With the midterm elections finishing on Tuesday, it seems like a good time to return to the topic of presidential libraries.  The idea is a fairly recent one in U.S. history, beginning with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  His plan was to retire to Hyde Park and spend the rest of his days working at his library.  Although that ambition remained unfulfilled, by setting the precedent for presidential libraries, FDR forever changed the landscape of presidential records, charting the path toward their being seen as public rather than private records.  The Presidential Records Act, as codified in 44 U.S. Code Chapter 22, defines presidential records and explains restrictions on access to them. Obama’s Executive Order 13489 specifies a 30-day period in which the incumbent and former presidents may review records and potentially express a claim of executive privilege that would prevent their being made public.

Today, there are thirteen presidential libraries under the authority of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); additional libraries for earlier presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, are not under this NARA umbrella.

The Guardian recently posted a story about the architectural proposals of the four finalist sites to house the new Obama Library — Columbia University, the University of Chicago, the University of Hawaii, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.  The article cites historian H.W. Brands as a prominent critic of the idea of erecting separate libraries for each president — one that he sees as unnecessarily expensive to maintain and inconvenient to researchers.  The proposal of placing the libraries together while allowing separate museums for each president is an intriguing one, we may be too far into this endeavor to split the system now.  (See my post on February 16, 2014, for more information on this topic.)

The Clinton Library has also been in the news in the last month because of some documents that have been declassified.  New York Magazine posted a story on the day of these releases highlighting some interesting stories.  For an entire list of the documents declassified this year, go to the Clinton Library site.  There has been much speculation that the declassification of these documents has been influenced by Hilary Clinton’s potential run for the White House in 2016, hence the intersection of voting and records.

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