Monday, February 23, 2009

Presidential Libraries

The presidential library has become institutionalized. Every president since Herbert Hoover has one (the controversial George W. Bush Library is in the works). However, according to a trenchant article in today's Boston Globe, presidential libraries are "undemocratic and unnecessary ... and conducive to unethical behavior." Presidents spend untoward amounts of time raising money to fund their libraries, which, although administered by the National Archives and Records Administration, are built with donated funds. The author of the article, Mark Feeney, worked with the Nixon papers while they were in temporary storage before being transferred to the Nixon Library, and "saw firsthand that presidential archives don't require presidential libraries to be accessible and well maintained." What draws visitors to the presidential libraries is not the public records they contain, but rather the museum exhibitions which are all about "good visuals and PR." The multimillion-dollar "Tutankhamen-style construction projects" result in bland, undistinguished buildings that are "embarrassments." Feeney calls on President Barack Obama to reject a presidential library. "Obama should leave all the slavering over terrazzo and plate glass to chief executives less secure in their legacy. Just say no, Mr. President!"

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