Historians are downright perplexed and concerned over the Obama Foundation’s decision to not hold any of the original hard copies of President Barack Obama’s manuscripts at his presidential library in Chicago.
The Chicago Tribune, an early and lasting advocate of the president, has reported:
While the Presidential Center is about four years from opening, a conversation has begun about what the facility will mean to scholars and to local research universities without those items.
Traditionally, Presidential Libraries are places where historians, academics and college students travel to dig through paperwork and hold the first drafts of speeches, letters and legislation in their hands. But without those papers on site, some have begun to ask whether the Obama Center can even attract researchers to the University of Chicago, Chicago State University or the University of Illinois. What will it mean to have those documents online rather than in a physical form for inspection? And with digital technology constantly changing, how will the National Archives and Records Administration ensure the documents will be placed online in a timely manner and accessible over time?
“All archivists are waiting to see how this will work, because we are all struggling with how to make things available digitally,” said Peggy Glowacki, a manuscripts librarian at the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “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.”
The president’s papers are currently stored in a private facility—it cost $300,000 to ship it all to suburban Chicago and another $223,000 a month to rent the facility and pay for its security—but they are being shipped back to Washington, D.C., once it is determined specifically where they will go.
The National Archives and Records Administration said classified documents would be housed in one of its facilities in the nation’s capital. The non-classified papers will likely be placed in a NARA facility in a Washington suburb.