In May 2015 the Obama Foundation will announce that the Barack Obama Library and Museum will be located on the south side of Chicago with a winning bid from the University of Chicago. Presidential libraries are generally established in a city that is significant in the life of the President and the Obama Presidential Library will be no exception. The Obama Library is planned where First Lady Michelle Obama grew up and where the President began his political career as a community organizer. The Barack Obama Library and Museum will be the 14th Presidential Library administered by the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA).
Presidential libraries do more than just house the papers of former Presidents, they also act as monuments to the men and seek to shape their legacies. The earliest Presidential Library administered by NARA is that of Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States. The Hoover Presidential Library & Museum is all inclusive, from Hoover’s birthplace cottage to his and his wife’s final resting place. This isn’t unusual. In all, nine American presidents are, or will be buried on the grounds of their Presidential libraries.
The Presidential Library system itself began in 1939 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt donated his Presidential papers and other historical materials to the federal government. Before that time all Presidential papers were considered the personal property of the President after they left office. As one would expect many materials have since been lost or were even intentionally destroyed such as the personal papers of Calvin Coolidge and the correspondence between Martha and George Washington.
Today in addition to the NARA administered Presidential libraries, older collections have sometimes been successfully brought back together digitally if not physically. The Theodore Roosevelt Center is one such example, whose mission it is to digitize copies of Roosevelt’s personal and Presidential papers wherever they may physically be. They are available online for all to access and include both film clips and audio recordings.
Presidential libraries are spread across the country. If a grand road trip to each location isn’t an option, you can often access selected parts of their collections online. For example, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has an online collection of Historic Speeches that can be watched or listened to and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum has a 360 degree artifacts Presidential Gifts collection . You can access a full lineup of Presidential Libraries websites and print resources on the topic in the Multnomah County Library’s Presidential Libraries resource list. Do not hesitate to contact us if you would like additional help.