Showing posts with label presidential libraries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label presidential libraries. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Robert F. Kennedy Papers--The Saga Continues

The struggle over the papers of Robert F. Kennedy continues. We previously blogged about papers dating from Kennedy's time as Attorney General, held by the John F. Kennedy Library, but closed to researchers because the Kennedy family refused to grant full public access. On March 1, the presidential library decided to open up the sixty-three closed boxes, and archivists have been "organizing and declassifying" the papers since then; this work should take between six months to a year to complete.

An article in today's New York Times brings the saga up to date. According to the Times,

As archivists prepare to make public 63 boxes of Robert F. Kennedy's papers at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, his family members are having second thoughts about where they should be housed and are considering moving them elsewhere because they believe that the presidential library has not done enough to honor the younger brother's legacy.

The family never transferred title to the papers to the Kennedy Library, and they have expressed the desire that they be held in a facility that would do more to memorialize Robert F. Kennedy. Family members point out that President Kennedy is memorialized by his presidential library, and that the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is in construction. There is nothing similar for Robert F. Kennedy. The Kennedy library offered to name a wing for Robert F. Kennedy if the family would transfer title to the papers, but the family refused, saying "'They offered to put the name on a hallway.'"

Because the family feels disrespected by the presidential library, they have had talks with other institutions and universities about housing the papers there. Should the family attempt to move them, the issue of ownership of the papers would move to the forefront. The family believes it has "right" to the papers, while "ownership of papers from Robert Kennedy's years at the Justice Department might be disputed under the Presidential Records Act." Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history, "says he hopes the Kennedy Library finds a way to properly honor Robert Kennedy's legacy. ... But no matter what is done, you will always stand in the shadow of a brother who was president."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Update on the Kennedy Library

We have previously blogged about the vast digitization project under way at the John F. Kennedy Library. President Kennedy's papers are being digitized to ensure their long-term and widespread availability to the public and to the scholarly community. Unfortunately, one important piece of the historical record of the Kennedy presidency--the papers of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy--will not be released to public scrutiny any time soon, according to an article in yesterday's Boston Globe.

Robert Kennedy's papers are "stacked in a vault at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum ... , individually sealed and labeled." They amount to "54 crates of records so closely guarded that even the library director is prohibited from taking a peek."

[T]he trove contains some of the most important records of Cold War history: diaries, notes, phone logs, messages, trip files, and other documents from Robert F. Kennedy's service as US attorney general, including details about his roles in the Cuban missile crisis and as coordinator of covert efforts to overthrow or assassinate Fidel Castro.

A half-century after those critical events, a behind-the-scenes tussle continues over the Kennedy family's refusal to grant permission for researchers to freely review them. The disagreement lingers even as the JFK Library this month celebrated the 50th anniversary of John Kennedy's inauguration by providing "unprecedented" access to thousands of records of his presidency.

Access to the papers is tightly controlled by Robert Kennedy's ninth child ... [Max] Kennedy, a lawyer whom library officials said has been designated by his mother, Ethel, to take on the responsibility.

Max Kennedy denied that access to the papers is closed, saying he has "selectively granted full access" to prominent biographers, including Evan Thomas and Robert Dallek.

... Library director Thomas J. Putnam said those authors were granted limited access--not the full public scrutiny that researchers now seek. The JFK Library itself would like to make the documents available, Putnam said, but current law stipulates that it must first get a signed deed from RFK's heirs before the documents can be made widely available.

Negotiations with the Kennedy family are ongoing, and in the meantime, the Library cannot process the papers, which "cover [Kennedy's] entire career in government." Why is the family reluctant to make the papers available?
Some historians attribute the family's guarded attitude to a desire to protect Robert Kennedy's image as a champion of civil rights and social programs, and a man who emerged, in the years after his brother's assassination, as a strong opponent of the Vietnam War. The boxes, they say, may contain evidence of Robert Kennedy the ruthless anticommunist who broke laws in the quest to take out Cuba's leader, and perhaps other abuses of power.

The Globe points out that the "[p]recedent regarding the treatment of attorney general records supports making the records public."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Digitization at the Kennedy Library

Perhaps because I was born and raised in Boston, I have always been very interested in President John F. Kennedy. His election is the first I remember--I will never forget it. We watched every minute of the Inauguration on television, and were moved by the inaugural address. It was a time of hope and promise. Who could have predicted it would all end in tragedy when Kennedy was assassinated? We watched every minute of the coverage of the assassination, and were shocked when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, seemingly in front of our very eyes.

These memories came rushing over me when I read an article in the Boston Globe about a massive digitization project under way at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "A four-year, $10 million effort to digitize the JFK Library and Museum's archives, making hundreds of thousands of documents, photographs, and recordings available online, is nearing completion of its first phase." Although this represents just a "small portion of the collection," the project "marks the first time a presidential library established in the paper age has fully committed itself to the digital era." None of the other presidential libraries have begun to undertake digitization projects on such a massive scale, but the National Archives, which oversees the presidential libraries, hopes the Kennedy archives will be a model for other projects.

The article discusses the behind-the-scene efforts to make the digitization project and the redesign of the library website successful. I was interested to read that all the scanning was done by hand to protect the increasingly fragile originals as well as to ensure that "even pencil notes would be legible." I was also glad to know that a great deal of attention is being paid to the addition of metadata so that the documents will be accessible. For instance, the phrase "Cuban Missile Crisis" "must be embedded retroactively to make the relevant documents searchable" because that term was not used in the White House at the time.