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NARA Opens George W. Bush Presidential Library

by David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States

This spring, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) opened its thirteenth presidential library— the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum—on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas. The library and museum for the forty-third president differs from the other twelve in several ways, including that 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 terror, 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 that occurred at the highest levels of government and of the subsequent deployment of U.S. troops to the Middle East.

The opening of the Bush Library marks another change: it is the first of NARA’s presidential repositories to reflect fully the growth in the use of electronic records. A comparison with the library of another two-term president illustrates this expansion. While the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas, holds only four terabytes of electronic records, the Bush Library has produced eighty terabytes—all stored in the Electronic Records Archives, which became operational in the last year. Looking at it another way, the Bush Library will preserve more than 200 million e-mail messages, compared to 20 million at the Clinton Library.

Built by the George W. Bush Foundation, the 225,000-square-foot facility at SMU has been designed to blend in with the rest of the campus. The Bush Library will achieve a platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, giving it the highest rating for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

This spring, the Bush Foundation is turning over to NARA about half of the structure. In it, we will operate the library and museum, staffed by professionals hired through the Civil Service Commission and directed 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 concern with issues such as education and freedom. In addition, there will be public program space and an auditorium, which the library and museum will be able to use.

The Bush Institute has already launched a number of programs, including “Middle School Matters” to improve the quality of middle school instruction. Another project, “Circles of Excellence,” seeks new ways to support members of the military. We also expect that the institute and library staffs will be very active in a wide range of educational activities. Two classrooms in the library will be central to this work. One is the original conference area from the White House Situation Room, which was renovated during the George W. Bush administration. The old conference room was sent to the library, and we are loaning another part of the Situation Room to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, so students in both locations can take part in simulations together.

George W. Bush and Laura Bush were both involved in the building, museum, and landscaping designs, and the former president’s office has been working with library and museum staff on access issues. The Bushes have been partners in planning the museum exhibits—suggesting topics, and offering 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 particular case until January 20, 2014. In preparation for that date, the library staff is hard at work arranging, describing, and reviewing records and artifacts.

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 Web sites. Research conducted at the libraries forms the foundation for countless books and articles that expand our understanding of the presidency and American history. We are pleased that this newest presidential library will continue the tradition of serving the best interests of the public and of history itself.

Join the Archivist of the United States at his blog at http://blogs.archives.gov/aotus and visit the National Archives Web site at http://www.archives.gov.


About the Archivist

David S. Ferriero is the 10th Archivist of the United States. Prior to his confirmation on November 6, 2009, Ferriero served as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the New York Public Libraries.