The surprising announcement was just made that the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago will not include Barack Obama’s birth certificate, or any other documents from his presidency.
Western Journalism reported that the Obama Foundation has instead decided to have a digital archive of his records, “the decision has historians scratching their heads.”
“All archivists are waiting to see how this will work, because we are all struggling with how to make things available digitally,” Peggy Glowacki, a manuscripts librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune. “I think in this case it’s such a massive amount of material that it will be important to see how they are able to deliver it and make it easy to search.”
There’s a longstanding tradition that presidential libraries provide paperwork in the form of letters, drafts of speeches and even legislation for historians and academics to dig through. Obama’s papers are currently stored in a private facility in Illinois, but they will most likely be shipped to locations in and around Washington, D.C.
Since there will be no physical documents at Obama’s center, students and historians alike will not have the opportunity to inspect the former president’s correspondence on the health care bill or even a copy of the president’s birth certificate. People all over the country typically go to presidential libraries to go through records of past presidencies.
“I don’t think it will have a major impact in terms of the success or popularity of the center,” James Rutherford, who oversaw the construction and development of the Clinton Presidential Library, said. “The presence of paper records is less important now. Go back to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the treasure is in the documents. But now, the treasure is in the electronic records.”
A spokesman for the Obama Foundation said that their goal is to create “a new model for the next generation of presidential centers that reflects the way people access information in this digital age.”
“The Obama Foundation will be funding through private funds the digitization of all non-classified presidential records in order to help facilitate better access to these documents to a broader audience,” the spokesman said.
Rutherford said to historians and researchers that the center will still be valuable.
“Here’s how it will be attractive: through the forums, workshops and programs they conduct,” Rutherford said to the Tribune. “The presence of paper records is less important now.”
Presidential historian Gil Troy, however, isn’t having any of it.
“When you view the collection, you meet the people around the president, not just the president,” he told the Tribune. “That comes from being there, not just logging on.”
There have long been rumors that Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate was a fraud and that he was actually born in Kenya. Not allowing the public to access the physical birth certificate is yet another piece of evidence suggesting something sketchy is going on with this document.
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