The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago will not include any paper documents from former President Barack Obama’s presidency, Fox News reported in October.
The Obama Foundation is instead opting to have a digital archive of his records, “the decision has historians scratching their heads,” according to Fox News.
“All archivists are waiting to see how this will work, because we are all struggling with how to make things available digitally,” Peggy Glowacki, a manuscripts librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago said to the Chicago Tribune. “I think in this case it’s such a massive amount of material that it will be important to see how they are able to deliver it and make it easy to search.”
Traditional Presidential Libraries provide paperwork in the form of letters, drafts of speeches and even legislation for historians and academics to dig through.
Obama’s papers are stored in a private facility in Illinois, but, according to the Tribune, will most likely be shipped to locations in and around Washington, D.C.
Without physical documents at the center, students and historians alike will not have the opportunity to inspect the former president’s correspondence on the health care bill or even a copy of the president’s birth certificate. As Fox News reported, presidential libraries attract people from across the nation to go through records of past presidencies.
“I don’t think it will have a major impact in terms of the success or popularity of the center,” James Rutherford, who oversaw the construction and development of the Clinton Presidential Library, said. “The presence of paper records is less important now. Go back to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the treasure is in the documents. But now, the treasure is in the electronic records.”
An Obama Foundation spokesperson told Fox News that the goal is to create “a new model for the next generation of presidential centers that reflects the way people access information in this digital age.”
“The Obama Foundation will be funding through private funds the digitization of all non-classified presidential records in order to help facilitate better access to these documents to a broader audience.”
Rutherford reassured historians and researchers that the center will still be valuable.
“Here’s how it will be attractive: through the forums, workshops and programs they conduct,” Rutherford said to the Tribune. “The presence of paper records is less important now.”
Presidential historian, Gil Troy, disagrees and prefers to have the physical documents.
“When you view the collection, you meet the people around the president, not just the president,” he told the Tribune. “That comes from being there, not just logging on.”
The Washington Post reported in November that the former president’s monument has faced multiple roadblocks.
In an attempt to save areas of Jackson Park, non-profit organization Friends of the Parks reportedly jockeyed to have the center built on a plot of vacant land across from a different Chicago park. Also, local residents raised concerns regarding traffic problems that the center would create as well as how the project would bring employment to the area.
The former president and the center’s planners have also received backlash after Fox News noted in late-2017 that there were reports that the monument would include a museum, a basketball court, a room for yoga and a test kitchen to teach visitors about the importance of a healthy diet.
“What brought me up short was a space in the adjoining Forum building labeled ‘test kitchen.’ Presumably that reflects Michelle Obama’s war on junk food. The museum’s champions similarly suggest it could host yoga classes,” Chicago Tribune columnist Ron Grossman wrote. “President Obama, is that how you want to be remembered? As the healthy-eating and meditation-advocating president?”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.