Presidential Library FAQ

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 17 2001 6:22 PM

Presidential Library FAQ

On Saturday Bill Clinton will be free to devote his time to his pet project: The William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Just what are presidential libraries?

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Presidential libraries are hybrid creatures: part scholarly archive, part celebration, part privately funded, part run by the government. Presidential libraries are repositories for the papers and records generated by a president during his term in office. They are also museums that have permanent and temporary exhibits, lectures and seminars, and gift shops.

Who pays for a presidential library?

Both private citizens and taxpayers. Before any bricks get laid, a private foundation is created to raise the money for the both the building and an endowment to run special programs and exhibits. In order to keep former presidents from erecting another Great Pyramid in their honor, the government requires that the bigger the square footage, the bigger the endowment. Once the building is dedicated, the library is turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration, which runs it, paying for both the staff, such as a director and archivists--who are federal employees--and much of the maintenance.

What's the story on Clinton's library?

The 140,000-square-foot library is going to be located on a 27-acre park on the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock--the $12 million parcel of land was donated by the city. It will house, among other things, the 77 million pieces of paper generated by Clinton and at least 40 million e-mails. The complex will also have a new Clinton School of Public Service affiliated with the University of Arkansas. The whole thing is expected to cost between $125 and $150 million and to open by early 2004. In comparison, the 69,000-square-foot George H. W. Bush Library, opened in 1997 on the campus of Texas A & M University, cost about $80 million--of course, he was in office half as long as his successor.

What grateful nation helped make the Bush Library possible?

Kuwait. (Remember the Gulf War?) Various Kuwaiti entities contributed more than $3 million.

How's Clinton's fund raising going?

The last documents, released in 1999, indicated there was $6 million on hand. But don't expect Bill to scale things down to a presidential toll booth. His chief fund-raiser is Democratic money machine Terence McAuliffe, and Clinton has been known to wrest a few bucks out of people as well. Much of the money is scheduled to come in multiyear pledges, starting this year. Although the foundation does not have to reveal its donors, it's been reported that Hollywood executives Steven Spielberg and David Geffen have pledged. The Bank of America has donated $500,000, and Ron Burkle, a California supermarket magnate, has also pledged a large contribution.

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