Prologue Magazine

NARA Opens a New Presidential Library

Spring 2013, Vol. 45, No. 1

By David S. Ferriero

Archivist of the United States


This spring, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) opened its 13th presidential library—the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.

The library and museum for the 43rd President is different in several ways from our other 12 (Hoover through Clinton), for its holdings chronicle one of the most important periods in recent U.S. history—a time when America entered into a war against terrorists.

The Bush Library holds all the presidential papers relating to the first eight years of the war on terrorism, from the first attacks on September 11, 2001, through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eventually, historians and other researchers—and through them all of us—will learn of the internal debates at the highest levels of government that occurred during the attacks and the subsequent deployment of U.S. troops to the Mideast.

The opening of the Bush Library marks another change. It will be the first one to fully reflect the growth of the use of electronic records in government. A comparison with the library for another two-term President illustrates this growth.

While the Clinton Library holds only 4 terabytes of electronic records, the Bush Library has produced 80 terabytes. And all 80 terabytes are stored in our Electronic Records Archives, which went operational in 2012 after years of development. Looking at it another way, the Bush Library will preserve more than 200 million emails, compared to 20 million at the Clinton Library.

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The 225,000-square-foot Bush Library on the SMU campus has been designed and built by the George W. Bush Foundation to blend in with the rest of the campus. And it will attain LEED platinum status, which means it's extremely energy efficient and environmentally sustainable.

This spring, the foundation turned over to NARA about half of the structure. In it, we will operate the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, staffed by professionals hired through federal civil service and led by its director, NARA's Alan Lowe.

The foundation will use the rest of the facility for a variety of purposes, including the George W. Bush Institute, a policy center that focuses on the former President's concerns in areas such as education and freedom. In addition, there will be public programming space and an auditorium, which we will be able to use.

The institute has already launched a number of programs. For example, "Middle School Matters" seeks to improve the quality of middle school instruction. Another project, "Circles of Excellence," seeks to find new ways to support members of our military.

We also expect that our own staff and the institute staff will be very active in a wide range of education activities. For example, two classrooms in the library are central to the education work. One is the original conference area from the White House Situation Room, which was renovated during the Bush administration. The old conference room was sent to the library, and we are lending another room from the Situation Room to the Reagan Library in California, so students in both locations can take part in simulations together.

President and Mrs. Bush were both involved in the building, museum, and landscaping design, and the former President's office has been working with our staff on access issues. The Bushes have been partners in planning the museum exhibits—suggesting topics, artifacts, and records for display.

Under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, a President's records are not available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act until five years after he leaves office, or in this case, January 20, 2014. In preparation for that date, the library staff is hard at work arranging, describing, and reviewing records and artifacts.

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The presidential libraries are an important part of the National Archives. Last year, nearly 2 million people visited them in person, and nearly 16 million visited their websites. Research conducted at the libraries forms the foundation of countless books and articles that expand our understanding of the presidency and American history. We are pleased that this new one in Dallas will continue the tradition of serving the best interests of the public and of history itself.

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Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.