The Future of Presidential Libraries

The Presidential Libraries Act and the Establishment of Presidential Libraries Report published last month by the Congressional Research Service expands on the role of presidential library foundations and the federal government. The report highlights the legislative history of the Presidential Libraries Act (PLA) and amendments made to PLA over the years, including recent endowment requirements for each presidential library. In the report, the relationship between the federal government and private library foundations is discussed and clarified.

An analysis by authors Wendy Ginsberg and Erika Lunder, proposes possible models for the future of presidential libraries. One model would create one centralized presidential archive run by the National Archives Records Administration (NARA) for researchers. This model would limit access to presidential materials from local communities and also require Congress to appropriate funding for construction of a single facility. The centralization of presidential papers may also change the environment for researchers in understanding the social factors that may have influenced presidential decisions and lives. The historical context of home-towns of presidents provides researchers and the public with a unique perspective of each president‘s life and legacy.

As electronic records become more and more a part of our daily lives, Congress must consider the implications of technology on the future of libraries and museums. The implications of technology for archives and museums may increase accessibility to the public, but the question remains; should all records be digitalized?

This report provides Congress and the public with excellent information about presidential libraries; however it lacks information about actual use of current presidential libraries and museums. The report doesn‘t discuss the importance of education in local communities and the impact presidential libraries and museums have on American cities, towns, and communities. A similar report published by NARA in September 2009 presents the impact of presidential libraries on communities and education of youth. Keeping stories and history for future generations accessible to the American public is the vision of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that founded the first presidential library in 1941.

-Naomi Bishop

This follow-up article to the “Off the Shelf” column on Presidential Libraries in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue, examines implications of a report just published by the CRS. To read more, see: