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Magazines > Information Today > June 2007
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Information Today

Vol. 24 No. 6 — June 2007

Spotlight on Presidential Libraries
By Scott Koerwer

Presidential Archives:
Hype, Reality, and
Limits to Access
by Miriam A. Drake
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), originally named the National Archives Establishment and created by Congress in 1934, is in charge of collecting and organizing federal records, a job previously left to the individual agencies

of the government. In 1939, Franklin Delano Roosevelt set aside a portion of his estate in Hyde Park, N.Y., to build a library that would house his presidential papers, which he later donated to the federal government. This formally launched the Presidential Library system, which the NARA now also operates.

In 1955, Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act, which called for privately built but federally maintained presidential libraries and encouraged presidents to donate their private and presidential papers to them. Since then, the NARA has maintained 11 presidential libraries that span from Herbert Hoover to Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon’s library in Yorba Linda, Calif., has been privately operated since its opening in 1990, but it will also become a part of the NARA later this year.

Six other presidents also have presidential libraries across the nation, four of which are operated by private organizations. The other two are the John Quincy Adams library operated by the National Park Service and the Abraham Lincoln library operated by the state of Illinois.

Here is a list of the presidential libraries:

John Quincy Adams
Stone Library at Adams National Park in Quincy, Mass.

Built on land that was the birthplace and residence for five generations of the Adams family, the Stone Library is the first presidential library ever built. It was opened in 1870.

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill.

In 2-plus years since opening in April 2005, the museum has seen more than 1 million visitors, making it the most visited presidential library.

Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio

Built on the Spiegel Grove estate that is home to several generations of the Hayes family, the center is operated by the Ohio Historical Society and the Hayes Presidential Center, Inc.

William McKinley
McKinley Presidential Library & Museum in Canton, Ohio

The Stark County Historical Society operates McKinley’s library, which opened in 1907.

Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Va.

The library, operated by the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Foundation, was built in 1990 on a renovated section of the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Foundation, established in 1938.

Calvin Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum in Northampton, Mass.

Built in the town where he served as mayor from 1910 to 1912, Coolidge’s library is run by Forbes Library and was officially opened in 1956 at the request of Coolidge’s wife.

The following presidential libraries are operated by the NARA:

Herbert Hoover
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa

President and Mrs. Hoover are buried on the grounds of the library, which was opened in 1962.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Roosevelt’s decision to create his library in 1940 served as precedent for the Presidential Libraries Act in 1955. The library also houses Eleanor Roose­velt’s 3 million pages of papers.

Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum & Library in Independence, Mo.

Kofi Annan gave his final speech as secretary general of the U.N. at Truman’s library, which opened in 1957.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kan.

The library, which opened in 1962, is open 362 days a year and includes Eisenhower’s boyhood home, museum, and grave site.

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester, Mass.

Due to complications and community opposition, Kennedy’s library is not in Cambridge, where Kennedy originally wanted it. The Dorchester library, designed by architect I. M. Pei, opened in 1979.

Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas

The library, which is next to the LBJ School of Public Affairs on The University of Texas–Austin campus, was opened in 1971.

Richard M. Nixon
Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, Calif.

Currently operated by The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation, the NARA will begin operating it by the end of this year.

Gerald R. Ford
Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor (Mich.)

Ford’s museum is built in Michigan’s 5th District, where Ford served as representative from 1949 to 1973. His library is on the campus of his alma mater, the University of Michigan. Both opened in 1981.

Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter Library & Museum in Atlanta

Carter’s library opened in 1986 and has seen such exhibits as the U.S. Bill of Rights and Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Its opening in 1991 marked the first time five U.S. presidents (Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush Sr.) gathered in one place. It is also the largest library, housing Reagan’s Air Force One aircraft.

George H. W. Bush
George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas

The library opened on the west campus of Texas A&M University in 1997. It is currently closed for renovations but will reopen on Nov. 6 with several new exhibits.

Bill Clinton
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Ark.

When it opened in 2004, it was the largest physical presidential library until Reagan’s underwent renovations. It still contains the largest archive of any presidential library.

Miriam A. Drake is professor emeritus at the Georgia Institute of Technology Library. Her email address is
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