The Empty Archive?

Interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed on the SMU / Bush Library issue, this time not focused on whether the university should house a think tank with an agenda, but on Bush’s reluctance to make his papers pubic. He signed an executive order that gives presidents and their families far more control over what the public sees than previously.

While there have been periodic disputes over how much control presidents should have over their papers, the Bush order goes beyond the control asserted by any president since Nixon (whose efforts to control his papers led to various laws to promote access).

Archivists and historians have tried a variety of approaches to challenging the Bush executive order — to date, without much success. The administration has said that the order was needed to protect national security. Now scholars are hoping to use the SMU debate to start a new campaign against the executive order — and they are asking SMU to turn down the library as long as the executive order stays in place.

Which reminds me – I was really excited to see how the National Archives is making digital records available in a nifty searchable format created by Footnote. Until I realized it was pay-per-view. I haven’t seen much comment on this in academic library circles. What do you all think of this development? It reminds me a bit of the Google Library issue – gee, we couldn’t afford to do this on our own; how about we let a company do it for us? Only in this case you can’t even see the documents without paying (unless you go to NARA to do it). has issues and they invite us to let NARA know what we think.

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

3 thoughts on “The Empty Archive?”

  1. The Footnote is not as bad as some people are making it out to be. First, after 5 years the Archives can make this material freely available online forever, and second, during the 5 year period, walk up free access will be provided in Washington D.C. and in 11 regional centers around the country. This compares to no online access now.

  2. This is all good to know. It really is a neat project – could be a huge benefit to researchers. I really hadn’t heard much about it, though, and wanted to get other people’s take on it. So thanks to both of you for your comments.

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