Sunday, December 6, 2009

Presidential Libraries

QUESTION: What city is a small stone?

ANSWER: Little Rock.
QUESTION: Who threw a little rock in the Arkansas River and the ripples caused a multi-million dollar downtown economic development to erupt?
ANSWER: Bill Clinton.

Ron and I were in Little Rock to attend a meeting of Presidential Library leaders at the Clinton Presidential Center. It is located in the downtown River Market District. The Presidential Library and Museum, within the Clinton Presidential Center and Park, includes the Clinton Foundation (Little Rock office) and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. They also have a Great Hall which seats 250 that can be used for special events. The surrounding 30 acre park replaced an industrial site of old, run-down warehouses. Hearing that, reminded me that the JFK Library site was once a landfill-dump that huge rats called home. Today it is a beautiful and dramatic ocean side site.

Thirteen libraries are part of the organization and only two were not represented at the meeting, due to scheduling conflicts, Reagan and Carter. The exchange of information was both interesting and helpful.

You may remember that President Clinton announced that his Library would be a "bridge to the 21st century". It does resemble a classic covered bridge, only it is made of steel and glass. The top floor, overlooking the river, is an elegant, two-bedroom apartment. The first evening, we had an amazing five course dinner in the apartments library. Actually a library within a library. We were told that the President stays there on an average of twice a month. His may be the only Presidential Library with an in-house award winning chef. Jacob Peck, executive chef to Forty-two, recently won the Arkansas Iron Chef competition. There is also a restaurant, "Forty-two," with an outside dining area on the river. It is only open for lunch and Sunday brunch.

The next morning we began a full day of meetings. Bruce Lindsey, Chairman and CEO of the Clinton Library, graciously invited me to be a part of the gathering. I had been very hopeful I would be able to attend the meeting. Years of having to do "separate spouse tours" really bugged me. I always wanted to be a part of the real thing, not off shopping and touring while the good stuff, the reason we were there in the first place, was happening. So, thanks Bruce Lindsey, for allowing me to sit in on the good stuff. Stephanie Streett is the Clinton Foundation executive director and she was President Clinton's scheduler for eight years.

We stayed at the Capital Hotel. That's not a mis-spelling, it was named because it was a "capital idea" for the capitol city. It recently went through a major renovation and it's a beautiful property. Four stories high, with marble columns, wide staircases and lots of lovely and inviting areas to sit and read, or just enjoy the ambiance. The stained glass ceiling in the atrium has the Arkansas State Capitol, a replica of our nation's Capitol, in the center of the design. The rich, elegant Christmas decorations made the hotel look and smell even more amazing. The elevator has a fascinating story to tell. The car itself is at least three times the width of a normal elevator. The story told is that it was built to accommodate Ulysses S. Grant and his horse, Cincinnati, during his 1880 visit. In a space to the left of the elevator is a boutique, but it was originally the ladies entrance to the Capital Hotel. Wishing to avoid the lobby, ladies of the 19th century could discreetly enter and make their way to the parlor and balcony on the Mezzanine to enjoy tea with their friends.

Now that the Nixon Library has become part of the National Archives, after 17 years of independence, it was interesting to hear the other libraries share their experiences. The federal government owns the documents, so the archivist controls them and that part of the library that houses them. Foundations want to further their President's legacy. The archivists want to present the administrations total picture for all to see and study. Here-in lies the basic conflict, sometimes adversarial, often more on the cordial side, but always interesting. Each institution expressed dedication to strive for collegiality with their on-site government employees. And each is proud to be playing the role of financial support group to NARA.

I think it can be assumed that libraries with still living ex-presidents get a little more flexibility from the government than do those whose presidents are gone. It may not be true in all cases, but it seems to be pretty apparent. Modern day Presidents raise the funds to build their own buildings. Without these efforts the libraries would not have been built across America, and their individual records and archives would most likely be housed in huge warehouses in a central location. Think College Park, Maryland. The ability to raise funds for older libraries dries up with time and when their constituencies aren't around to maintain the condition of the aging buildings. Lack of federal funding is of great concern to many historical buildings and collections.

The Foundations would really like to see an organized Presidential Library Congressional Caucus to advocate for additional legislation and funding for the changing nature of records management in the preservation and accessibility of presidential records and American history.

The National Archives was established in 1934 and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The new head archivist, nominated by President Obama in July and confirmed by the Senate on November 6, is David S. Ferriero (rhymes with stereo), the first librarian to hold the post. He says he has 10 billion things to worry about. His objects of worry include the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and of course, all the Presidential papers. Ron was one of the first library foundation heads to reach out for him and they will soon be meeting face to face.

The proliferation of electronic government records and how they should be preserved is a big issue that the new head archivist faces. It is estimated that President Obama's presidential papers will be 80 percent electronic, something that the Nixon Presidential papers-people did not have to worry about. But, one can not help but wonder if we would have had more access to them in that format, instead of them being secreted away in College Park, guarded and hidden from the president and the other people who created them. The only access to papers was when the archives were about to release some of them. At that time, the archives would notify members of the administration whose names were about to be made public.

Now that is all about to change at the Nixon library. A wing has been built to house the papers, and truck loads of documents are scheduled to begin arriving any day now. The archivist are preparing to be overwhelmed by the load that is coming. Their aim is to have them all available on the internet at some later date. No small task, obviously. At the JFK library, AT&T offered to scan all of their documents and provide internet access to them. They are working feverishly, but the endeavor has proved to be more daunting than anyone envisioned.

The National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) Presidential Libraries include: Herbert Hoover Library, West Branch, IA, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, NY, Harry S. Truman Library, Independence, MO, Dwight D. Eisenhower Library, Abilene,KS, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston, MA, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin, TX, Richard Nixon Library and Foundation, Yorba Linda, CA, Gerald R Ford Library and Museum, Ann Arbor, MI and Grand Rapids, MI, Jimmy Carter Library, Atlanta, GA, Ronald Reagan Library, Simi Valley, CA, George Bush Library, College Station, TX, and William J. Clinton Library in Little Rock, AR. Soon to be added to the system is the George W. Bush Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Mark Langdale, the GWB Foundation President, is working on the fundraising and plans for that Library.

Locations of other Presidential papers include collections in the Library of Congress and various libraries and historical societies around the nation. I was very interested to learn that numerous collections of presidential papers are in the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California, an almost annual field trip destination during my school days. If anyone told our classes about the Presidential papers, I've long forgotten they were there, but I do remember the beautiful gardens, the peacocks and Thomas Gainsborough's paintings of Blue Boy and Pinkie. The Huntington also has a Chinese garden, something we hope to do at the Nixon Library. I want to go and see it. My brother, Rob, said he'd meet me there. He lives in Simi Valley, near the Reagan Presidential Library. A visit to the Huntington Library, near where we grew up, is on the to-do list right after the holidays.

On a more personal note, it is fun to report that Lynne and Barry are here with their two dachshunds, Jackson Hole and Teton Spirit. Kodai and Lulubelle are excited to have their "cousins" visiting again. Now, there is a herd of dachshunds running around Coyote Base, doing "puppy burns" up the front staircase, down the long hall way to Marja's suite, and down the back stairs, and then skidding across the marble floors in the "state rooms." It's hilarious and keeps us all laughing. They bark at the bunnies on the back hill, neighbors walking on Winners Circle, cars going around the circle, and the owl that sits on the peak of our roof and salivates at the sight of them. We look forward to having our grandsons and Lisa join us on Lynne's birthday, December 26th. They will not be bringing their two Rhodesian ridgebacks.

Our luminaries light up the front yard beside the American flag, white lights twinkle on the balcony, the tree is waiting to be decorated. It will be a red, white and blue Christmas tree and theme for us here in Yorba Linda. We salute President Nixon and his legacy with all things patriotic. God Bless all of you during this wonderful time of year, God Bless the President, and may God continue to Bless America.

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