Presidential library

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Official seal of the presidential libraries

In the United States, the presidential library system is a nationwide network of 15 libraries administered by the Office of Presidential Libraries, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). These are repositories for preserving and making available the papers, records, collections and other historical materials of every President of the United States from Herbert Hoover (31st President, 1929-1933) to George W. Bush (43rd President, 2001-2009). In addition to the library services, museum exhibitions concerning the presidency are displayed.

Although recognized as having historical significance, before the mid-20th century, presidential papers and effects were generally understood to be the private property of the president. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president, proposed to leave his papers to the public in a building donated by him on his Hyde Park estate. Since then a series of laws have established the presidential library system.

While not officially sanctioned and maintained by the NARA, libraries have also been organized for several presidents who preceded Hoover and the official start of the Presidential Library Office. The one planned for Barack Obama (44th President, 2009–2017) will also operate outside the NARA system.[1]


For every president since Herbert Hoover, presidential libraries have been established in each president's home state in which documents, artifacts, gifts of state and museum exhibits are maintained that relate to the former president's life and career both political and professional. Each library also provides an active series of public programs. When a president leaves office, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) establishes a presidential materials project to house and index the documents until a new presidential library is built and transferred to the federal government.

The first presidential library is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, dedicated on June 30, 1941. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library became the eleventh presidential library on November 18, 2004, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum became the twelfth on July 11, 2007, and the George W. Bush Presidential Center became the thirteenth on May 1, 2013. Official fundraising for the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum began in January 2014; however President Obama has chosen to forego the traditional route and his Presidential Center will not be a part of NARA. The Obama Foundation will own and operate the museum, but will pay NARA to digitize unclassified records and release them to the public as they become available.[1]

Presidential libraries outside NARA

The presidential library system is made up of thirteen presidential libraries operated by the NARA.[n 1] Libraries and museums have been established for earlier presidents, but they are not part of the NARA presidential library system, and are operated by private foundations, historical societies, or state governments, including the William McKinley, Rutherford Hayes, Calvin Coolidge, Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson libraries. For example, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is owned and operated by the state of Illinois.

The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace was not originally part of the presidential library system. While the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff, which administers the Nixon presidential materials under the terms of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, is part of NARA, a private foundation operated the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace. In January 2004, Congress passed legislation that provided for the establishment of a federally operated Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda. In March 2005, the Archivist of the United States and John Taylor, the director of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation, exchanged letters on the requirements to allow the Nixon Library to become the twelfth federally funded Presidential library operated by the NARA by 2007. On October 16, 2006, Dr. Timothy Naftali began his tenure as the first federal director of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, and in the winter of 2006 NARA began to transfer the 30,000 presidential gifts from the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff in College Park, Maryland to the facility.[3][4] On July 11, 2007, the Nixon Foundation deeded the Library and Birthplace to the government of the United States. On the same day, the newly renamed federal Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum officially opened.[5]

In May 2012, on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Ulysses S. Grant Foundation, it selected Mississippi State University as the permanent location for Ulysses S. Grant's presidential library.[6] Historian John Simon edited Grant's letters into a 32-volume scholarly edition published by Southern Illinois University Press.[7]

On April 30, 2013, both chambers of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly passed a bill appropriating $12 million to Dickinson State University to award a grant to the Theodore Roosevelt Center for construction of a building to be named the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library. To access these funds, the Theodore Roosevelt Center must first raise $3 million from non-state sources.[8] Dickinson State University is also home to the Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library which has formed partnerships with the Library of Congress and Harvard University, among other institutions. They currently have over 25,000 items online.


Historically, all presidential papers were considered the personal property of the president. Some took them at the end of their terms, others destroyed them, and many papers were scattered.[9] Though many pre-Hoover collections now reside in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress,[10] others are split among other libraries, historical societies, and private collections. However, many materials have been lost or deliberately destroyed.

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, the wife of James A. Garfield (president from March 4, 1881, until his death on September 19, 1881) added a Memorial Library wing to their family home in Mentor, Ohio, four years after his assassination. The James A. Garfield National Historic Site is operated by the National Park Service and the Western Reserve Historical Society.

National Archives

In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt donated his personal and presidential papers to the federal government. At the same time, Roosevelt pledged part of his estate at Hyde Park, New York to the United States, and friends of the President formed a non-profit corporation to raise funds for the construction of the library and museum building. Roosevelt's decision stemmed from his belief that Presidential papers were an important part of the national heritage and should be accessible to the public. He asked the National Archives to take custody of his papers and other historical materials and to administer his library.[9] On June 30, 2013, new interactive and multimedia exhibits developed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) opened to the public as part of the first renovation of this library since its opening.[11]

In 1950, Harry S. Truman decided that he, too, would build a library to house his Presidential papers and helped to galvanize congressional action.

Presidential Libraries Act of 1955

In 1955, Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, establishing a system of privately erected and federally maintained libraries. The Act encouraged other Presidents to donate their historical materials to the government and ensured the preservation of Presidential papers and their availability to the American people. Under this and subsequent acts, nine more libraries have been established. In each case, funds from private and non-federal public sources provided the funds to build the library. Once completed, the private organization turned over the libraries to the National Archives and Records Administration to operate and maintain.

Until 1978, Presidents, scholars, and legal professionals held the view dating back to George Washington that the records created by the President or his staff while in office remained the personal property of the President and were his to take with him when he left office. The first Presidential libraries were built on this concept. NARA successfully persuaded Presidents to donate their historical materials to the federal government for housing in a Presidential library managed by NARA.

Presidential Records Act of 1978

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 established that the Presidential records that document the constitutional, statutory, and ceremonial duties of the President are the property of the United States Government. After the President leaves office, the Archivist of the United States assumes custody of the records. The Act allowed for the continuation of Presidential libraries as the repository for Presidential records.

Presidential Libraries Act of 1986

The Presidential Libraries Act of 1986 made additional changes to Presidential libraries, requiring private endowments linked to the size of the facility. NARA uses these endowments to offset a portion of the maintenance costs for the library.


The thirteen presidential libraries maintain over 400 million pages of textual materials; nearly ten million photographs; over 15 million feet (5,000 km) of motion picture film; nearly 100,000 hours of disc, audiotape, and videotape recordings; and approximately half a million museum objects. These varied holdings make each library a valuable source of information and a center for research on the Presidency.

The most important textual materials in each library are those created by the President and his staff in the course of performing the official duties. Libraries also house numerous objects including family heirlooms, items collected by the President and his family, campaign memorabilia, awards, and the many gifts given to the President by American citizens and foreign dignitaries. These gifts range in type from homemade items to valuable works of art. Curators in Presidential libraries and in other museums throughout the country draw upon these collections for historical exhibits.

Other significant holdings include the personal papers and historical materials donated by individuals associated with the President. These individuals may include Cabinet officials, envoys to foreign governments, political party associates, and the President's family and personal friends. Several libraries have undertaken oral history programs that have produced tape-recorded memoirs. A third body of materials comprises the papers accumulated by the President prior to, and following, his Presidency. Such collections include documents relating to Roosevelt's tenure as Governor of New York and Dwight D. Eisenhower's long military career.

With the exception of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and upon their own deaths, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, every American president since Hoover is or has chosen to be buried at his presidential library. Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery; Johnson is buried at his ranch in the hill country of Texas, west of Austin; Carter plans to be buried near his home in Plains, Georgia.[12] George W. Bush has a burial plot in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas.[13]

Unlike all other Presidents whose libraries are part of the NARA system, Ford's library and museum are geographically separate buildings, located in different parts of Michigan; Ford is buried at his museum in Grand Rapids, while the library is in Ann Arbor.

List of presidential libraries

This is a list of the presidential libraries.

  Denotes libraries outside the NARA Presidential Library Office (most of these Presidents pre-date the administration of Herbert Hoover).
No. President Library name Location Operated By Image Logo/Website
1 George Washington Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon[14] Mount Vernon, Virginia Mount Vernon Ladies' Association The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.jpg website
2 and 6 John Adams
John Quincy Adams
Stone Library at Adams National Historical Park Quincy, Massachusetts National Park Service Old House, Quincy, Massachusetts.JPG website
3 Thomas Jefferson Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Kenwood Charlottesville, Virginia Thomas Jefferson Foundation Monticello 2010-10-29.jpg website
5 James Monroe James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library Fredericksburg, Virginia University of Mary Washington James Monroe Museum, Fredericksburg, VA IMG 4002.JPG website
16 Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Springfield, Illinois State of Illinois 2013-08-04 AbrahamLincoln PresidentialLibrary and Museum.JPG website
17 Andrew Johnson President Andrew Johnson Museum and Library Tusculum, Tennessee Tusculum College Historic American Buildings Survey, Ray Moody, Photographer January 21, 1958 BACK ELEVATION. - Tusculum College, State Route 107, Greeneville Vicinity, Tusculum, Greene County, HABS TENN,30-TUSC,2A-1.tif website
18 Ulysses S. Grant Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library Starkville, Mississippi Mississippi State University Library
Ulysses S. Grant Association
19 Rutherford B. Hayes Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Fremont, Ohio Ohio Historical Society
Hayes Presidential Center, Inc.
HayesLibrary.jpg website
25 William McKinley William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum Canton, Ohio Stark County Historical Society Mckinley museum wiki.jpg website
28 Woodrow Wilson Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Staunton, Virginia Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Foundation Wilson Birthplace Jan 2007.jpg website
30 Calvin Coolidge Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum Northampton, Massachusetts Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1899 Northampton Forbes public library Massachusetts.png website
31 Herbert Hoover Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum West Branch, Iowa National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Herbert Hoover Presidential Library 003.jpg Official logo of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.png
32 Franklin D. Roosevelt Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum Hyde Park, New York NARA Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.jpg Official logo of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.svg
33 Harry S. Truman Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum Independence, Missouri NARA Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum July 2007.jpg Official logo of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library.svg
34 Dwight D. Eisenhower Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home Abilene, Kansas NARA Eisenhower library.jpg Official logo of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.svg
35 John F. Kennedy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Boston, Massachusetts NARA JFK library Stitch Crop.jpg Official logo of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.svg
36 Lyndon B. Johnson Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum Austin, Texas NARA
The University of Texas at Austin
Johnson library.jpg Official logo of the LBJ Presidential Library.png
37 Richard Nixon Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum Yorba Linda, California NARA Nixon Library and Gardens.jpg Official logo of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library.svg
38 Gerald Ford Gerald R. Ford Museum Grand Rapids, Michigan NARA GRFord-Presidential.jpg    Official logo of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.svg
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library Ann Arbor, Michigan Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, spring.jpg
39 Jimmy Carter Jimmy Carter Library and Museum Atlanta, Georgia NARA Carter lib1.JPG Official logo of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.svg
40 Ronald Reagan Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Simi Valley, California NARA View of the Reagan Library from the south.jpg Seal of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.svg
41 George H. W. Bush George Bush Presidential Library & Museum College Station, Texas NARA
Texas A&M University
BushLibrary.JPG Official logo of the George Bush Presidential Library.svg
42 Bill Clinton William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park Little Rock, Arkansas NARA William J. Clinton Presidential Library, Little Rock, Arkansas (exterior view - 2007).jpg Official logo of the Bill Clinton Presidential Library.svg
43 George W. Bush George W. Bush Presidential Center Dallas, Texas NARA
Southern Methodist University
George W. Bush Presidential Center 07 - jpfagerback - 2013-04-26.JPG Official logo of the George W. Bush Presidential Library.svg
44 Barack Obama Barack Obama Presidential Center Chicago, Illinois[15] Obama Foundation[16] and The University of Chicago[17] Obama Foundation logo.svg

Locations of other presidents' papers

Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson left their papers to Princeton University where they may be found at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. After the Theodore Roosevelt Association failed to get enough funds to start what would be the second presidential library after Rutherford Hayes', they donated his papers to Harvard University in 1943. These reside at its Houghton Library. James Buchanan left his papers to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where they may still be found. In the 1960s, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville endeavored to collect all of Andrew Jackson's papers on microfilm and the results are now available online. A similar project is underway on behalf of James Madison by the Universities of Virginia and Chicago. For many presidents, especially before the development of the NARA system, substantial collections may be found in multiple private and public collections. Until the Obama Administration's library is ready for service, its papers are being held in a facility in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and are not available to the public as they are classified.

See also


  1. ^ Barack Obama's facility may not have a traditional research library and will not be a part of the NARA system.[2]


  1. ^ a b "National Archives Announces a New Model for the Preservation and Accessibility of Presidential Records". May 3, 2017. 
  2. ^ Clark, Anthony (May 7, 2017). "Presidential Libraries Are a Scam. Could Obama Change That?". Politico Magazine. Retrieved 2017-05-25. 
  3. ^ "Nixon Library Updates". Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Retrieved 2015-09-01. 
  4. ^ "National Archives Names Director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum" (Press release). National Archives and Records Administration. July 11, 2007. Retrieved 2015-09-01. 
  5. ^ "The National Archives Opens Federal Nixon Library, Releases Previously-Restricted Documents and Tapes" (Press release). National Archives and Records Administration. July 11, 2007. Retrieved 2015-09-01. 
  6. ^ "MSU joins exclusive list as presidential library host" (Press release). Mississippi State University. May 17, 2012. Retrieved 2015-09-01. 
  7. ^ "Collection Overview". Ulysses S. Grant Association. Retrieved 2015-09-01. 
  8. ^ "Legislative Assembly awards funding for creation of TR Library" (Press release). Theodore Roosevelt Center. May 2, 2013. Retrieved 2015-09-01. 
  9. ^ a b Gunther, John (1950). Roosevelt in Retrospect. Harper & Brothers. pp. 99–100. 
  10. ^ "Presidential Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2012-01-02. 
  11. ^ "History Associates Assists With Content Development for New Exhibit at Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum" (Press release). History Associates. September 27, 2013. Retrieved 2014-05-30. 
  12. ^ Minor, Elliot (January 10, 2007). "Carter's Hometown Happy with Burial Plan". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved 2015-09-01. 
  13. ^ "George Walker Bush". Texas State Cemetery. Retrieved 2015-09-01. 
  14. ^ O'Brien, Caitlin (April 14, 2011). "Mount Vernon Getting New Library". WRC-TV News. Retrieved 2014-09-01. 
  15. ^ Lutz, BJ (April 30, 2015). "Chicago to Get Obama Presidential Library". WMAQ-TV News. Retrieved 2015-09-01. 
  16. ^ Clark, Anthony (January 8, 2017). "Obama Foundation Changes Presidential Libraries—Perhaps Forever". Retrieved 2017-06-03. [I]t seems quite certain that the Obama Foundation anticipates keeping and operating both the foundation space as well as the museum on its own ... 
  17. ^ Julie Bosman & Mitch Smith, Chicago Wins Bid to Host Obama Library, New York Times, May 12, 2015.
  • Portions of this article based on public domain text from the National Archives and Records Administration
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