What follows is a repost from an October 2015 Prologue article written by Emily Niekraz. October is American Archives Month and so we thought we might re-run a few of these wonderful articles. Come and visit one of the Presidential libraries.
At its conception, the future Reagan Library was faced with three major questions:
Where would the library be located?
How would this new institution cope with being the first to adhere to the rules of the Presidential Libraries Act of 1978?
And how would the director and staff manage the papers and gifts of a modern Presidency that lasted two full terms (the first since 1961)?
While the Foundation and Stanford continued to plan the location of the National Archives’ 10th Presidential institution at Stanford University, by the spring of 1987 the project came to a screeching halt.
Due to growing pressures between the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, whose trustees wanted a public affairs center at the university, and the student and faculty’s resistance to the idea that this addition might limit the university’s independence, the foundation withdrew from the project.
With less than two years left before the end of President Reagan’s second term, the foundation scrambled to secure another location, surveying multiple sites around California.
By November 1987, the Presidential materials once again had a future home, but this time in Simi Valley, California. The President and First Lady selected a site that was surrounded by mountains and had a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. Developers donated 100 acres for the project, and one year later construction on the library began.
In 1991, staff writer for the LA Times Kenneth R. Weiss wrote, “It promises to be a thorny, if not thankless job.” Within months of his appointment, Bledsoe had already received multiple subpoenas and requests by the public regarding access to materials.
President Reagan and Nancy Reagan breaking ground for the Reagan Library, November 21, 1988.
(Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives)
One year after the Reagan Library’s dedication, 6.7 million Presidential pages were made available under Bledsoe’s supervision.
While the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library worked to meet the demand of the Presidential Libraries Act of 1978, they also tirelessly confronted the struggle of processing too many documents with too few employees.
Since President Dwight Eisenhower left office in 1961, Ronald Reagan was the first President to serve a full two-term, eight-year Presidency. This fact, accompanied by the new age of electronic records and the documentation of a modern Presidency, meant the library inherited an extraordinary amount of materials.
The library took on the task of absorbing what today is over 60 million pages of documents, over 1.6 million photographs, a half million feet of motion picture film, tens of thousands of audio and video tape, and over 40,000 artifacts.
In his 2011 testimony to Congress, Duke Blackwood, current Director the Reagan Library, revealed that the library processes more than 1.5 million documents each year.
While the library has made substantial progress in its archival process, problems persisted. For instance, in 2007, library officials came under fire when they revealed that they struggled to accurately catalog artifacts. Blackwood explained that many of these problems stemmed from the complicated transfer of materials from the White House staff to the archivists at the library.
Although the Reagan Library encountered both triumphs and setbacks, it paved the way for processing Presidential papers in the modern era.
President Reagan talking on the telephone in his state room on a trip to Nevada
aboard Air Force One, June, 25, 1986. (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives)
To learn more about President Reagan, plan your visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California.
And for further information about President Reagan, visit the library’s website and explore the online resources.