Skip to main content

Libraries, Presidential


LIBRARIES, PRESIDENTIAL. Established to concentrate archival materials relating to individual U.S. presidents and to collect pertinent artifacts for research and public viewing, the presidential libraries have become significant archival repositories and museums. Most presidential libraries are federally and privately funded and are operated by the National Archives and Records Administration

(NARA). Two are not part of NARA: the Rutherford B. Hayes Library and Museum in Fremont, Ohio, and the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California. Established in 1916 the Hayes Library is the oldest presidential library and receives some funding from the state of Ohio. The Nixon Library, opened in 1992, operates largely as a museum because of legal disputes over the custody of Nixon's presidential records. Since passage of the 1974 Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, Nixon's presidential papers have been processed and housed by NARA, which began to open them to the public in 1987, under the name Nixon Presidential Materials Project.

In 1939 Congress authorized the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York, thus making it the first federally administered presidential library. The land and the initial building were privately donated. Roosevelt deeded his official records, personal papers, and many artifacts, which the government agreed to maintain, along with the library structure, for research and museum purposes. The Roosevelt Library opened to the public in 1941. Fund-raising for Harry S. Truman's library began before Truman left office in 1953. Efforts also soon began to establish a library for the new president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The National Archives consequently sought legislation to regularize the creation of presidential libraries. In 1955 Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act, allowing the government to accept historical materials, donated land, and buildings for the establishment of presidential libraries and to maintain and operate them. The Truman Library opened in Independence, Missouri, in 1957, and the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, in 1962. Similar institutions have been created in the names of Herbert Hoover in West Branch, Iowa; John F. Kennedy in Boston; Lyndon B. Johnson in Austin, Texas; Gerald R. Ford in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, Michigan; Jimmy Carter in Atlanta, Georgia; Ronald Reagan in Simi Valley, California; and George Bush in College Station, Texas. William Clinton's library will be in Little Rock, Arkansas. Since passage of the 1978 Presidential Records Act, no president can claim private ownership of his papers, but he can restrict access to them for up to twelve years, after which they can be subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act.

In 1992 the federal presidential libraries had in their custody 218 million pages of records and papers and 263,000 artifacts. That year the libraries had 1,534,281 visitors and, with the Nixon records in federal custody, attracted 13,409 daily research visits and 55,906 written and oral inquiries. The availability of such holdings has increased the quantity and quality of research connected with recent presidents and served as a valuable instrument of public education. Private support organizations affiliated with the libraries have also financed conferences, research grants, publications, lectures, and other program aspects of the presidential libraries.


McCoy, Donald R. The National Archives: America's Ministry of Documents, 1934–1968. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978.

Schick, Frank L., Renee Schick, and Mark Carroll. Records of the Presidency: Presidential Papers and Libraries from Washington to Reagan. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1989.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Annual Report for the Year Ended September 30, 1992. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1993.

Veit, Fritz. Presidential Libraries and Collections. New York: Greenwood, 1987.

Donald R.McCoy/f. h.

See alsoArchives ; Federal Agencies ; Libraries ; Watergate .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Libraries, Presidential." Dictionary of American History. . 24 Mar. 2019 <>.

"Libraries, Presidential." Dictionary of American History. . (March 24, 2019).

"Libraries, Presidential." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved March 24, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.