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Author: Jason S. Lantzer
Title: The Public History of Presidential Libraries: How the Presidency is Presented to the People
Publication Info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
April 2003
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Source: The Public History of Presidential Libraries: How the Presidency is Presented to the People
Jason S. Lantzer


vol. 6, no. 1, April 2003
Article Type: Article
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3310410.0006.101

The Public History of Presidential Libraries: How the Presidency is Presented to the People

Jason S. Lantzer

The Presidential Library System exists in a world all of its own. For, though it is as the name implies, a research center, it is also an archive and a museum system that chronicles the lives and times of the chief executives of the United States. Administered with the help of the federal government, it could not exist with out private support and expertise. Concerned with presenting and preserving the memories of national and international events, the system is very much a part of and a reflection of the local environment in which it is located. As such, the Presidential Library System offers a unique glimpse into how the American people's history is preserved and presented to both the general and academic publics.

e There is something very American about having presidential libraries. They are monuments to the past, and yet are always changing to meet the needs of the present. They are part of a larger system, but each is as individual as the president it is named for. They are places for scholars to work and for groups of school children to visit. They are places of great national and personal pride, but have been labeled "controversial" and dangerous to American ideals because they are shrines that stand both within and outside of mainstream museums. These facets make for complex and interesting institutions of learning.  [1]

Museums, after all, are places where learning takes place and fundamental opinions of history are formed in the public mind. As Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen have shown, people place a greater premium on museum interpretations of the past than they do history teachers (at any level) and books. [2] However, historians who flock to presidential libraries for their archival resources often ignore museums as places that promote learning in their own right. In 1989, Thomas Schlereth called on scholars to actively review museum exhibits, to not only insure the accuracy of what the institution is displaying for the general public, but also to add another voice to the process of future exhibit creation. [3] At presidential libraries, this type of review needs to be done as well. Not just for an individual exhibit at a particular library, but rather for the entire system. In the pages that follow, I hope to begin this examination by focusing chiefly on the museum component of presidential libraries, and seeking answers to the following questions: What are the different museums doing? Are visitors coming away satisfied and enlightened? How is technology employed? Is the system doing as well as it should? How can it do better?

Before we can go any further, we must stop to consider what the presidential library system has in common with other history museums around the country, since all of them bring the past into the present [4] By looking at issues that confront all history museums, we will better be able to place the issues of the presidential libraries in their proper context. We will find a number of remarkable similarities.

According to Steven Conn's work on the subject, museums in the United States became major institutions of learning during the Victorian era. Most were located in large urban centers, and most put a premium on visual displays of objects. Many of the precepts that went into the founding of major museums are still with us today. However, according to Conn, since their heyday, professional academics no longer view museums as places that further knowledge. Museums with archives can be seen as research centers by academics, but they generally ignore the importance of the exhibits located there. Conn believes that this transformation came about as universities and colleges became more accessible to greater segments of the nation's population. Today, museums are places for grade school children to learn about the past. Scholars no longer flock there to expand the horizons of knowledge. [5]

But as Susan Crane reminds us, museums are both repositories and shapers of memory. They are places where academic history openly clashes with popular history [6] This battle is clearly seen within the presidential library system. Most of these libraries are based in the president's hometown, so they bring a "big city" feel to small town America. But it is not just townspeople proud of "their boy who made it big" who come to the museums. Visitors from across the country flock to them as well. Because the libraries also contain a presidential repository, they are also centers of research. But despite the prominence of their archives in the world of academia, exhibits within the museums are the major reason why people visit them.

Exhibits, from this perspective, are the heart and soul of all museums, especially the presidential libraries. As such, they are not only important, but also extremely complicated to put together. Exhibits must be engaging and whenever possible, dramatic. Regardless of size and mission, museums cannot shy away from potentially controversial issues, but must provide balance in their presentation of the past. At the same time, museum staff must understand that not everyone is going to have a life changing experience every time they visit the museum to see its exhibits. [7]

All museums employ the same general types of people: researchers, managers, greeters, archivists, curators, and other staff. They attempt to balance the needs of the audience to see the past with historic preservation and historical accuracy. Museum staff must identify what the public is interested in and then let the general public know what they have in their collections or at their site that meets those desires. They must be willing to use multimedia to attract and keep an audience. To do all of this, they must stay in constant contact with their members and with potential visitors. They must become part of the culture and stay tied with their local community as much as possible. Public historians, then, regardless of where they work, walk a high wire act in balancing these concerns every day. [8]

In order to accomplish this these public historians, and the museums they represent, must work to secure funding. In today's economy, money must be sought from many different sources. This means not only from members and friends of the museum, but also from local, state, or federal governments, as well as from individual, corporate, and foundation funds in the private sector. To tap into these resources, museum staffers have to work well with their boards and be well respected within their communities. They must send out letters, prepare proposals, apply for grants, and know how to "work a room" at official functions. [9]

Retaining staff in this high wire environment is a difficulty. Public historians have demanding jobs, and positions at museums often suffer from frequent turnover as a result. While fatigue is a problem, so is the marketplace. Professionals just entering jobs work their way up the system, both within institutions and by jumping to something that is "bigger and better." Staff turnover, and the lack of continuity that can result, seem to be a major problem for all museums. [10]

We need to look at funding, exhibits, technology, interaction between the museum and the public, and professional burnout. When considering the presidential library system, all of these issues are magnified because of the importance of the subject and high profile of the museum. While all museums are in the public eye, very few are under the level of scrutiny as presidential libraries. [11]

Before looking further at these components of the system, we should have an understanding of the presidential library system's history. The system got its start because of Franklin Roosevelt. Prior to his becoming president, Roosevelt had learned that federal records were in disarray, and this knowledge had a profound affect upon him after he entered the White House and pondered his own legacy. In 1939, Roosevelt promised to donate his papers directly to the federal government. Two years later he began putting together what eventually became his library and museum, and simply ordered the federal government to take care of it. [12]

Before Roosevelt, it had been left to each former president or his family to decide what became of his administration's papers. Often they were divided up among friends, and over the years, many important documents were lost. Even in the early twentieth century, when presidents started to donate their papers to the Library of Congress, not every paper was sent. Selective donation (and destruction) was the norm if not the rule. [13]

All this changed as more presidents followed Roosevelt's example. Federal policies were put in place, at the insistence of Harry S. Truman, to structure presidential libraries, and the National Archives was placed in charge of the expanding system of archives and museums. The Harry S. Truman Library was the first to be created under the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act, and was followed by the Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower libraries in the 1960s. The Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy libraries were dedicated in the 1970s, the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter libraries in the 1980s, and the Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and independent Richard Nixon libraries all opened in the 1990s. [14]

The system has only been adjusted twice since the Truman Library was created. In 1978, due in large part to the tumult of the Watergate investigation and President Nixon's subsequent resignation, legislation was passed that made the White House Papers of the presidents public, not private, property. This helped stop most destruction of documents and helped to speed up the archival processing. In 1986, the Presidential Libraries Act required private endowments to be established depending on the size of the facility. This has helped augment the private funding of the individual library within the system. [15]

Even with this governing legislation, each library is as unique as the president it represents. This is in large part due to the existence of the museum component of the library plant, for the presidential library system is more than just a repository of documents and artifacts; it is a place where those documents and artifacts are displayed for the public and made available for research. So, not only does the system combine a museum with an archive, but it also pits federal guidelines against historians against foundation boards against the public in a battle over who controls the nation's past. In the words of Larry Hackman, director of the Truman Library, this public/private relationship makes for "peculiar institutions." [16]

Peculiar institutions. A simple phrase that accurately describes presidential libraries. Because of their status, the libraries face a daunting task in finding where they fit within the community. Are they local museums that celebrate hometown boys who rose to the highest office in the land, or are they national centers for learning about particular presidents that just happen to be located in presidential hometowns? They are both of these things of course, and more. And that makes their attempts to find niches within existing paradigms that much more difficult.

Overseeing this dynamic is the National Archives, which provides overall administration of the system, not day-to-day answers to problems that arise. The National Archives realizes that each library within the system has developed differently, so their job is to make sure that the newer libraries learn from the experiences of the older ones, and to create a coherent system from disparate parts [17]

The National Archives' involvement begins the moment a president leaves office. It is then that the work of establishing what people will remember as his legacy begins. During this start-up period, there are no federal rules about how to set up a library, because site location, design, and construction of the libraries is a private affair. The former president has to rely on friends and supporters for money before he can seek help from the government he once ran. The Truman Library, for example, was dedicated in 1957 at a cost of $1, 750,000. The money to build the library was donated by over 17,000 individuals and corporations. [18]

After construction and dedication the federal government steps in. While the building is under construction, the National Archives begins assembling the papers of the administration. Once the building is open for business, its operation is transferred to the federal government and the records are deposited. [19]

Thus, the primary component within the presidential library system, as far as the National Archives is concerned, is the archive. For them, the collection of presidential papers is what the entire system is designed around. The ten libraries and the Nixon collection at the National Archives have over 300 million pages of textual materials; 7 million photographs; 14.5 million feet of motion picture film; 83,000 hours of disc, audiotape, and videotape recordings; and 350,000 artifacts. The museum component of the system is secondary in terms of funding. [20] As we will see, this is interesting because, while scholars utilize the presidential archives, for the general public the important feature of the system are the museums.

Most of the funding to libraries is federal, and is dependent upon the size of the collection. The Hoover Library, which is one of the smaller institutions in the system, receives about $1.5 million a year, while larger libraries such as the Lyndon B. Johnson or John F. Kennedy libraries have federal budgets of close to $4.5 million. Funding is also tied to the administration of the libraries. The federal budget is based upon the assumption that the library and museum should be around 70,000 square feet. The total plant can be larger, but additional funding must come from sources other than the federal government. Regardless of size and funding, however, all the libraries are collectively administered by the National Archives. [21]

The system, then, is dependent upon private donations to help fund the museums beyond what the federal government provides. It is through their privately run governing boards, institutions, and foundations that the libraries are able raise money to launch expansion and renovation projects, bring in new exhibits, add to collections, and hire more staff. The Truman Library, for example is currently finishing up a $22.5 million renovation of the museum, of which only $8 million came from the federal government. They received help in making up the difference by gaining state tax credits for their donors. The Ford Library recently finished a $5 million restoration that was entirely funded from outside sources. [22]

There are exceptions to this pattern of funding, however. The Nixon Library and Birthplace, because of disputes with the federal government that date back to the Watergate scandal, is run entirely by a foundation. While its library boasts a large archive, documents related directly to both the Nixon presidency and Watergate, according to the provisions of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974 are retained by the National Archives. The Carter Library, on the other hand, relies solely on the federal government, and does not have a private board to raise funds. [23]

The private/public paradox found in the funding of the presidential library system extends into the different components of the actual libraries as well, for the presidential libraries serve as both archives and museums. While the museum component is often viewed as secondary when compared to the archives, it is vitally important for the overall mission of the library. Most visitors come to see the museum. They leave the exhibits with an understanding of not only the president, but also of the presidency as a whole, and of the American system of government in general. Former President Gerald Ford believes that presenting the past is as important in his museum as preserving it. As an educational center, the museum is essential to the overall success of the library system. [24] And in 1999, the library system did a brisk business. [25]

Library Museum Visitors Archival Visitors (daily visits)
Herbert Hoover 68,116 528
Franklin D. Roosevelt 110,167 1,457
Harry S. Truman 108,041 1,321
Dwight D. Eisenhower 89,571 1,336
John F. Kennedy 166,460 1,810
Lyndon B. Johnson 236,610 1,623
Nixon Materials NA 3,892
Gerald R. Ford 117,515 343
Jimmy Carter 85,592 492
Ronald Reagan 189,050 541
George Bush 164,844 416
Totals 1,336,146 13,749

Looking at these numbers, we have reason to question the priority of the archives function over the museum function. Nearly one hundred times as many people go to the museums as spend time in the archives. Additionally, not all the popular libraries in the system are where scholars are spending their time. This may be a contributing factor to the generally acknowledged divide between academia and the public that Rosenzweig and Thelen comment on.

Exhibits then, are very important. We must then ask, what exactly are visitors seeing at the museums? Exhibits are crafted to meet the demands of the people whom the library views as their "core audience." This group includes members of the library, school children, and the general public [26] How are these exhibits crafted? The director and staff come up with a list of possible exhibits. These ideas are then screened for both the soundness of the ideas as well as for the feasibility of implementation. The director and the staff have a professional obligation to provide fair exhibits that are neutral in tone and not insulting to either visitors or the participants whose actions are being depicted in the display. Exhibits are constructed from the individual holdings of the library, as well as from the loan system of the National Archives [27]

Despite their roles in funding, the local, state, and federal government have no input when it comes to exhibits. However, the National Archives does keep watch for "questionable" exhibits and events that are to be held at the libraries. Although, they do not approve each script or storyboard, they try to identify potential problems or bias. The National Archives wants these very political museums to be as "apolitical" as possible [28]

However, there are difficulties in putting exhibits and other public programs together. While the president, his family, close friends, and advisors are still alive; the library must balance their partisanship and interest in the museum with both historical "accuracy" and with federal guidelines about what can be done at the museums. Political rallies, religious services, and family wedding ceremonies are not allowed. This is often difficult, because library boards like to shape events and exhibits that showcase their presidents. The sole exception to this rule is, of course, the Nixon Library, which because of its independence has the luxury of being partisan without worry. [29]

Museum directors have to be "diplomatic" about what exhibits they put together, because controversy and the presidency seem to go hand-in-hand. They accomplish this in a variety of ways. What eventually emerges is a complete picture, and a fair one, because balance tends to work its way into museums. For example, it took some time for the Hoover Library to address the Great Depression. Whereas before President Hoover's death it was not mentioned at all, today it is presented within the context of what Hoover tried to do, the "Hoovervilles" that dotted the country, and his philanthropic work outside of the White House. Other libraries have similar stories. The Truman Library today tries not to shy away from his administration's problems, and in its renovated exhibit hall, includes a "dissenting view" series that runs beside the main exhibits. Balance takes time, however. The Carter Library has made a concerted effort not to avoid such issues as the Panama Canal Treaties or the Iran Hostage Crisis in their exhibit hall. [30]

While being fair and accurate is important, so is remembering what purpose the museum serves. It is, in the words of Sandor Cohen of the Johnson Library, "to honor the legacies of the president." The Hoover, Nixon, and Bush libraries do not just focus on their administrations, but attempt to show how America changed during the lifetimes of their presidents. The Johnson Library has opted to provide context for events that occurred during Lyndon Johnson's time in office, especially the Vietnam War (a subject they once avoided), but allow visitors to draw their own conclusions. The Nixon Library, while striving for a objective presentation in their exhibits, also defends his legacy as a statesman. [31]

In fairness, the Nixon Library is not the only one that, perhaps, steps beyond objective history to attract a public audience. The John F. Kennedy Library brochure utilizes the "Kennedy mystique" by using terms such as "a thousand days" and generally invoking "Camelot lost" throughout its discussion of the archives and exhibits contained at the library. [32] This is not "bad" history, it is simply good advertising. Additionally, it taps into the presidential story as people would like to remember it.

There are other problems associated with putting together exhibits that go beyond accurate history. Without a thought-out agenda and a staff that works well together, the exhibit quality in a museum can suffer. The presidential museums run the danger, as most museums with large collections do, of putting together exhibits that please the staff and not the visitor. Like all museums, there are also pressures from donors to display their donations. Thus, the curators have to make sure that donors and potential donors understand the collection guidelines connected with gifts of artifacts to the museum. And like other museums, presidential libraries are constrained by the layout and design of their facilities. The Hoover Library, for example, has eleven- and nine-foot high ceilings to deal with, which limit what they can show or display. [33]

All these tensions aside, the museums seek to provide regional audiences with first-rate exhibits. The regional focus is a sound business strategy, because the museums are in operation year-round, not just when people are on vacation. Their main customer base is the community that surrounds them. Putting together quality exhibits has little to do with a partisan interpretation of events and more to do with making the museum and its exhibits the best they can be. It also means that presidential museums are broadening their focus to exhibits with wider appeal. [34]

Certain types of permanent exhibits are common to nearly all of the libraries. Most museums include an exhibit on gifts to the president and a replica of the oval office during his administration. And each library also has permanent exhibits that are specific to its president. The Truman Library, for example, is home to the table on which the United Nations' charter was signed. The National Archives tries to keep a close eye on these exhibits, to avoid damage to artifacts caused by over display and to make sure that there is an "air of newness" within the museums. The National Archives also tries to reconcile the tension between archivists and curators, over this issue of presentation versus preservation. [35]

Permanent exhibits only attract people to the museum for their first visit, but temporary exhibits bring them back. The latter generally fall into two categories, new presidential exhibits and topical/popular exhibits. Putting together a successful presidential exhibit, from either their own collection or by assembling loaned objects, is a source of great pride for museum staffers. Examples of topical/popular exhibits include the Nixon Library's recent art, photography, and Barbie exhibits, as well as the Ford Library's recent Lewis and Clark exhibit. [36]

The museums are careful not to let popularity dictate what types of exhibits are put together. According to Timothy Walch, director of the Herbert Hoover Library, they want to reach a broad audience with a sound historical message. However, this does not mean that they refuse to cover issues such as sex, the Civil War, or Christmas, just that they do not want these types of exhibits to be the focus of their museum. [37]

Exhibits, whether permanent or temporary, as well as the museums they are housed in, are increasingly state-of-the-art. In this multimedia age technology, computers are important tools for museums. Technology enhances communications, publicity, exhibits, and helps garner feedback from visitors. Sandor Cohen says, "I cannot think of anything negative to say about it." [38]

Thanks to the National Archives, all of the presidential libraries have Webpages. While the Websites have similarities, based on federal guidelines and museum standards, the actual design varies a great deal. Webpages post directions, addresses, hours of operation, costs, handicapped access, and other basic information about the library is conveyed. Webpages do not really promote visitation, so much as they provide the needed information to potential visitors. [39]

Webpages offer museums the opportunity to do more than simply advertise themselves to a national or even a global audience. They are places where museums can actually bring the educational experience right into the virtual visitor's home or classroom. Recently, several libraries have experimented with Web-based programs for schools, to enhance a planned trip, or provide resources for those who cannot visit the library. The Hoover Library, for example, sees school children as one of their main constituent groups. The Truman and Bush libraries state on their Webpages their interest in being education centers for schools. Both the Carter and Bush libraries have a "kids page" link from their main websites for children. [40]

The Internet also is a place for innovation for the presidential library system. Some libraries offer researchers the opportunity to search for information from their home or office. The Franklin Roosevelt Library, for example, has digitized ten thousand documents centering on the Anglo-American "special relationship" during World War II, German diplomatic files, and papers that relate to the Vatican. This service of the archive allows researchers to complete basic research chores before arriving in Hyde Park. [41] As the technology becomes available to them, other libraries will follow the Roosevelt lead.

This is impressive, but how have the libraries used other forms of computer technology? Email, for example, is utilized in several ways. The National Archives relies on this fast means of communication between itself and the libraries, among the libraries themselves, and between the libraries and the public. Email is the basis for between 80 and 90 percent of all inquiries at the Hoover Library, an increase from 10 to 15 percent just five years ago. This trend is also evident at the Truman Library, which conducts a great deal of communication with academics via email. [42] Such uses will increase as more people gain access to email.

However, technology extends beyond advertising and research, into the area of exhibits as well. The libraries have produced multimedia displays and made their museums as interactive as possible. The Roosevelt, Kennedy, Nixon, and Ford libraries advertise their multimedia displays. In addition to introductory videos, the Hoover and Carter libraries have an electronic quotation games for visitors to play. [43] Just as with email, this trend will also increase in the years to come, as attention spans grow shorter and museums seek to compete with other destinations to entertain and educate.

Increased visitation, in the archives, the museum, or on-line, does not mean that the presidential library system has a good understanding of its public image. Most of the libraries have not conducted visitor evaluation of exhibits or the museum or archives because of federal constraints related to privacy. Unfortunately, the lack of feedback causes a distance to develop between the library staff and the public they hope to serve. [44]

The museums are trying to cross this divide, but are finding it difficult. The Eisenhower Library has utilized some surveys, but has found that because of the all the regulations involved, it is simpler to rely on "letters of compliment and complaint." The Hoover Library polls its tours and offers a comment box. However, most of their knowledge, and like that of the Eisenhower Library staff, comes from listening to visitors as they go through the museum. The Truman Library has met with focus groups to determine what kind of exhibits visitors want to see, although this only provides very general indications. According to Sylvia Mansour Naguib, the Carter Library plans to implement an "active evaluation program to gauge visitor reaction," because it would help them to see how affective their advertising is as well as to see what people think of the exhibits. [45]

For their part, the National Archives would like to have more "customer" feedback as well. But they are hamstrung by federal requirements to cut down on the amount of paper work they generate, as well as by the privacy regulations that hamper the museums from doing more on their own. Their solution is to encourage the libraries to be an active part of their communities. The libraries can do this by utilizing volunteers from the community and by listening to visitors as they go through exhibits. This sense of what their communities think of them, as well as any feedback they do receive, is the best that can be hoped for at present. [46]

Reaction to exhibits is often very surprising for museum staff. A few years ago the Truman Library mounted two temporary exhibits, which received two very different reactions from the public. One was called "Looking Back at the Twentieth Century," which included memorabilia from Elvis Presley, Franklin Roosevelt, the Beatles, and James Dean among others. The exhibit took a lot of time and preparation, but only garnered a modest reaction from the public. Visitors were more intrigued by a simple exhibit of photographs of presidential families, which required very little assembly by museum staff, but which showed the private sides of the first families. Along these same lines, visitors preferred viewing the traveling miniature White House to a large-scale exhibit on presidents and sports. Learning from the example of their fellow library, the Bush Library recently brought in a miniature version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which was followed by a piece of the Berlin Wall [47] The Reagan Library's recent acquisition of the former Air Force One is another example of this trend.

Feedback has its limitations, however. While the museums make a concerted effort to be fair in their presentation of the past, they also know that their audience is somewhat pre-selected. Most of the visitors to a presidential library already have made a commitment to the idea that they are going to like what they find there. Many of the complaints that are lodged relate to what is not on display, when things are "wrong" in the labels, or when an interactive exhibit is not working correctly [48]

It is little wonder that with the stress of balancing regulations with professional, and public demands, many museum staffs suffer from burnout and turnover. But these problems seem to hit the presidential library system particularly hard. According to Timothy Walch, "within the last year, new directors were appointed at the Roosevelt, Carter, and Reagan libraries. Currently, there are vacancies (or will be vacancies) at the Truman, Ford, and Bush libraries. [And] the director at the Johnson library will retire next September." Additionally, the Kennedy Library is currently looking for both a chief archivist and a director. [49]

Why is there such turnover at the top? Directors are faced with both a great deal of stress and equally high expectations. They are expected to be good historians, administrators, and fundraisers. They must also balance staff demands with those placed upon them by the foundation board, presidential families, the federal government, and the public at large. Job requirements often go well beyond the actual job description. Many of them put everything they have into achieving certain goals, and once they are met, burnout sets in and they leave for another job. [50]

These problems are not unique to the museum world of course. Employees grow tired of work when their expectations and reality do not correlate. Working with the public is also very stressful. Public historians face challenges similar to other workforces in the public sector. As with the directors, high rates of turnover at lower levels can be attributed to simple career advancement opportunities, not just to burnout. [51]

For others, burnout never becomes an issue. Sandor Cohen has "been a public history professional for close to twenty years" and still enjoys it "immensely." Likewise, Dennis Medina has been at the Eisenhower Center for thirty-two years, and does not believe he is close to burnout yet. [52] Because of these counterbalancing forces, burnout coupled with advancement coupled with those who are content where they are, (not to mention bureaucratic inertia) overall museum operations are disrupted very little by burnout.

The structure of the presidential library system means that there are no easy answers when problems do arise, however. Balancing the demands of the public, the desire to be historically accurate, and the necessity of following federal guidelines requires flexibility. How does this system work?

This question is especially relevant in light of the recent presidential election. Before he left office, President Bill Clinton formed a foundation and found a location for his future library in Little Rock, Arkansas. There is great anticipation within the presidential library system as to what shape the Clinton Presidential Library will take. People want to know what he will choose to highlight in the museum. How, for example, will the Clinton Library handle the impeachment proceedings? How will the museum deal with the scandals that plagued the administration? Will it take as much time for the Clinton Library to gain perspective as it did the Hoover or Johnson libraries? [53]

With the new Clinton Library, old questions about the system are also resurfacing. The chief one is whether every former president deserve a federally funded library and museum of their own? [54] When will construction and federal funding end? How many libraries can the country support? What will become of older libraries as time passes and the events their presidents presided over become less and less a part of the public discourse? There are no easy answers to these questions.

And discussion about the Clinton Library raises other issues about the library system. The one many ask is whether the two components of the Nixon archive will ever be united in the library system? While such a reunion may not happen soon, signs are good that when it occurs, the transition may be smoother than some suspect. With the exception of the "programmatically independent" Nixon Center, which could be spun off, the museum and library at Yorba Linda are run similarly to the present libraries in terms of structure, exhibits, and community relations [55]

But these are abstract questions. We can begin our assessment of the system by asking if the current funding by the federal government is in the proper proportion. Who is the system designed to serve, the American people or scholars of the presidency and related fields? While no one advocates eliminating the archives, more funding should be shifted to the museum component. The museums are the public's opportunity to learn about the men who have led our nation. There is every reason to make our former presidents more accessible, while at the same time making their papers available. More people will visit a presidential museum than will purchase a scholarly work on a president. For this reason alone, such a funding shift makes sense.

However, shuffling federal money around within the system is not the sole answer. The demands placed upon museum staffs will not improve in the short term. Staffs will have to do more with the limited funds they receive from the federal government. Even within the archives component, money is a problem. An example of this is found in the number of documents entrusted to the libraries. The Hoover Library has about 8 million documents. The projected total for the Clinton Library is around 80 million documents. Technology may ease some of the burden, but it costs money, as well. Technology must be purchased and continually upgraded. This means library staffs will have to spend more time fundraising. A balance can, and should be struck, between private donations and federal funds. The private sector is a potential goldmine for museums, if they are willing to tap it.  [56]

There are other issues as well. The federal government should take another look at the privacy restrictions that affect visitor surveys. Is there a reason why visitors cannot be polled in some way about their reaction to the museum? Where are visitors coming from? Why are they visiting? These are questions that deserve answers, not only because they will help the individual library, but also because they will help the entire system be more responsive to the American public.

Historians have a role to play in the continued existence of the presidential library system. Public and academic historians must be willing to critique exhibits more often than they do, as part of their professional obligation to the public. Academic historians must not only realize that the system is more than its collective archives, but also must be ready to assist the historians within the system as they seek to make the libraries better. As the National Archives readily admits, many of the curators within the library system are self-taught. [57] While the National Archives attempts to bring presidential library staff together for workshops and training seminars, historians need to be ready to lend a hand by offering advice and expertise when asked.

The libraries have a role to play as well. The museums must take seriously temporary exhibits and their power to attract visitors. They must also engage and be part of the local community. Increasingly, the museums have realized that they are national institutions in a local environment. Further steps in this direction must be encouraged. [58] Because they are linked by the National Archives, and have a common funding source, there should be more interaction than there is between them. One idea that is being considered by the National Archives is an online co-operative exhibit on the Cold War. [59] This is a good idea, and hopefully it will be the first in a long line of such ventures.

By addressing these issues, the presidential libraries will continue to be centers of knowledge for both academics and the general public. The system is a national treasure that should be cultivated by everyone involved, the National Archives, library staffs, academia, and the public, so it will thrive. As public trusts, we should expect nothing else.

Jason S. Lantzer is currently a graduate student in History at Indiana University, Bloomington. He received his BA in History and Political Science from Indiana University, Bloomington in 1997 and his MA in History from Indiana University, Indianapolis in 1999. In addition to his graduate work, which focuses primarily on the role of religion in American history, he also works part time as an oral historian for Conner Prairie Living History Museum in Noblesville, Indiana as part of their Rural History Project. jlantzer@indiana.edu

Notes

1. Frank Freidel, "Roosevelt to Reagan: The Birth and Growth of Presidential Libraries," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives, 21 (Summer 1989), 106; Don W. Wilson, "Presidential Libraries," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives, 21 (Summer 1989), 100; Richard Norton Smith, "A Presidential Revival: How the Hoover Library Overcame a Mid-Life Crisis." Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives, 21 (Summer 1989), 115-116; Richard W. Leopold, "The Historian and the Federal Government," The Journal of American History, 64 (June 1977), 11-14.

2. Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).

3. Thomas J. Schlereth, "Museum Exhibition Reviews," Journal of American History, 76 (June 1989), 192-195.

4. Steven Conn, Museums and American Intellectual Life, 1876-1926 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), 182.

5. Conn, Museums and American Intellectual Life, 6, 8, 14-19.

6. Susan A. Crane, Editor, Museums and Memory (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000), 1, 4, 6; George E. Mowry, "The Uses of History by Recent Presidents," The Journal of American History, 53 (1966), 5.

7. James B. Gardner and Peter S. LaPaglia, editors, Public History: Essays from the Field. (Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company, 1999), 298, 352; Stephen E. Weil, Rethinking the Museum: And Other Meditations (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990), 53.2

8. Gardner and LaPaglia, Essays from the Field, 127, 144, 192, 233, 258-260, 272, 295-298, 300-301, 307, 347, 349; Weil, Rethinking the Museum, 3, 20-21; Conn, Museums and American Intellectual Life, 13.

9. Gardner and LaPaglia, Essays from the Field, 302-304; Weil, Rethinking the Museum, 22.

10. Gardner and LaPaglia, Essays from the Field, 300.

11. Gardner and LaPaglia, Essays from the Field, 345-346.

12. National Archives and Records Administration, Office of Presidential Libraries Briefing Book (Washington, DC: NARA, 2000), 4-7; Cynthia M. Koch and Lynn A. Bassanese, "Roosevelt and His Library," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration, 33 (Summer 2001), Online edition; Freidel, "Roosevelt to Reagan, " 103-105; National Archives Presidential Libraries, http://www.nara.gov/nara/president/overview.html; Timothy Walch, Director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Lester J. Cappon, "The National Archives and the Historical Profession," The Journal of Southern History, 35 (November 1964), 491; Anita Smith, Archives Technician at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, correspondence with author, 1 November 2000.

13. National Archives Presidential Libraries, http://www.nara.gov/nara/president/overview.html; Wilson, "Presidential Libraries, " 100; Freidel, "Roosevelt to Reagan, " 104; Leopold, "The Historian and the Federal Government, " 19.

14. National Archives, Briefing Book, 4-7; Freidel, "Roosevelt to Reagan," 103-105; Kelly Alicia Woestman, "Mr. Citizen: Harry S. Truman and the Institutionalization of the Ex-Presidency," (University of North Texas: Ph.D. Dissertation, 1993); National Archives Presidential Libraries, http://www.nara.gov/nara/president/overview.html; Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Cappon, "The National Archives and the Historical Profession," 491; Anita Smith, correspondence with author, 1 November 2000; Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, http://hoover.nara.gov; Leopold, "The Historian and the Federal Government," 12; "National Archives: Presidential Libraries," pamphlet; John F. Kennedy Library, http://www.jfklibrary.org/main.html; Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace: "Fact Sheet," handout.

15. National Archives Presidential Libraries, http://www.nara.gov/nara/president/overview.html; Anita Smith, correspondence with author, 1 November 2000; National Archives, Briefing Book, 6-7.

16. Donald B. Schewe, "Establishing a Presidential Library: The Jimmy Carter Experience," Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives, 21 (Summer 1989), 125; Larry Hackman, Director of the Harry S. Truman Library, interview with author, 6 November 2000.

17. Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, Office of Presidential Libraries, National Archives, interview with author, 23 October 2000.

18. Schewe, "Establishing a Presidential Library,"126; Anita Smith, correspondence with author, 1 November 2000.

19. Anita Smith, correspondence with author, 1 November 2000; National Archives Presidential Libraries, http://www.nara.gov/nara/president/overview.html; Kara Drake, Research Assistant at the John F. Kennedy Library, correspondence with author, 22 November 2000.

20. Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Sandor Cohen, Curator of the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, correspondence with author, 31 October 2000; National Archives Presidential Libraries, http://www.nara.gov/nara/president/overview.html.

21. Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Dennis H. J. Medina, Curator of the Dwight Eisenhower Library, correspondence with author, 16 October 2000; Anita Smith, correspondence with author, 1 November 2000; Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000.

22. Anita Smith, correspondence with author, 1 November 2000; Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000; Sandor Cohen, correspondence with author, 31 October 2000; Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; "Gerald R. Ford Museum," pamphlet; Gerald R. Ford Foundation Newsletter, Winter 1998, 3-4.

23. Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, http://www.nixonfoundation.org; National Archives Nixon Presidential Materials, http://www.nara.gov/nixon; National Archives, Briefing Book, 7; Leopold, "The Historian and the Federal Government," 8, 19-20; Cappon, "The National Archives and the Historical Profession," 491-492; Sylvia Mansour Naguib, Curator of the Jimmy Carter Library, correspondence with author, 25 October 2000.

24. Freidel, "Roosevelt to Reagan," 109; National Archives Presidential Libraries, http://www.nara.gov/nara/president/overview.html; Gerald R. Ford Foundation Newsletter, Spring 1997, 11-12.

25. National Archives, Briefing Book, 11-32.

26. Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000.

27. National Archives Presidential Libraries, http://www.nara.gov/nara/president/overview.html; Mackaman, "Human Drama, "136-138; Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Dennis H. J. Medina, correspondence with author, 16 October 2000; Sandor Cohen, correspondence with author, 31 October 2000; Sylvia Mansour Naguib, correspondence with author, 25 October 2000; Gerald R. Ford Foundation Newsletter, Spring 1997,14.

28. Dennis H. J. Medina, correspondence with author, 16 October 2000; Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000.

29. Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Sandor Cohen, correspondence with author, 31 October 2000; Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, http://www.nixonfoundation.org.

30. Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000; Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Gerald R. Ford Foundation Newsletter, January 2000, 9; Summer 2000, 8-10; Sylvia Mansour Naguib, correspondence with author, 25 October 2000.

31. Sandor Cohen, correspondence with author, 31 October 2000; Frank H. Mackaman, "Human Drama: Presidential Museums Tell the Story", Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives, 21 (Summer 1989), 134; Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, http://www.nixonfoundation.org; "Herbert Hoover: Presidential Library and Museum", pamphlet; "Richard Nixon: Library and Birthplace", pamphlet; "George Bush: Presidential Library and Museum", pamphlet.

32. "John F. Kennedy: Library and Museum", pamphlet.

33. Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000; Smith, "A Presidential Revival", 119; Dennis H. J. Medina, correspondence with author, 16 October 2000; Mackaman, "Human Drama", 139; Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000.

34. Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000; Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000.

35. Anita Smith, correspondence with author, 1 November 2000; Dwight D. Eisenhower Library and Museum, http://www.eisenhower.utexas.edu; "Gerald R. Ford Museum", pamphlet; "Museum of the Jimmy Carter Library", pamphlet; Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000.

36. Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000; Smith, "A Presidential Revival", 118-119; Gerald R. Ford Foundation Newsletter, Spring 1997, 15; Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace: "Temporary Exhibitions", handout; Gerald R. Ford Foundation Newsletter, January 2000, 10.

37. Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000; Gerald R. Ford Foundation Newsletter, Spring 1997, 18.

38. Sandor Cohen, correspondence with author, 31 October 2000.

39. Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Dennis H. J. Medina, correspondence with author, 16 October 2000; Sylvia Mansour Naguib, correspondence with author, 25 October 2000; Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, http://hoover.nara.gov; Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu; Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, http://www.trumanlibrary.org; Dwight D. Eisenhower Library and Museum, http://www.eisenhower.utexas.edu; John F. Kennedy Library, http://www.jfklibrary.org/main.html; Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum, http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, http://www.ford.utexas.edu; Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, http://www.reagan.utexas.edu; George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/home.html; Jimmy Carter Library, http://carterlibrary.galileo.peachnet.edu; Kara Drake, correspondence with author, 22 November 2000.

40. Freidel, "Roosevelt to Reagan," 112; Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, http://hoover.nara.gov; Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu; Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, http://www.trumanlibrary.org; Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000; Dwight D. Eisenhower Library and Museum, http://www.eisenhower.utexas.edu; John F. Kennedy Library, http://www.jfklibrary.org/main.html; Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum, http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, http://www.ford.utexas.edu; Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; "Harry S. Truman: Library and Museum, " pamphlet; Jimmy Carter Library, http://carterlibrary.galileo.peachnet.edu; George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/home.html.

41. Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, http://hoover.nara.gov; Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu; Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, http://www.trumanlibrary.org; Dwight D. Eisenhower Library and Museum, http://www.eisenhower.utexas.edu; John F. Kennedy Library, http://www.jfklibrary.org/main.html; Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum, http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, http://www.ford.utexas.edu; Jimmy Carter Library, http://carterlibrary.galileo.peachnet.edu; Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, http://www.nixonfoundation.org; Kara Drake, correspondence with author, 22 November 2000; Gerald R. Ford Foundation Newsletter, Winter 1998, 9.

42. Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000.

43. "Herbert Hoover: Presidential Library and Museum", pamphlet; "Franklin D. Roosevelt: Library and Museum", pamphlet; "John F. Kennedy: Library and Museum", pamphlet; "Richard Nixon: Library and Birthplace", pamphlet; "Gerald R. Ford Museum", pamphlet; "Museum of the Jimmy Carter Library", pamphlet.

44. Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000; Dennis H. J. Medina, correspondence with author, 16 October 2000.

45. Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Dennis H. J. Medina, correspondence with author, 16 October 2000; Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000; Sylvia Mansour Naguib, correspondence with author, 25 October 2000.

46. Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000.

47. Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000; "George Bush: Presidential Library and Museum", pamphlet.

48. Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Dennis H. J. Medina, correspondence with author, 16 October 2000; Sandor Cohen, correspondence with author, 31 October 2000.

49. Timothy Walch, correspondence with author, 17 November 2000; John F. Kennedy Library, http://www.jfklibrary.org/main.html.

50. Larry Hackman, correspondence with author, 16 November 2000; Timothy Walch, correspondence with author, 17 November 2000.

51. Sylvia Mansour Naguib, correspondence with author, 17 November 2000; Dennis H. J. Medina, correspondence with author, 20 November 2000.

52. Sandor Cohen, correspondence with author, 16 November 2000; Dennis H. J. Medina, correspondence with author, 20 November 2000.

53. Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000. The Clinton Library Foundation was contacted by the author for this paper, but no response was received.

54. Cappon, "The National Archives and the Historical Profession",493.

55. Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace: "Statement of Mission", handout; Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace: "Temporary Exhibitions," handout.

56. Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000.

57. Timothy Walch, interview with author, 23 October 2000; Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000.

58. Larry Hackman, interview with author, 6 November 2000.

59. Michelle Cobb and Sharon Fawcett, interview with author, 23 October 2000.