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George W. Bush Presidential Library Now a Work in Progress

Artist’s rendering of the George W. Bush presidential library.

On Tuesday morning, construction began on the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The site will be the country’s 13th presidential library. The National Archives explains the background:

The Presidential Library system formally began in 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt donated his personal and Presidential papers to the Federal Government. At the same time, Roosevelt pledged part of his estate at Hyde Park to the United States, and friends of the President formed a non-profit corporation to raise funds for the construction of the library and museum building.

KERA reporter Shelley Kofler spoke to Bush Library Director Alan Lowe for a preview of what will be housed in the new center:

Presidential historian Richard Norton Smith of George Mason University says that as government has grown, so too have the libraries housing the history of a president’s tenure in office.

“Originally, they were built on part of their birthplaces or homes. They were put in towns that shaped the president’s character. They have now become adjunct to universities. They have become quasi-academic institutions,” he told The Rundown via e-mail.

The process has also become more formalized, according to congressional scholar Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. With the Presidential Records Acts in the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s, they grew to be well-financed institutions in their own right. “Many of them are now sites for educational programming and classes, for major seminars, even for presidential debates.”

And oftentimes, the institution and areas surrounding the library can benefit from both attention and visits by presidential history buffs. The Dallas Morning News reports that the building permit for the Bush library meant a $1 million fee for the city of University Park.

The new Bush library will formally open in 2013. And wheels are already turning on Obama presidential library — the University of Hawaii is reported to be gearing up in hopes of hosting that facility.

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