Presidential library

From Academic Kids

In the United States, the Presidential library system is a nationwide network of libraries administered by the Office of Presidential Libraries, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). These are not traditional libraries, but rather repositories for preserving and making available the papers, records, and other historical materials of every President of the United States after Calvin Coolidge.

Dwight D. Eisenhower library in Abilene, Kansas.
Dwight D. Eisenhower library in Abilene, Kansas.
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Lyndon B. Johnson library in Austin, Texas.
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Jimmy Carter library in Atlanta, Georgia.


Recent U.S. Presidents have established a Presidential library in his home state in which documents, artifacts, and displays are kept that relate to the former president's career. Each library also contains a museum and provides an active series of public programs. When a President leaves office, NARA establishes a Presidential project to house and index the documents until a new Presidential library is built and transferred to the Federal government.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library became the eleventh Presidential library on November 18, 2004.

The Presidential library system is made up of eleven Presidential libraries (see list of U.S. Presidential libraries) operated by the Federal government. Libraries and museums have been established for other presidents, but they are not part of the NARA Presidential library system. These include the Calvin Coolidge, Rutherford Hayes, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon libraries. For example, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is owned and operated by the State of Illinois.

The Nixon Presidential Materials Staff, which administers the Nixon Presidential materials under the terms of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act are part of NARA, however, the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace is not officially part of the Presidential library system. In January 2004, Congress passed legislation that provided for the establishment of a federally-operated Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda. In March 2005, the Archivist of the United States and the Director of the privately-run Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation exchanged letters on the requirements that will allow the Nixon Library to become the twelfth federally-funded Presidential library operated by the NARA as early as February 2006.


Before the advent of the Presidential library system, Presidents or their heirs often dispersed Presidential papers at the end of the administration. Though many pre-Hoover collections now reside in the Library of Congress, others are split among other libraries, historical societies, and private collections. Unfortunately, many materials have been lost or deliberately destroyed.

The Presidential library system formally began in 1939, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt donated his personal and Presidential papers to the federal government. At the same time, Roosevelt pledged part of his estate at Hyde Park, New York to the United States, and friends of the President formed a non-profit corporation to raise funds for the construction of the library and museum building. Roosevelt's decision stemmed from his belief that Presidential papers were an important part of the national heritage and should be accessible to the public. He asked the National Archives to take custody of his papers and other historical materials and to administer his library.

In 1950, Harry S. Truman decided that he, too, would build a library to house his Presidential papers and helped to galvanize congressional action. In 1955 Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act, establishing a system of privately erected and federally maintained libraries. The Act encouraged other Presidents to donate their historical materials to the government and ensured the preservation of Presidential papers and their availability to the American people. Under this and subsequent acts, nine more libraries have been established. In each case, funds from private and nonfederal public sources provided the funds to build the library. Once completed, the private organization turned over the libraries to the National Archives and Records Administration to operate and maintain.

Until 1978, Presidents, scholars, and legal professionals held the view dating back to George Washington that the records created by the President or his staff while in office remained the personal property of the President and were his to take with him when he left office. The first Presidential libraries were built on this concept. NARA successfully persuaded Presidents to donate their historical materials to the federal government for housing in a Presidential library managed by NARA.

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 established that the Presidential records that document the constitutional, statutory, and ceremonial duties of the President are the property of the United States Government. After the President leaves office, the Archivist of the United States assumes custody of the records. The Act allowed for the continuation of Presidential libraries as the repository for Presidential records.

The Presidential Libraries Act of 1986 also made significant changes to Presidential libraries, requiring private endowments linked to the size of the facility. NARA uses these endowments to offset a portion of the maintenance costs for the library.


The eleven Presidential Libraries (plus the Nixon materials project) maintain over 400 million pages of textual materials; nearly 10 million photographs; over 15 million feet of motion picture film; nearly 100,000 hours of disc, audiotape, and videotape recordings; and approximately half a million museum objects. These varied holdings make each library a valuable source of information and a center for research on the Presidency.

The most important textual materials in each library are those created by the President and his staff in the course of performing the official duties. Libraries also house numerous museum objects including family heirlooms, items collected by the President and his family, campaign memorabilia, awards, and the many gifts given to the President by American citizens and foreign dignitaries. These gifts range in type from homemade items to valuable works of art. Curators in Presidential libraries and in other museums throughout the country draw upon these collections for historical exhibits.

Other significant holdings include the personal papers and historical materials donated by individuals associated with the President. These individuals may include Cabinet officials, envoys to foreign governments, political party associates, and the President's family and personal friends. Several libraries have undertaken oral history programs that have produced tape-recorded memoirs. A third body of materials comprises the papers accumulated by the President prior to, and following, his Presidency. Such collections include documents relating to Roosevelt's tenure as Governor of New York and Dwight D. Eisenhower's long military career.

Every American president since Hoover is or has chosen to be buried at their presidential library, with the exception of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery; Johnson is buried at his ranch in the hill country of Texas, west of Austin.

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