Cliff Laube is the public programs and communications manager at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Hyde Park, New York. Laube has been with the United States Federal Government for almost twenty-five years with experience in public programming, public affairs, and heritage tourism.
Laube manages visitor services, operations, and the rental of conference facilities at the Roosevelt library’s Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center. He has managed volunteer programs at both Weir Farm National Historic Site in Wilton, CT (NPS) and the Roosevelt Library. Laube sits on two Library committees, the social media committee (founding member) and workplace culture committee (chair), and has helped develop and implement strategies to grow and maintain visitation to Dutchess County, New York historic sites as a board member of Dutchess Tourism, Inc.
He joined the MANY board of directors in 2021 as an ex-officio member and serves on the Marketing Committee.
Earlier this year, he took on the role of co-chair of the Program Committee. We spoke with him to learn more about his career path and what keeps him motivated.
What other jobs have you had in the museum field? Can you tell us about your journey to get to your current role?
As a student of historic preservation at Roger Williams University (RWU), I had a part-time job leading tours at the first water-powered cotton spinning mill in North America, Slater Mill Historic Site in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. It is an extraordinary place. That was my first taste of working in the field of heritage tourism and helping to make our American story more accessible to a visiting museum public. After college, in 1998, I took a job as a park ranger at Weir Farm National Historic Site in Wilton, Connecticut -- one of our most inspirational national parks, commemorating the life and work of American impressionist painter J. Alden Weir, and his visiting artist friends, including Childe Hassam, Albert Pinkham Ryder, John Singer Sargent, and John Twachtman. I loved it. I loved helping people learn about this little-known but very important historic site. After six years at Weir Farm, in 2004, I came to the beautiful Hudson River Valley to manage publicity and public programs at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.
Cliff Laube introducing the annual Hudson Valley History Reading Festival in 2022, the first in-person program since March 2020.
What other experiences in your career have you found most helpful for your role now?
I've certainly benefited from the training provided by both the National Park Service and the National Archives, but on-the-job experience has always helped me the most. To this day, I feel strongly that -- at all levels of visitor/customer service work -- it's critical to regularly connect with museum visitors and program attendees. They know what they want and we should always know what they're thinking.
What is one of your biggest motivations to do what you do? What do you get excited about in your role as the Public Programs and Communications Manager at FDR Presidential Library and Museum?
As a civil servant, the single biggest motivation (of which there are many) is striving to do good work for the American people. I work with a team of federal employees who took an oath, believe in what they do, and continue to perform at a very high level of performance to provide access to the authentic material culture of the life and times of the Roosevelts. We strive to make the museum and programming experiences here as authentic as the collections we are charged with protecting. Every day is exciting with this as a goal.
Cliff Laube at NewsRadio 1450 WKIP promoting FDR Presidential Library and Museum’s 2019 Memorial Day Weekend World War II reenactment
What are some of your goals?
As the Roosevelt Library matures, we've been able to tackle topics that this institution hasn't focused on enough over the years since President Roosevelt created the LIbrary in 1941. I hope to continue to expand programming on topics such as Japanese American Incarceration, America's response to the Holocaust, the Roosevelts and Race, and FDR's disability. The Roosevelts were faced with many difficult decisions in their lives and careers, and we can learn a lot from the choices they ultimately made by trying to better understand why they made them based on the documentary evidence in our collections.
Would your 18-year-old self imagine that you would be where you are today?
No, at 18, I really wanted to be an architect. My educational path bounced around through the fields of landscape architecture, architectural design, and eventually historic preservation. Preservation was the discipline that finally grounded me and helped me explore how historic sites, our built environment, and our tangible history can give us a better understanding of who we are today. Two RWU professors, in particular, Philip Marshall and Michael Swanson, guided me on this path.
Can you tell us about where you grew up? What was it like growing up there? Where did you go to school?
I was born and raised in Connecticut, Milford and then Southbury. It was a fairly standard, middle-class upbringing in a close-knit community that we watched evolve from rural to suburban due to the development of a new IBM research facility in the 1980s. I lived in an older, less affluent section of town, but had a privileged childhood in a caring, hard-working family, with loving parents and two older sisters.
What was the first museum experience that you can remember?
My first museum experience was on a field trip to a small museum called the American Indian Archaeological Institute in Washington, Connecticut (now called the Institute for American Indian Studies). I remember my fascination with the buildings created in the replica Algonkian village there.
Cliff is a “regular dunkee” at the summertime Family Fun Festival
Can you describe a favorite day on the job?
I think my favorite moment at the Library so far was during the question-and-answer session following a book talk about 12 years ago. The author flipped the script in Q&A and asked the first question of a captive Hyde Park audience of about 60 people. She wanted to know to what extent Hyde Park residents were aware of FDR’s disability back in the ‘30s and ‘40s. After contracting polio at the age of 39, Roosevelt could never again walk unassisted. She unexpectedly got a firsthand account. One of Hyde Park’s longtime residents told a story from his childhood. He described a day in which FDR arrived late to church. Around the time he noticed the President wasn’t there yet, the hair stood up on his arms. A moment later, he then heard softly, and then louder, the sound of metal braces coming closer and closer to the open doorway of St. James Church. He knew -- without turning around -- the President had arrived. FDR’s disability was so much a part of who he was to those who lived and worked around him that it hardly registered as a disability at all. The audience was transfixed. We all had goosebumps. We all heard FDR approaching that door. For me, that program rose above the rest.
Do you have any key mentors or someone who has deeply influenced you? Is there any piece of advice that they gave you that you’ve held onto?
I do. Lynn Bassanese, the former Library Director at the presidential library, was an incredible boss, friend, and mentor, during the most formative professional years of my career. I am, without question, where I am -- and, most importantly, happy where I am -- because of her guidance. Lynn had a small piece of paper beside her computer (it's besides mine now) with an unattributed saying, "Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always." She lives by that. And I try to. If your work involves any level of visitor/customer service, working towards this mindset can be an enlightening and transformative experience.
You have an entire museum/collection to yourself. What do you do?
I'm a big World's Fair buff. Especially the two New York fairs at Flushing Meadows. While I am too young to have experienced them myself, both my parents went to both the '39 and '64 fairs and loved them. My grandfather was Suburban News Editor for the New York Times and lived in Richmond Hill not far from the fairgrounds, as well. So, I think I would love to run around the Queens Museum -- a building that dates back to the first of the NYC fairs -- and explore all the nooks and crannies for remnants of the fairs. Of course, the amazing Panorama of the City of New York from the '64 fair is still on display there and it would be fun to have time -- by myself -- to inspect it more closely.