A research/history debacle is unfolding as the Obama Presidential "Library" in Chicago will be privately run with no National Archives presence or repository of physical records. But it will have an athletic center & a recording studio! ?? https://t.co/hMU0ri7MR9
— Charlie Savage (@charlie_savage) February 21, 2019
The public book repositories that were such an important part of so many of our childhoods have changed considerably since the days when Maurice Sendak was best known for illustrating Else Minarik’s Little Bear easy readers. Our little New England industrial town is on the point of reopening a new, totally redesigned library that will feature (along with much improved access to books & magazines) “… our new video gaming setup… 3D printers, laser cutter, and laptop vending machine in the Makerspace… our business center [where] the scanner can translate the text on a scrap of paper into over 50 different languages… “
And the New York Times knows this, which is why the headline is more than a little disingenuous, but it’s still a great read:
The Obama Presidential Center promises to be a presidential library like no other.
The four-building, 19-acre “working center for citizenship,” set to be built in a public park on the South Side of Chicago, will include a 235-foot-high “museum tower,” a two-story event space, an athletic center, a recording studio, a winter garden, even a sledding hill.
But the center, which will cost an estimated $500 million, will also differ from the complexes built by Barack Obama’s predecessors in another way: It won’t actually be a presidential library.
In a break with precedent, there will be no research library on site, and none of Mr. Obama’s official presidential records. Instead, the Obama Foundation will pay to digitize the roughly 30 million pages of unclassified paper records from the administration so they can be made available online.
And the entire complex, including the museum chronicling Mr. Obama’s presidency, will be run by the foundation, a private nonprofit entity, rather than by the National Archives and Records Administration, the federal agency that administers the libraries and museums for all presidents going back to Herbert Hoover.
The plan was revealed, with little fanfare, in May 2017. Few details of the digitization were made public until Tuesday, when the foundation and the archives unexpectedly released a legal agreement outlining procedures for creating what is being billed as “first digital archives for the first digital president,” which they say will democratize access.
But as awareness of the plan has spread, some historians see a threat to future scholarship on the Obama administration — and to the presidential library system itself…
Timothy Naftali, the former director of the Richard Nixon library, where he is credited with overhauling museum exhibits to give a more honest accounting of Watergate, called the decision “a huge mistake.”
“It was astounding to me that a good presidency would do this,” Mr. Naftali said.
“It opens the door,” he added, “to a truly terrible Trump library.”…
The Trump Library — assuming the Saudis or the Mercers eventually get around to rededicating some abandoned golf clubhouse or unsaleable retail space — will be truly terrible under any circumstances. Kudos to President Obama for envisioning something other than a spiritual mausoleum celebrating his personal charisma:
… “America’s pyramids,” as the historian Robert Caro has called them, have also been subject to withering criticism. Over time what were intended as impartial repositories have ballooned into grandiose shrines where former presidents and their foundations wield influence not only at the museums (whose exhibits they pay for) but even, some have charged, in the research reading rooms themselves.
Anthony Clark*, the author of “The Last Campaign,” a recent book about presidential libraries, called the Obama Foundation’s break with the existing model “an unambiguous good for the American taxpayer.”
The National Archives “will not be saddled, as it is at the federal presidential libraries of Mr. Obama’s 13 immediate predecessors, with the expense and embarrassment of hosting troublingly politicized exhibits, speakers, events and educational programs,” he said…
*See previous post(s)
Much more detail at the link.
Me, I’m looking forward to seeing what develops in Chicago.