The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum reopened on Jan. 29 after being closed since Dec. 22 due to the government shutdown.
With federal funding cut off, the the Columbia Point facility saw its programming and activities suspended for over a month, while the building remained vacant and its staff went furloughed without pay. Library Director Alan Price said he was excited to be back open, but acknowledged the hardships enacted upon his employees by the shutdown.
“Most of them held up for about two weeks or so, but after that the stress become much more palpable,” said Price. “People lost sleep, they had a difficult time just not knowing when they would be able to get back to work. Some staff are the primary or sole breadwinners for their family, and so the impact was hardest on them.”
Price added that the human toll of the shutdown extends beyond what is visible, and that his staff may still feel residual effects for some time.
“For example, you can’t pull your kid out of child care to save money, because there may not be a spot for them when it’s over...there’s a lot of work to do working on morale, retention, and just getting everyone back in the flow of things.”
Despite the challenges of the shutdown, Price says they did not lose any staff, likely, he suspects, “because of the dedication of our staff and the compelling mission of JFK library.”
As a gesture of appreciation for everything the city did to support furloughed workers during the shutdown, the library and museum offered free admission through last Saturday.
Price said that the more than a month-long closure was in all likelihood the longest stretch of time that the institution has been shuttered in its history. Some employees, he said, imagined how the building’s namesake would have reacted to the ordeal.
“Thinking from a JFK perspective, you know, budget squabbles certainly precede his 35th presidency, but the idea to shut it down because of a budget issue--I think he would be quite puzzled by that decision.”