George W. Bush Presidential Center Dedication

This week, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas.  The facility will open to the public on May 1.

GWB Presidential Library
Bush Library exterior, evening. Photo courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Center

The Bush Library is the 13th of NARA’s federally owned Presidential libraries, whose holdings span eight decades of American history.  It also increases our presence in Texas, where we already operate the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, George H.W. Bush’s library in College Station, and our regional archives and records center in Fort Worth.

We look forward to developing partnerships with the George W. Bush Presidential Center and with SMU to present joint programming, share our expertise, draw on our holdings, and bring together SMU’s academic departments and the library. These kinds of partnerships at the 12 other Presidential libraries have enriched the learning experience for students and scholars.

Without the preservation of and access to these Presidential materials, the history of our nation would be incomplete. They document the key decisions and policies and how crucial decisions were made. Also, through exhibits, educational initiatives, and public programs, the libraries perform a critical outreach mission in their communities and beyond.

The new Bush Library holds 70 million pages of textual records, 40,000 artifacts (mainly gifts to the Bushes), four million photographs, and 80 terabytes of electronic information – including 200 million emails of about five pages each, or one billion pages. It will all be in the care of a professional staff of federal employees working under Director Alan Lowe, a seasoned NARA veteran.

Groundbreaking Ceremony
David Ferriero (far left) participates in the groundbreaking ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center (photo by Eric Draper)

Franklin D. Roosevelt donated the first Presidential library to the Archives in 1941. At its dedication, Roosevelt said that in bringing together the records of the past in buildings for use in the future, “a Nation must believe in three things: It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.”

But no more were built until the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 provided for the orderly transfer of presidential materials to the government. With the law in place, libraries for FDR’s successors, and his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, were established.

Private foundations build Presidential libraries to Federal specifications and donate the structures to the National Archives, along with an endowment to help us cover the costs of maintenance and upkeep.

The Bush Library is different in at least two ways from its 12 predecessors.

It will chronicle a time when America entered a war in which the enemy was not clearly known – the war against terrorists.  The library will hold 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 Afghanistan and Iraq.

It will also be the first one to fully reflect the growth of the use of electronic records in government. While the Clinton Library holds 4 terabytes of electronic records, the Bush Administration produced 80 terabytes. And it will preserve more than 200 million emails, compared to 20 million at the Clinton Library.

Under the Presidential Records Act (PRA) 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. The library staff is already hard at work arranging, describing, and reviewing records. With NARA’s commitment to access, the Bush Library intends to open a significant number of Presidential records on May 1, 2013, earlier than required by the PRA.

I am pleased that President and Mrs. Bush have been very involved in the building, museum, and landscaping design, and that the former President’s office has been working closely with our staff on matters related to access to information.

President and Mrs. Bush
President and Mrs. Bush visit the construction site for the George W. Bush Presidential Center and review plans for the George W. Bush Presidential Museum (photo by Layne Murdoch)

The presidential libraries are an important part of the National Archives. They provide portals to our vast holdings at 45 locations around the nation.

Last year, nearly two 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 library in Dallas will continue the tradition of serving the best interests of the public and of history.