Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Looking Back & Moving Forward

In the pages that follow, Elliot Gruber, Director of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, writes that the museum has welcomed 1.6 million visitors this year. Of these, 500,000 walked through the doors to enjoy the philatelic displays and experiences there. The other 1,100,000 individuals explored the museum online, through its website and the NPM’s social media accounts.

In this issue you will also read about the celebration, held in November, for the anniversary of the American Philatelic Research Library. Guests and patrons from around the country made the trek to Bellefonte to commemorate the library’s 50 years of service to the hobby. Past librarians were honored, local leaders offered proclamations, and presentations were made to continue the achievements of the library.

As philatelists, we focus on various aspects of yesteryear. Collectively, we study the past chronicled in stamps, we explore accounts of antiquity through postal history and we examine techniques sometimes lost to the march of time. Our love of the hobby often forces us into ever-finer degrees of focus. This intensity leads to greater knowledge, but it carries a potential drawback. We can become so engaged in the past that we forget to plan for the future.

Postcard for StampShow 2018 themed “Here Be Dragons”

I began this column with accounts from the National Postal Museum and the APRL to highlight the fact that while we explore the past, we must not neglect the future. Over the course of this now-waning year, we made many strides toward preserving the legacy and enhancing the future of the hobby. Two specific achievements include the introduction of themed events (“Here Be Dragons” at StampShow/NTSS) and a major upgrade to the APS website. While I understand that the latter change has created some inconveniences, the transition is essential for the future and it was relatively smooth given the technological challenges we faced.

Through this year’s initiatives, feedback was never lacking and we have worked to be both respectful and responsive to the input we received. One of the most poignant thoughts expressed to me was a simple question with tremendous significance: “Why can’t you just leave things the way they are?”

We can’t leave things the way they are because of the statistic shared by Director Gruber. The Smithsonian Institute, one of the most significant museum systems in the world, recognizes that they welcome more than twice as many visitors electronically as they do physically. If they neglect growing their digital presence, it threatens their physical existence. 

The same is true for us. While change can be uncomfortable and challenging, it is fully necessary for growth. Physical growth, whether for teens or seniors, brings an array of aches and pains. So as we grow, we will work on minimizing the discomfort, we will remember and honor a rich heritage but we will plan a future that welcomes philately into more lives than ever before.

This article originally published in the December 2018 edition of The American Philatelist.