FAQ on Obama Presidential Library

General Information

Is the University of Chicago interested in bringing the Obama Presidential Library to the South Side of Chicago?
Yes. The University of Chicago is committed to a collaborative partnership to bring the Obama Presidential Library to one of the neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago. This is a very promising possibility for our city, and especially its young people.

How would the University be involved in a library bid?
The University is working in partnership with the city of Chicago, our neighbors, civic leaders, and cultural and educational institutions to develop a plan that benefits the city and the nation. This is a natural outgrowth of the University’s commitment to civic engagement and improving life in our nation’s cities.

What is a presidential library?
A presidential library is a non-partisan institution managed by the federal government. The mission of the Library is to preserve the history of a presidential administration.

What are the components of presidential libraries?
In addition to housing the archives of a president’s time in office, all presidential libraries also include a museum. Most presidential libraries have an education center and auditorium space.

Who pays for a presidential library?
A presidential library is constructed with private or non-federal funds donated to a non-profit Presidential Library Foundation. Some presidential libraries have also received construction and development funding from state and/or local governments.

What goes into a presidential library?
The contents and operation of a presidential library are governed by federal law, including the Presidential Libraries Acts of 1955 and 1986. All records from a presidential administration are housed in a presidential library.

What South Side sites are being proposed for the Obama Presidential Library?
It is up to President Obama and Mrs. Obama to choose the location of the library. In partnership with members of the community, the University has recommended three potential areas in neighboring South Side communities to help inform that choice. The potential sites are in the South Shore neighborhood near the intersection of 71st Street and South Shore Drive, in the Washington Park neighborhood near the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Garfield Boulevard, and in the Woodlawn neighborhood near the intersection of 63rdStreet and Stony Island Avenue.

All three areas offer extensive opportunities for economic development, civic partnerships and cultural enrichment. In addition, all three would offer the potential for significant new infrastructure investments that would benefit Chicago residents as well as library users and visitors. The investments would include improvements for South Side transportation and adjoining parkland, resulting in greater utilization and public benefit. The proposed sites also would place the Obama Presidential Library in proximity to Museum Campus South, a collaboration of seven South side museums that showcase contemporary and modern art, architecture, theater, performance, historic collections, archaeology, science and technology.

How is the proposal taking parkland into account?
The University recommends that any location for the Obama Presidential Library requiring the use of parkland should be park-positive—in other words, the community should gain access to more usable parkland from this process than the presidential library would occupy. Development of the presidential library also would present a rare opportunity to enhance South Side parks, adding green space and other features that would encourage more utilization of the parks as community resources. The University is working on these goals out of a conviction that the presidential library initiative will provide substantial benefits for South Side communities. Producing a net gain of parkland would bring these communities a lasting benefit, in addition to the presidential library’s profound economic and cultural impact.

Is the University of Chicago proposing to locate the Library on its campus in Hyde Park?
No. The University and our community partners believe the most benefit would come from locating the Library in one of our neighboring communities on the South Side, where it would spur new economic development.

Rationale for Chicago

How would Chicago benefit from hosting the Obama Presidential Library?
The Obama Presidential Library would be an intellectual resource, a source of great economic benefit, a key addition to the network of civic partners throughout the city, and a catalyst of new opportunities for the young people of Chicago. It would represent an investment in their future, and the future of the city.

How would the OPL create an intellectual resource for the City?
It would provide access to materials that would bring to life this historic presidency. It could partner with education and cultural organizations and provide programming that would benefit students, schools, community groups, researchers, and many others. It would be a source of inspiration for young people in the city of Chicago — they would resonate in a particular way to the story of two fellow Chicagoans whose journey led from the neighborhoods of the South Side to the White House.

How would the OPL provide economic benefits to the city of Chicago?
The Obama Presidential Library would create economic opportunity on many levels—an analysis commissioned by the University estimated that the presidential library would lead to the creation of 1,900 permanent new jobs, create $220 million in annual economic impact, and bring 800,000 visitors each year. It would bring vitality and sustained resources to its host neighborhood, and create new opportunities for generations to come.

How would the Obama Presidential Library benefit from being located on the South Side?
An Obama Presidential Library on the South Side of Chicago would be the first truly urban presidential library. It would be accessible to millions of visitors a year from Chicago’s two international airports, major interstate highways and public transportation systems. The library would benefit from joining an already culturally vibrant and historically significant community, and proximity to one of the leading academic institutions in the world. It could extend its mission in a particular way to a younger generation that would benefit immensely from its presence.

What is the relationship of the President and First Lady with the South Side of Chicago and the University of Chicago?
Siting the Obama Presidential Library on the South Side of Chicago would reflect the personal and professional lives of the Obamas, as well as their commitments to society, especially young people in need of opportunity. President Obama worked as a community organizer on the South Side, represented the South Side as a State Senator, and was on the University of Chicago’s Law School faculty for 12 years. Mrs. Obama was raised on the South Side and served in several leadership roles at the University of Chicago. The Obamas lived, raised their children and own a home in the Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood.

Is the city of Chicago supportive of the University’s interest in bringing the Obama Presidential Library to the South Side?
The city has been publicly supportive and enthusiastic about bringing the Obama Presidential Library to Chicago.

Role of the University of Chicago

Will there be an academic relationship?
The University of Chicago has proposed academic collaborations with numerous universities, including Northwestern University, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago State University, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Collaborators from these institutions hope to develop programs involving research, teaching and outreach in a variety of fields, including health care, education, violence prevention, climate change, human rights, urban journalism, college access, early childhood development and international law. The broad interest in collaboration also includes the City Colleges of Chicago and the 17 Chicago-area institutions that form the America’s Urban Campus consortium.

The academic collaborations would be independent of politics or ideology.

What else could the University bring to the Library?
In addition to its scholarly contributions, the University’s work in civic engagement has direct, practical impact on educational reform, college opportunity, environmental policy, public health, housing, the arts and other social issues important to the nation. Through the Urban Education Institute, UChicago Promise and the University Community Service Center, the University has put a special emphasis on creating opportunity for young people in Chicago and other major cities. This commitment, with a track record of demonstrated results, creates a climate in which a presidential library could have an immediate and focused effect on young people and their educations. The University also has a demonstrated track record of completing transformational and collaborative community developments such as Harper Court and the Arts Incubator in Washington Park.

What are the benefits of the Obama Presidential Library for scholars?
Presidential archives are rich and important sources of primary documents, shedding light on the person, the Presidency and national history. If the Obama Presidential Library were located on the South Side of Chicago, scholars from around the world would have access to legal, political, economic, sociological and historical materials of significant interest and value.

What are the benefits of the Obama Presidential Library to University of Chicago students and faculty?
In addition to the archives, Presidential libraries often have a robust series of conferences, symposiums, speakers and internship opportunities that would be available to UChicago students and faculty as members of the community. It could provide special opportunities for partnership to the larger benefit of the community. 

University Planning and Process

Who has considered the pros and cons of a Presidential Library nearby?
A faculty committee that examined presidential libraries concluded last year that it would be in the interest of the University to help bring such a project to the South Side. A partnership to this end with others in the city of Chicago would be part of the fabric of partnerships that the University has built in recent years, reflecting our commitments both to the city and to our neighboring communities. 

What is Susan Sher’s role with the Obama Presidential Library?
Susan Sher is a senior advisor to the University of Chicago’s president. She is coordinating the activities of the University around this project and building relationships with the city of Chicago and a wide variety of community and University partners that will lead to the best collaborative plan for bringing the Obama Presidential Library to the South Side of Chicago.

Who else from the University is working on the bid for the Obama Presidential Library?
Trustees, senior leadership and faculty are engaged in the conversation. Staff have gathered information on the nature of a Presidential Library and experiences elsewhere.

What is the role of the University of Chicago Community Advisory Board for the Obama Presidential Library?
The Community Advisory Board is composed of prominent South Side community leaders who have demonstrated an enduring commitment to improving the quality of life on the South Side of Chicago and the city more broadly. This group brings a diversity of experience and expertise, but most of all, a shared devotion to bringing vitality and sustained opportunity to the South Side. These leaders will advise the University and its partners on the possibilities for bringing the Obama Presidential Library to the South Side of Chicago.

Barack Obama Foundation Process

What is the process for making a decision about the location of the Obama Presidential Library?
On Jan. 31, 2014, the Barack Obama Foundation was established to oversee planning for President Obama’s future presidential library. On March 20, the Foundation released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ), to solicit responses from institutions or other parties interested in hosting the library. On June 16, the University of Chicago submitted a response to the RFQ in collaboration with organizations and civic leaders on the South Side and across Chicago. On Sept. 15, the Foundation announced that the University of Chicago’s collaborative effort has been selected for the next round in the foundation’s site selection process and issued a Request for Proposal (RFP). On Dec. 11, the University of Chicago submitted a collaborative response to the RFP. The Barack Obama Foundation has indicated that it will announce the selection of a proposal in early 2015. Visit the Foundation website.

Presidential Library Background

What are presidential libraries?
Presidential libraries are not traditional libraries, but rather repositories for preserving and making accessible the papers, records and other historical materials of U.S. Presidents. Presidential libraries are important sources for historians and other researchers studying U.S. presidents and the country’s history. In addition to archiving and preserving presidential papers and objects, presidential libraries and museums bring history to millions of visitors from around the world.  [From the archives.gov website]

When did the presidential library system begin?
The presidential library system is comprised of thirteen presidential libraries documenting Presidents Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush and is managed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The presidential library system formally began in 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt donated his personal and presidential papers to the Federal Government. [From the archives.gov website]

Why are presidential libraries named libraries rather than archives?
The term library was used at the time of passage of the Presidential Libraries Act in 1955 because the general public was more familiar with that term than the term archives. All of the presidential libraries have archives, which store the papers or records of the President, the presidential administration, the First Lady and personal papers associated with that Presidency. The libraries also include the artifacts and gifts the President and First Lady receive during their administration, including gifts from Heads of State and private citizens.

What is housed in a presidential library?
A presidential library houses papers and records created by, for, or about a President during his life and career. The papers and records document the personal and professional lives of a President, the First Lady and other members of his family, business and political associates and close friends, revealing the details about a President’s family life, career and White House activities. Along with the papers and records, a presidential library contains thousands of feet of motion picture film and videotape as well as millions of still pictures revealing all aspects of a President’s life before, during, and after the White House. Additionally, a presidential library contains thousands of artifacts, the objects that document a life and career. 

Who operates and manages presidential libraries?
Once a library is constructed, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) assumes responsibility for its operation and maintenance in accordance with the Presidential Libraries Acts of 1955 and 1986. Presidential libraries are operated and maintained by NARA through its congressionally appropriated operating budget, which includes archival, curatorial and administrative staffing for the library.  Some staff and programs at presidential libraries are paid for with funds from associated private foundations organized to fund the construction of the library and provide continuing support for library. The Presidential Library Foundation manages the construction phase of the library.

What is the role of the Foundation as distinct from the Library itself? Does it just raise money for the library?
Presidential libraries carry out a mandated program to preserve, process, and make available their archival holdings. This program implicitly calls for outreach and educational programs. Foundation support is critical to full development of each library. Presidential libraries, their museums, and the scholarship they promote benefit in significant ways from private organizations established to support such programs.