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NARA and Management of Presidential Library Records

For those of you following the saga of Anthony Clark and his attempt to get access to NARA records about Presidential Libraries (See: How hard is it to get NARA records about NARA? and Getting Documents from NARA about NARA – UPDATE), our friend Kate over at ArchivesNext.com has researched the issue and written a good article about the issues. Thanks Kate!

How hard is it to get NARA records about NARA?

Anthony Clark, an independent researcher writing a book on the politics and history of presidential libraries, has written a provocative piece on access to National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) records about administration of Presidential Libraries:

Clark claims that NARA is “improperly withholding its own records.” He says that as part of NARA’s job of overseeing the twelve presidential libraries, it has records that detail the development of the libraries through 1964, when NARA created the Office of Presidential Libraries (NL), but none of NL’s records are available. NARA is calling these records “operational,” which makes them available only through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Clark quotes Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, as saying, “It is hard to understand how records that are old enough to have been destroyed if the records schedule had been followed can be considered ‘operational.’ Presidential libraries are an area of keen congressional and public interest and information about them held by NARA should be affirmatively disclosed to the greatest extent possible.”

Clark’s article has produced an extensive discussion and Comments, including the NARA Response by Gary M. Stern on July 24, 2008.

Kate at ArchivesNext has posted a thoughtful response after talking off the record to archives staff: Access to records of the National Archives, July 24th, 2008.

More Trouble for Bush Library

The George W. Bush Library at at Southern Methodist University has been a source of controversy for some time. Now, a new story and video by the Times of London suggests more trouble.

Do you want Vice President Dick Cheney’s undivided attention for an hour? Stephen P. Payne, a Texas-based lobbyist, has some advice about how to grease the wheels for such a meeting: Make a six-figure donation to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, a library and museum complex that is scheduled to be built at Southern Methodist University.

Presidential Libraries and Museums and EO 13233

Presidential libraries have historical problem, Commentary By Benjamin Hufbauer, Chicago Tribune, March 3, 2008. Also available here from NewsBank (subscription required).

The problem with presidential libraries is that there is often tension between what presidents want — whitewashed memorials that attempt to enhance their reputations through propaganda — and what historians and the public want — accessible archives and good history museums.

C-SPAN series on Presidential Libraries

Presidential Libraries: History Uncovered began this week. It is broadcast at 8PM Eastern Time on C-SPAN, and on C-SPAN Radio Saturdays at 3pm ET The series offers what presidential historian Richard Norton Smith predicts will be "a kind of history that people don’t get out of their textbooks." The series covers Herbert Hoover to Bill Clinton.  The first show (September 7 on TV, and September 8 on radio) was on Hoover. More material is online at the above link.

More about the series here:

C-SPAN Libraries series opens door to presidential history, by Jeannie Kever, Houston Chronicle Sept. 6, 2007.