Making History

LBJ Library unveils new innovative exhibits and $10 million in renovations

LBJ Library unveils new innovative exhibits and $10 million in renovations

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The LBJ Library Photo by Shelley Seale
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President Lyndon B. Johnson. Photo by Arnold Newman
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The newly renovated LBJ library interior. Photo by Shelley Seale
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The newly renovated LBJ Library interior. Photo by Shelley Seale
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Close up portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto
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Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_LBJ library_dec 2012_interior
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Austin's beloved LBJ Presidential Library has had a major facelift, with a multi-million dollar renovation. Construction began on the renovation in December 2011, and the Library will open the new exhibits on Saturday, December 22 in honor of Lady Bird Johnson’s 100th birthday. 

The re-opening will unveil innovative, state-of-the art exhibits giving visitors a contemporary experience related to one of the most significant presidents and eras in our country’s history. By incorporating the latest technology and interactive elements used in museums today, the Library has a completely new look and feel.

 Each section contains interactive exhibits, including phones where guests can listen recorded phone conversations between LBJ and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jacqueline Kennedy, his advisors and many others. 

In keeping with President and Mrs. Johnson’s commitment to transparency and objectivity, the new exhibits will showcase materials from the archives and museum collections that have never before been seen.

To ensure accuracy, independent interpretation, and impartiality in the redesign of the exhibits, the LBJ Library consulted with, and sought the participation of, esteemed historians, as well as many of those who worked in the Johnson Administration.

“Through these new exhibits, the political and personal lives of Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson come alive for visitors,” said Elizabeth Christian, President of the LBJ Foundation. “They will learn about the decisions President Johnson faced, the impact of his social programs, and his passion for critical issues such as education, civil rights, the environment, health care and the arts.”

Mark K. Updegrove, LBJ Library Director, says that the goal is for visitors to better understand this largely misunderstood president:

The redesigned Library will provide meaningful context to the vast and sweeping legislation passed during the Johnson Administration and visitors will learn how those laws impact us today.  Exhibits will explore all aspects of Johnson’s presidency, including the Vietnam War. President Johnson insisted that the LBJ Library present an unvarnished look at his presidency — the triumphs and the turmoil. Now we share this story with new generations.

New features of the LBJ Presidential Library include:

  • A downloadable app and handheld guide that give visitors the choice of several different tours, including a tour in Spanish
  • Unprecedented access to private telephone conversations of the President
  • An interactive Vietnam War exhibit where visitors experience elements of the President’s decision-making process
  • Options to join the conversation through social media as visitors tour exhibits       
  • An interactive look at how legislation passed under LBJ affects visitors today
  • New theaters and films on President Johnson, civil rights, LBJ’s legacy, and the First Family

The new exhibit space is divided into different eras of LBJ's career, from the early years and the Kennedy assassination through civil rights, poverty, the Vietnam era and his lasting legacy. Guests are introduced to each era with a timeline of pop culture and historical events from those years. Each section contains interactive exhibits, including phones where guests can listen to recorded phone conversations between LBJ and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jacqueline Kennedy, his advisors and many others.

"This is cool," Updegrove says. "You can pick up the phone and hear his own voice, surrounded by what was going on at the time. The exhibits give a sense of the challenges he faced early, and the ascendance of his political career. You can really feel the zeitgeist."

The redesign offers visitors a rich cultural and historical destination, meant to make the achievements of the Great Society accessible, and understandable, to everyone. "We're giving people a clear sense of the impact this President had," Updegrove continues. "We want people to have a balanced view of the LBJ Presidency, to understand even if they don't agree, and make up their minds for themselves."

Situated on a 30-acre site on The University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, the Library houses 45 million pages of historical documents, 650,000 photos and 5,000 hours of recordings from President Johnson's political career. The iconic ten-story building was designed by award-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft and features a Great Hall with a stunning four-story, glass-encased view of the archives collection.

Until now, the LBJ Library has been the only one of the thirteen presidential libraries that has not charged admission. To sustain this vibrant, evolving institution, the LBJ Library will charge admission for the first time in its 41-year history when the new exhibits open in December, a decision made after thoughtful consideration by the LBJ Foundation Board and has the support of the Johnson family. 

“It is all here: the story of our time with the bark off," Lyndon Baines Johnson said at the dedication of the Library on May 22, 1971. "This library will show the facts, not just the joy and triumphs, but the sorrow and failures, too.” 

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The LBJ Library reopens on Saturday, December 22, with music, cake, book signings and tours, free and open to the public. Doors open at 9 a.m., and festivities are scheduled until 5 p.m. Regular operating hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; closed Christmas Day.

Admission fees are $8 for adults; $5 for seniors 62 and older; $3 for children 13-17 and university students with valid ID. Admission is free for children 12 and under; active military; University of Texas at Austin students, faculty and administrators; and certain LBJ library and student groups.