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Not the Onion: Obama Presidential Library Won’t Have Any Library Materials

Not the Onion: Obama Presidential Library Won’t Have Any Library Materials


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Via Chicago Tribune:

Once the Obama Presidential Center is constructed, it will have a children’s play garden, sledding hill, green spaces for picnics and outdoor gatherings, basketball courts and even a recording studio, officials have said.

But what the space won’t have is all of former President Barack Obama’s manuscripts, documents, letters and gifts he collected during his time in office. While the Presidential Center is about four years from opening, a conversation has begun about what the facility will mean to scholars and to local research universities without those items.

Traditionally, Presidential Libraries are places where historians, academics and college students travel to dig through paperwork and hold the first drafts of speeches, letters and legislation in their hands. But without those papers on site, some have begun to ask whether the Obama Center can even attract researchers to the University of Chicago, Chicago State University or the University of Illinois. What will it mean to have those documents online rather than in a physical form for inspection? And with digital technology constantly changing, how will the National Archives and Records Administration ensure the documents will be placed online in a timely manner and accessible over time?

“All archivists are waiting to see how this will work, because we are all struggling with how to make things available digitally,” said Peggy Glowacki, a manuscripts librarian at the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I think in this case it’s such a massive amount of material that it will be important to see how they are able to deliver it and make it easy to search.”

Currently, Obama’s papers are stored in a private facility — a handsome and sprawling, bright white brick building on a commercial strip on West Golf Road in suburban Hoffman Estates. Officials initially thought the papers would be kept in Chicago. But after they spent $300,000 to ship Obama’s documents to the Chicago region and about $223,000 a month to store and provide security for tens of millions of textual records, artifacts and audio visual materials here, they decided to ship them back to Washington once a decision is made on where to keep them permanently, a spokeswoman with the National Archives and Records Administration said.

The classified documents will be housed in an existing facility in Washington, D.C., the spokeswoman said. The non-classified papers will likely be placed in an existing NARA facility in a Washington suburb.

This much is clear: The archives won’t be taken to a newly constructed facility that would serve as a library.

Recently, in a lecture, Foundation CEO David Simas emphasized that the Obama Center will be unlike the actual presidential libraries across the country.

“This is going to be completely different,” he said. “What the president and first lady said … is they simply did not want a museum that served as a mausoleum, as a way to look back.”

The center could still prove itself valuable to historians and researchers, said James “Skip” Rutherford, the current dean of the William J. Clinton School of Public Service, who oversaw the construction and development of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark.

“Here’s how it will be attractive: through the forums, workshops and programs they conduct,” he said. “They can host conferences with administration officials, discussions on how Obama approached health care, how he developed the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) executive order. That’s how the center will become a research institution.”

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