About Presidential Libraries

What are presidential libraries?

Presidential libraries are not traditional libraries, but rather repositories for preserving and making accessible the papers, records and other historical materials of U.S. Presidents. Presidential libraries are important sources for historians and other researchers studying U.S. presidents and the country’s history. In addition to archiving and preserving presidential papers and objects, presidential libraries and museums bring history to millions of visitors from around the world. [From the archives.gov website]

When did the presidential library system begin?

The presidential library system is comprised of thirteen presidential libraries documenting Presidents Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush and is managed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The presidential library system formally began in 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt donated his personal and presidential papers to the Federal Government. [From the archives.gov website]

Why are presidential libraries named libraries rather than archives?

The term library was used at the time of passage of the Presidential Libraries Act in 1955 because the general public was more familiar with that term than the term archives. All of the presidential libraries have archives, which store the papers or records of the President, the presidential administration, the First Lady and personal papers associated with that Presidency. The libraries also include the artifacts and gifts the President and First Lady receive during their administration, including gifts from Heads of State and private citizens.

What is housed in a presidential library?

A presidential library houses papers and records created by, for, or about a President during his life and career. The papers and records document the personal and professional lives of a President, the First Lady and other members of his family, business and political associates and close friends, revealing the details about a President’s family life, career and White House activities. Along with the papers and records, a presidential library contains thousands of feet of motion picture film and videotape as well as millions of still pictures revealing all aspects of a President’s life before, during, and after the White House. Additionally, a presidential library contains thousands of artifacts, the objects that document a life and career.

Who operates and manages presidential libraries?

Once a library is constructed, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) assumes responsibility for its operation and maintenance in accordance with the Presidential Libraries Acts of 1955 and 1986. Presidential libraries are operated and maintained by NARA through its congressionally appropriated operating budget, which includes archival, curatorial and administrative staffing for the library. Some staff and programs at presidential libraries are paid for with funds from associated private foundations organized to fund the construction of the library and provide continuing support for library. The Presidential Library Foundation manages the construction phase of the library.

Who pays for a presidential library?

A presidential library is constructed with private or non-federal funds donated to a non-profit Presidential Library Foundation. Some presidential libraries have also received construction and development funding from state and/or local governments.

What is the role of the Foundation as distinct from the Library itself? Does it just raise money for the library?

Presidential libraries carry out a mandated program to preserve, process, and make available their archival holdings. This program implicitly calls for outreach and educational programs. Foundation support is critical to full development of each library. Presidential libraries, their museums, and the scholarship they promote benefit in significant ways from private organizations established to support such programs.

Who chooses where it goes?

It is up to President Obama and Mrs. Obama to choose the location of the library. In partnership with members of the community, the University has begun to explore a range of potential locations in neighborhoods across the South Side to help inform that choice.