FAQ on Obama Presidential Library


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. The Obama Presidential Center will include the presidential library, museum, and office and activity space for the Barack Obama Foundation.

Who pays for a presidential library?
The Obama Foundation will be responsible for all aspects of the building, construction, design, and planning processes for the Obama Presidential Center. The National Archives and Records Administration and the Barack Obama Foundation will operate the future museum and library portion of the Presidential Center as a public-private partnership. The Obama Foundation will raise all of the funds needed for construction of the project; neither federal funds nor University funds will be used in the construction of the facilities.

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 considered by the Barack Obama Foundation for the Obama Presidential Library?
The two sites are in the Washington Park and Woodlawn neighborhoods. The Washington Park site includes 22 acres of parkland plus 11 acres of land owned by the University of Chicago and the City of Chicago. The Woodlawn site includes 21 acres in Jackson Park.

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.


How will Chicago benefit from hosting the Obama Presidential Center?
The Obama Presidential Center will 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 people of Chicago.

How will the Obama Presidential Center create an intellectual resource for the City?
It will provide access to materials that will bring to life this historic presidency. It could partner with education and cultural organizations in Chicago and around the globe 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 will the Presidential Center provide economic benefits to the city of Chicago?
The Obama Presidential Center will 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 surrounding communities, and create new opportunities for generations to come.

How will the Obama Presidential Center benefit from being located on the South Side?
An Obama Presidential Center on the South Side of Chicago will include the first truly urban presidential library. It will be accessible to millions of visitors a year from Chicago’s two international airports, major interstate highways and public transportation systems. The library will 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 will 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.


What is the University of Chicago’s role in the Obama Presidential Center?
The University will support the Foundation and the City’s efforts in community engagement, planning and development, individual and institutional collaborations, and programming. The Obama Foundation will lead the fundraising, building, construction, design, and planning processes for the library.

What kinds of academic collaborations could emerge from the Obama Presidential Center?
Faculty members at numerous universities have proposed collaborations, including the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago State University, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology. 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. Any academic collaborations would be independent of politics or ideology.


How did the University decide to lead the effort to bring this presidential library to the South Side?
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 collaboration 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 Center?
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.


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 announced on May 12, 2015, that the Obama Presidential Center will be located on the South Side of Chicago in either Jackson Park or Washington Park. Visit the Foundation website.

What’s the site selection process from here?
The Obama Foundation has said it will evaluate the two possible sites for the library, in Jackson Park and Washington Park, and expects to decide on a site later this year.


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 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.