science. The most important thing we can do in the 21st century is create
the virtual Smithsonian, to craft the fact that
35 million people come to the Smithsonian every year. Well, that means millions
more will never get there, and what I want is I want the Smithsonian to touch every home,
to be in every school, and the way to do that is
by the virtual Smithsonian. – So I would like to thank these three
distinguished public servants for giving up their time
this afternoon to be here, and, of course, being in front of a Duke University audience, nothing can be more important than that, (audience laughs)
but I recognize you do have other responsibilities, so thank you very much for doing that, and we appreciate your hard work on behalf of all the taxpayers, and I’m sure that you’ll be rewarded when you get to heaven for your hard work. (audience laughs) But mostly, for speaking to this group, you’ll get to heaven. So thank you very much. (audience applauds)

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