All the Presidents’ LibrariansRoundup
Michael Koncewicz is the Cold War Collections Specialist at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University. He previously worked for the National Archives at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
In a recent interview for Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked Donald Trump about the location of his future presidential library, a repository that would preserve the history of his administration and promote his accomplishments. Trump replied, “I have a lot of locations actually. The nice part, I don’t have to worry about buying a location… I’ve been treated so great in Florida.” Trump’s answer flummoxed Todd, who later told his viewers, “I have to say, I didn’t see the idea of his library on one of his properties coming with that answer.”1
Naturally, there was no follow-up on Trump’s answer. The American public will most likely not learn more about the president’s plans for his library until at least either 2021 or 2025. Will his library join the federal presidential library system, a public-private partnership that includes every president from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush? Or will he follow Obama’s recent decision to opt out of the federal system and have his own foundation completely control the project? Will there be any public accountability over Trump’s future presidential library?
The answers to these questions will have a profound impact not only for scholars interested in access to presidential records, but also for historians who are considering a career in public history. And while the presidential library system may seem so unique as to be irrelevant to anyone working elsewhere in public history, these libraries are worth studying to understand the intersection of private foundations, the federal government, and scholarship.
As an employee at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, I saw how a presidential library could afford exciting possibilities for the work of public history, while at the same time placing serious limitations on the workers themselves.
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