Presidential Libraries Seek Tourists in Theme Park Era

Mary McKnight calls herself Ronald Reagan’s No. 1 fan. Gazing somberly at the 40th president’s tomb, the retired nurse from Kansas murmured, “It’s humbling to be here.”

Nearby, a boy in a New York Yankees jersey seemed less impressed by Reagan’s library and museum, muttering about wanting to go to Disneyland.

The contrast illustrates the challenge facing the nation’s 11 presidential libraries–soon to be 12 with the opening of Bill Clinton’s this fall–as they compete for visitors at a time when many tourists would rather be riding a roller-coaster than sifting through presidential archives.

Although Reagan’s death has led to a surge in visitors to the library, attendance at the nation’s presidential libraries during the past five years has declined about 13 percent. To reverse the trend, libraries are adding attractions, turning to more-aggressive marketing tactics and leaning on tourist attractions to promote themselves. Read more.