Presidential Libraries

Types of Presidential Materials

There are three types of Presidential Materials. The law that applies to the materials depends on:

  • how the materials are defined.
  • the year it was created.

Donated Historical Materials

Until the Reagan administration, materials created during the presidency, with the exception of Nixon, were considered the personal property of the President or his associates, and came to NARA as donated historical materials.

  • The Presidential collections from Hoover through Carter, excluding Nixon, are maintained by the Presidential libraries and governed by individual donor deeds of gift.
  • The acceptance of these collections is covered by the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, and NARA observes any restrictions on access to these materials that have been set by the donors, and agreed to by the Archivist of the United States.
  • As a result, some of the Presidential materials in the custody of the Presidential libraries may not currently be available for research.
  • Staff at the individual Presidential libraries can advise researchers on the availability of particular collections.

Presidential Records

In 1978, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act (PRA), which changed the legal status of Presidential and Vice Presidential materials. Under the PRA, the official records of the President and his staff are owned by the United States, not by the President.

  • The Archivist is required to take custody of these records when the President leaves office, and to maintain them in a Federal depository.
  • These records are eligible for access under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) five years after the President leaves office.
  • The President may restrict access to specific kinds of information for up to 12 years after he leaves office, but after that point the records are reviewed for FOIA exemptions only.
  • This legislation took effect on January 20, 1981, and the records of the Reagan administration were the first to be administered under this law.
  • Staff at the Reagan Library, the George H. W. Bush Library, the William J. Clinton Library, and the George W. Bush Library can provide additional information regarding access to Presidential records in their collections.
  • Staff at the libraries can provide additional information regarding access to Presidential records in their collections.

Presidential Historical Materials

Only the Nixon Presidential Historical Materials are governed by the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA) of 1974.

  • This only applies to the Nixon Presidential Historical Materials and none of the other libraries.
  • The Nixon Presidential Materials Staff at the National Archives at College Park, MD is responsible for preserving these materials and preparing them for public access under the law.
  • For information regarding the availability of these materials, researchers should contact the Nixon Staff directly.