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Putting together a Presidential Library is a really, really big job

In 1939, President Roosevelt donated his personal and Presidential papers to the Federal Government, marking the beginning of the modern Presidential Library system that is part of the National Archives. Seventy-four years later, the newest Presidential Library holds more documents than FDR could have imagined.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum holds more than 70 million pages of textual records, 43,000 artifacts, 200 million emails (totaling roughly 1 billion pages), and 4 million digital photographs (the largest holding of electronic records of any of our libraries).

Collecting this material, cataloging and processing it, and making it available to the public was a task that began on January 20, 2009.

The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, accepts custody of the George W. Bush Library on April 24, 2013.

As a Presidential administration nears its end, the National Archives works with the White House and the Department of Defense (DOD) to begin organizing, boxing, and moving a huge amount of Presidential materials out of various locations in Washington, DC. All records and artifacts must be out of the White House by noon on Inauguration Day.

At the same time, the National Archives locates temporary storage in the area of the future Presidential library—in this case, Lewisville, Texas. Then the National Archives and the Department of Defense begin moving the records to the temporary library facility.

Now the archival and museum staff begin the laborious task of establishing control over these new holdings. Properly cataloging the artifacts is essential for the curatorial staff to create  museum exhibits in the future Presidential Library. The controls the archivists create for millions of pages of archival holdings—digital and paper—play a critical role in the library’s ability to respond to the hundreds of requests that they will receive from the incumbent President, the Courts, Congress, and the former President for access to this material.

The archivists will also begin processing records for public access. Five years after the end of the administration, archivists will need to be able to respond to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that will to come in.

This screenshot from the George W. Bush Presidential Library shows some of the records that will be available to researchers.

Meanwhile, the private nonprofit foundation established to support the Presidential Library raises funds from non-Federal Government sources and constructs the library facility. During the construction, National Archives staff make sure that the future library meets Architectural and Design standards for a Presidential Library. Once the library is completed, the land, building, and equipment are donated or turned over to the Federal Government for use in perpetuity as part of NARA.

Starting with the first Bush Library, all Presidential Library foundations must provide an endowment to the National Archives to help offset facility operating expenses. After the library is transferred to the Government, the National Archives is responsible for salaries of employees and operating expenses of the libraries.

Once the facility is completed, the National Archives staff moves the records and artifacts into the permanent library facility. This time, they moved 30,470 cubic feet of record materials, 42,500 artifacts, and 1,288 cubic feet of audiovisual records from Lewisville to Dallas. President Bush served as Governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000, and so 2,181 cubic feet of gubernatorial records were moved from Austin to Dallas.

Today, all this work culminates in the dedication of the Presidential Library—a brand-new National Archives facility that will host hundreds of thousands of visitors to its galleries, research room, and public programs.

You can learn more about what objects and documents are in the George W. Bush Presidential Library, or read about the Presidential libraries on our National Archives web site. You can also learn more about the process of moving Presidential records in this Prologue article.

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