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Hoover Museum attendance falls

Associated Press

WEST BRANCH, Iowa -- The legacy of Herbert Hoover isn't piquing the interest of many Iowans these days.

Attendance at the Hoover Presidential Library-M 3/4seum has declined by almost half since the late 1980s, and the museum's director is seeking ways to regain the attention of Iowa's youth.

Video games and documentaries are among the ideas museum staff are considering to bolster traffic in this eastern Iowa city -- the birthplace of the only Iowa-born U.S. president.

"We have to market ourselves to an audience of citizens whose attention is in high demand," said Tim Walch, the museum's director.

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It has been a difficult task promoting one of America's least popular presidents. Walch said it has become tougher with the "No Child Left Behind Act" -- a federal law passed in 2001 that set standardized national education requirements. He said the museum is getting about half the field trips since the act was passed because teachers are pressured to meet those requirements in the classroom.

"The link between school performance and museums has not been made strongly enough," he said.

The museum's attendance dropped to 55,565 last year from 66,260 in 2004 -- a 16 percent change. In some years, most recently in 1989, the museum has seen more than 100,000 visitors.

Other presidential facilities are also losing their appeal, including Gerald Ford's museum in Grand Rapids, Mich. The museum's attendance has decreased in recent years.

The National Archives and Records Administration is conducting a marketing study to learn why people visit presidential libraries, said Sharon Fawcett, an archivist for the administration.

"We have found that the majority of those surveyed have heard of presidential libraries, but many do not understand the wide range of programs, educational activities and exhibits available," Fawcett said.

Visitors to the Hoover museum learn that -- despite his infamous association with the Great Depression -- Hoover's contributions are still recognized today. Hoover is credited with helping build the Hoover Dam and standardizing everything from road signs to lumber lengths. His wife, Lou, is also remembered for pioneering the Girl Scout cookie sale.

Lois Crowley, a curriculum coordinator for the Iowa City school district, believes the Hoover museum has good educational offerings, but money and scheduling concerns are an issue for some districts.

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"But if it's a priority, we find ways to fund it," she said of school field trips.

The Hoover museum is federally funded and is in no danger of closing, Walch said. However, admission and gift shop revenue help pay for gallery updates, temporary exhibits and programs.

Walch is pushing for upgrades that appeal to today's tech-savvy youngsters. One idea is a video game that allows children to help Hoover make tough choices, such as putting people back to work or feeding children, he said.

Hoover staff are also taking the 31st president's story into the schools by dressing as historic figures and talking to classes, Walch said. The museum is trying to raise $1.5 million to film a Hoover documentary to air on the Public Broadcasting Service and possibly sell as DVDs. So far the museum has raised about $600,000.

"We feel there would be direct connection between the number of people who view the film and who visit the library," Walch said.

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