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Q&A on Presidential Libraries

September 6, 2013
Senator Chuck Grassley , Dysart Reporter

Q: What is the purpose of presidential libraries?

A: Building on an idea conceived by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Congress passed legislation in 1955 that established a system to preserve the artifacts and documents of the presidency. The network of libraries starts with the 31st president, Iowa's own Herbert Hoover. The law has worked to secure the official papers, documents and materials collected throughout a president's years in office. It also helps prevent these records that bear tremendous value to the American public from being lost, destroyed or sold. The Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 set a precedent in which private dollars are used to establish and build the libraries after which the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) would operate and maintain them. Until 1978, presidents were encouraged to donate their records and materials after leaving office. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 established that all materials documenting the constitutional, statutory and ceremonial duties of the president are the property of the American public. Through museums, archives and public programs, the 13 presidential libraries offer current and future generations a unique opportunity to understand and appreciate how history unfolded within the White House. Technology has changed dramatically from the audio recordings of FDR's "fireside chats" to the video and social media platforms that today capture every breath a 21st century president takes. No matter the medium, the carefully archived material offers researchers, scholars, historians and the American people a profound look back at each presidency. From the millions of pages of letters and documents to the hours and hours of audio and video footage, visitors get to take a look behind the scenes and gain a deeper understanding of each president's policies, priorities, pressures, politics and place in history. Congress passed a major funding update in 1986 that requires private endowments to be established for each facility to help offset the cost of maintenance.



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