Last week, former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama broke ground on the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. The Obamas were also joined by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. Here, Election Central takes a closer look at these historical institutions.
Presidential Libraries and Museums are where a president’s papers, records, and other historical documents are stored. They can also include other important presidential artifacts, such as videos, still photos, and other audiovisual materials. These items are preserved, protected, and made available to the public.
Not every president has their own library. The practice wasn’t started until 1939. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned that many presidential records and papers had been lost or destroyed after presidents left office. He donated his own presidential papers and items to the federal government so that they would be preserved and available to the public. Roosevelt also donated part of his Hyde Park estate as a place to house them. In 1950, President Harry Truman decided to do the same thing. In 1955, Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act, which established a system of libraries that are privately built, but publicly maintained by the federal government.
Currently there are thirteen established presidential libraries, spanning the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt through George W. Bush. Barack Obama and Donald Trump currently offer online access to some materials until their libraries are complete. Each president decides where their libraries will be built. Many place them in their hometowns, though some have preferred to place them on or near university campuses.
President Obama chose the South Side of Chicago for his library because that’s where he began his career as a community organizer and political figure. It is also where he met his wife Michelle. (He also considered Honolulu, Hawaii, his birthplace.) In his remarks, he said that he doesn’t want the museum to be a static look back at the past, but rather a home for ongoing civic engagement. Michelle Obama added that she hopes the museum will be a way to give back to the South Side, where she is from.
The finished project will include several buildings, including an athletic center, children’s play area, and test kitchen, in addition to the more traditional library and museum.