Historians are puzzled over the recent announcement from the Obama Foundation. Apparently, the foundation is taking an unprecedented approach and has chosen to only house digital copies of the former president Barack Obama’s correspondences.
Although it will still be at least four years before the Obama library will open, the decision to not house any documents is creating some concern. The Obama Foundation has indicated that there will be no actual documents on hand at the Obama library in Chicago. The foundation is casting its approach as simply keeping pace with the times. But that has left historians and scholars baffled. “All archivists are waiting to see how this will work, because we are all struggling with how to make things available digitally,” Peggy Glowacki, a manuscripts librarian at the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune.
“The foundation’s goal is to create, with NARA, a new model for the next generation of presidential centers that reflects the way people access information in this digital age,” an Obama Foundation spokesperson told Fox News, referring to the National Archives and Records Administration. “The Obama Foundation will be funding through private funds the digitization of all non-classified presidential records in order to help facilitate better access to these documents to a broader audience.”
Presidential libraries typically attract historians and students from across the nation who are eager to sift through records, speeches, documents, and letters of former presidents. But without the artifacts physically at the center, some experts have questioned the process. “I think in this case it’s such a massive amount of material that it will be important to see how they are able to deliver it and make it easy to search,” Glowacki told the Chicago Tribune.
NARA told the Tribune that the classified documents from Obama’s presidency will be stored in an existing facility in Washington, while the non-classified documents probably will be stored in a NARA facility outside the district. The foundation reported in July that total fundraising for the Center amounted to at least $8 million toward the projected $500 million cost of the library-museum. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2021. Planners for months have made clear that Obama’s post-presidency project will be different from other presidential centers. Back in May, Obama described it as “more like a campus,” with plans to position it as a “premier institution for training young people in leadership.” –Fox News
Dean of William J. Clinton School of Public Service James “Skipp” Rutherford, who oversaw the development of the Clinton Presidential Library in Arkansas, told the Chicago Tribune that this sort of setup can still offer some value to those who chose to seek it. “Here’s how it will be attractive: through the forums, workshops, and programs they conduct,” Rutherford said, noting “the presence of paper records is less important now.”
But some still say that an actually having material on hand is how one will benefit.
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