The Obama Presidential Library has been in the news lately.  Last month, they announced a different model for this library — outside of the presidential library network of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  Rather than using a lot of real estate to house paper records, they intend to store presidential records and artifacts in existing NARA facilities and provide access to nonclassified documents online (after the 5-year embargo required by the Presidential Records Act).  Archivist of the U.S. David Ferriero explained in an interview for the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators that most of the Obama administration’s documents were born digital, so this transition away from the model of housing records onsite makes sense.

This addresses one of the criticisms I wrote about years ago from people like Benjamin Hufbauer — by removing the taxpayer support of entities that glorify former presidents.  This also frees up the Obama Presidential Center to use space for an auditorium/forum and for a recording studio.  Like the other presidential libraries, there will be a museum, where they can exhibit artifacts borrowed from NARA.  It also gives more flexibility to the Obama Foundation, which would have been required under a 2008 law to have an endowment equal to 60% of the cost of the library portion of the center (where his most recent predecessors needed to reach only a 20% threshold).

When he unveiled the plans, Obama spoke of the new center as a “hub” for the community, reminiscent of his organizing days in Chicago:

“What we want this to be is the world’s premier institution for training young people in leadership to make a difference in their countries, in their communities and in the world.”

Louise Bernard was named museum director for the center — another sign the emphasis for this facility will not be on presidential records.  (I may be reading too much into this, but when SAA president-elect Meredith Evans was chosen in 2014, her title is director of the Carter Presidential Library and Museum.)

What remains to be seen is how this will impact NARA.  My understanding from other recent presidential libraries is that the records are processed as needed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests.  I wonder if NARA has the staff needed to handle these requests for the Obama records.  I guess AOTUS has until 2022 to get that worked out!