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Fact Sheet: The Obama Presidential Archives

January 24, 2022 at 9:45 AM CST

The Obama Foundation is committed to supporting the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) (Opens in a new tab)to lay the foundation for enhanced public access and engagement with the archives of the Obama presidency.

Impact From the Covid-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the Foundation’s joint endeavor with NARA to digitize nearly 30 million pages of unclassified paper records of the Obama presidency on an accelerated timeline. The Foundation is engaged in discussions with NARA to revise our path to support digitization of the unclassified textual records and to collaborate on expanded digital access. We will continue to update the public on developments related to these efforts and our partnership with NARA as our work continues.

Availability of the Barack Obama Presidential Records

Obama presidential records will become subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (Opens in a new tab) requests on January 20, 2022 and NARA will make presidential records available under the same standards and practices under which NARA has always administered records in accordance with the Presidential Records Act (PRA). (Opens in a new tab)

NARA will process and digitize unclassified textual Presidential records under supervision of NARA archival staff on a timeline determined by FOIA requests beginning on January 20, 2022. For more information, visit NARA’s Barack Obama Presidential Library website. (Opens in a new tab)

A Library for the Digital Age

Presidential Libraries have evolved over the years, and even as the volume of electronic records has grown over time, NARA’s Obama Presidential Library (Opens in a new tab) will be the first to truly reflect the digital age. The vast majority of the records from the Obama presidency were born-digital—for an estimated 95 percent of the records, there never was a paper version.

Considering the increasing volume of born-digital records, NARA’s plan to make the Obama Presidential library digital aligns with changes in the expectations of the public that NARA’s holdings be available free and online. It also fits squarely with NARA’s new Strategic Plan (Opens in a new tab) to in part “maximize NARA’s value to the nation.”

Expanding Digital Access and Engagement

A fully digital archive has the potential to enable broader access to the records, as it not only means free, online access but lays the foundation for using technology to enhance search and engagement capabilities. The Foundation is committed to supporting NARA in exploring new ways to make the records digitally accessible – a long-term goal of the Obama Foundation, in line with our overall civic engagement mission.

Physical Access

The vast majority—an estimated 95 percent—of the Obama Presidential Records were created digitally and have no paper equivalents. For those that will be digitized, the original paper documents will be preserved by NARA at a NARA-administered facility and made available to the public digitally under the same policies and practices as other digitized NARA collections.

Just as with other Presidential Libraries, NARA will have staff dedicated to preserving, reviewing, and providing access to the Presidential Records of the Obama Administration. They will help the public, including historians and other researchers, find and access the born-digital and digitized records.

While primary access to the records will be digital, researchers will have access to original documents according to NARA’s existing policy: where an access copy has been made (whether digital, paper, or microfilm), NARA will make originals available in existing NARA research rooms if and when a researcher identifies a compelling need to work with an original.

NARA is committed to supporting all researchers, whether they visit one of NARA’s physical research rooms or access its holdings online. NARA reaches more people today online than it serves in its research rooms around the country, so digital access continues to be an important NARA priority that is continually being explored to increase and improve engagement with online researchers and the public. Guidance on how to access NARA’s Obama Presidential Library records can be found here (Opens in a new tab).

Records and Artifacts at the Obama Presidential Center

The Obama Presidential Center will tell the story of President Obama’s historic path to the presidency framed within the larger story of American history, including a spotlight on Chicago’s prominent role in the civil rights movement and its history of community engagement. The Museum will focus on President Obama’s eight years in office, featuring exhibits about the events, policies, accomplishments—and challenges—of the Obama presidency, rooted in the larger discussion about democracy and the role of government and civic action that our nation has been immersed in since its founding.

While the Museum itself will be paid for and managed by the Foundation, a substantial number of the records and artifacts on display will be on loan to the Foundation by NARA, allowing visitors to engage with presidential items as they do at other NARA-run presidential museums.

This may include items such as manuscripts of President Obama’s major speeches or the many state gifts presented to President and Mrs. Obama by world leaders. These loaned records and artifacts will be subject to NARA’s standards for the display of any NARA record or artifact and will appear either physically (e.g., on display in cases) or digitally (e.g., inclusion in audiovisual programs).

The Obama Presidential Center Museum will maintain completely distinct collections from that of NARA’s and will continue to collect materials that tell the story of President and Mrs. Obama (before and after their time in the White House), the work of the Obama Administration, and the ongoing work of the Obama Foundation. Further information about NARA’s distinct collecting objectives can be found here (Opens in a new tab).

The Museum’s collections and curatorial staff is determining plans to provide research access to any items collected by the Obama Presidential Center Museum.

Many prominent research collections and museums are managed by private institutions for the benefit of the general public, not private gain. The Obama Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, will take this approach. The Foundation takes its public history and education responsibilities seriously and is working with outside experts to ensure the Museum presents the story of the Obama presidency in all its complexity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Who will pay for the Obama Museum’s construction and operation costs? Who will curate it?

A: The Obama Foundation will pay for the construction and operating costs of the Museum. The Museum’s exhibitions will incorporate originals and surrogates (physical and digital) of archival materials that are under NARA’s control, such as paper copies of presidential speeches or bills signed into law by President Obama. Museum exhibits will include a range of objects from the Obama Foundation’s own collections, or from other institutions, alongside those on loan from NARA’s holdings. The inaugural core exhibits are curated by the Obama Foundation’s Museum Team in collaboration with the design team at Ralph Appelbaum Associates, subject matter experts, and other content advisors.

Q: Are you privatizing the Presidential Library system?

A: We are not privatizing the Presidential Library system nor the collections housed and administered by NARA’s Obama Presidential Library. On the contrary, the Foundation is supporting the digitization of NARA-owned-and-controlled records. Just as with other Presidential Libraries, NARA will have a staff dedicated to preserving, reviewing, and providing access to the Presidential Records of the Obama Administration. They will help the public, including historians and other scholars, find and access the records.

Q: Will archives from the Obama Administration be publicly available?

A: Yes. NARA will make the Presidential Records of the Obama Administration available in accordance with the Presidential Records Act. Guidance on how to access NARA records can be found here (Opens in a new tab).