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Where have all of President George W. Bush’s papers gone?

Now that we have a new president, what happens to all of President George W. Bush’s papers from his eight years in office? Eventually, they will be available in his Presidential Library. Until then, an archivist in the National Archives and Records Administration takes possession of all of his papers and artifacts and maintains them in a temporary depository. George W. Bush’s temporary depository is currently in Lewisville, Texas. The permanent location will eventually be on the Southern Methodist University campus. Public access to his records is governed by the Presidential Records Act (PRA) passed in 1978. This act states that George W. Bush’s records are not available for public access until January 20, 2014 (5 years after the end of his Administration). The PRA also changed the legal status of the Presidential and Vice Presidential materials. Under this act, the official records of the President and his staff are owned by the United States, not by the President. These records are eligible for access under the Freedom of Information act (FOIA), but the President can restrict access to specific kinds of information for up to 12 years after he leaves office.

The Presidential Libraries Act (44 U.S.C 2108) of 1955 established the Presidential Library System. These libraries are Presidential Archival Depositories and are part of the National Archives System. They provide for the transfer of Presidential papers and artifacts to the Federal Government. While the libraries are privately built, they are maintained by the federal government. While the act was signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1955, there are Presidential libraries for President Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman who all came before him. The Presidential Libraries Act was amended in 1986 (PL 99-323, H.R. 1349) and made significant changes to the Presidential Libraries including requiring private endowments linked to the size of the facility. The National Archives website provides information about the various laws and regulations governing the operation and access to presidential libraries.

As far as the Presidential libraries are concerned, there are three types of Presidential materials. The law that applies depends on how the materials are defined and the year it was created. Until the Reagan administration, materials created during the presidency, with the exception of Nixon, were considered personal property of the President or his staff and were considered donated historical materials. The acceptance of these collections is covered by the PLA of 1955 and may include any restrictions on access to these materials set by the donors. Thus some materials may not be available for research. However, the PRA in 1978 changed the legal status of Presidential and Vice Presidential materials. Under this law, the official records are owned by the United States. These records are available for access under the FOIA. Only the Nixon Presidential Historical Materials are governed by the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA) of 1974.

A few books on Presidential Libraries that we have here in Dewey Library are:

  • Presidential Libraries and Collections by Fritz Veil – Dewey Library / CD 3029.82 V45 1987

  • Records of the Presidency : Presidential Papers and Libraries from Washington to Reagan by Frank L. Schick with Renee Schick and Mark Carroll – Dewey Library / Reference : CD 3029.82 S35 1989

  • Presidential Papers and the Presidential Library System by Jannean L. Elliott – Dewey Library / CD 330299.82 E44 1981

  • The History and Organization of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York (microform) by Frances Bromiley – Dewey Library / Microfiche: Z 674 A88X No. 117

Information about the thirteen Presidential Libraries can be found at the following links:

Blog post created by Judith Mueller