Officials with the Obama Foundation will circumvent onerous federal standards by creating an online archive for the forthcoming Barack Obama Presidential Center instead of a traditional paper archive.
Utilizing a digitized presidential library also means not having to pay fees to the National Archives and Records Administration for management of the library, reports the Chicago Tribune.
The $500 million Obama center — a soul-crushing, concrete architectural monstrosity — will feature basketball courts, a recording studio, meeting rooms, an auditorium, a children’s play garden and, of course, an exhibition hall for odes to the world-historical idea of Barack Obama. Unlike every other presidential library, however, it will be bereft of historical documents.
Some historians say they are perplexed about the decision to cut cost by creating an online-only archive of Obama’s manuscripts, letters, speech drafts and other papers.
Presidential historian Gil Troy suggested that the library-less library is terrible for people seeking to understand the past.
“There’s always one particular person, a chief of staff, a liaison, that those collections really illuminate,” Troy told the Tribune. “When you view the collection, you meet the people around the president, not just the president. That comes from being there, not just logging on.”
University of Illinois at Chicago manuscripts librarian Peggy Glowacki is also skeptical.
“All archivists are waiting to see how this will work because we are all struggling with how to make things available digitally,” Glowacki told the Tribune. “I think, in this case, it’s such a massive amount of material that it will be important to see how they are able to deliver it and make it easy to search.”
James Rutherford, the man who managed the development of the Clinton Presidential Library in Arkansas, suggested that a library without documents might have some positive qualities.
“Here’s how it will be attractive: through the forums, workshops and programs they conduct,” Rutherford told the Tribune. “They can host conferences with administration officials, discussions on how Obama approached health care, how he developed the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) executive order. That’s how the center will become a research institution.”
A digital archive will allow people to access originally documents remotely as well.
A spokeswoman for the University of Chicago said the illustrious school welcomes Obama’s presidential center as an opportunity for “economic development, job creation, civic engagement and cultural enrichment.”
David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation, said Barack and Michelle Obama were adamant that they did not want the Obama Presidential Center to be “a mausoleum.”
Obama’s papers are currently housed in a private facility in the suburbs of Chicago. The facility is closed to the public.
The National Archives and Records Administration spend $300,000 to ship the documents to the facility. The federal agency spends about $223,000 each month to store and secure the records.
Officials with the National Archive now plan to ship the documents back to Washington, D.C., according to the Tribune.
The Obama Presidential Center is scheduled to open on Chicago’s South Side in 2021.
The focal point of the three-building campus is a sterile, angular hunk of cement with asymmetrical, haphazardly-placed windows. From the ground, it looks like a drab, concrete Rubik’s Cube ready to tumble over on its side at any moment — crushing any number of visitors loitering on a faux-brick promenade. (RELATED: Proposed Obama Library Design Is A Puke-Worthy Neo-Brutalist Nightmare)
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A second building is a low-slung eyesore that could easily be mistaken for a vacant suburban office building, or perhaps a parking garage.
The architectural renderings of the Obama library campus show 19 people ambling aimlessly on paths atop this second building. There are also portions of grass on top of the building which resemble gardens in dire need of weeding.
The site for the proposed Obama library is a section of Jackson Park, a 500-acre recreation area on the city’s South Side located behind the Museum of Science and Industry.
Jackson Park includes a golf course, a beach and a scenic Japanese garden.
The proposed library will require the city to close Cornell Drive, a wide boulevard used each day by thousands of drivers.
In May Obama himself urged Chicago residents not to worry about traffic jams. He wants to avoid getting “fixated on traffic that we lose sight of what’s possible,” he said. (RELATED: Remember When Obama Was The Messiah?)