The newest issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article titled Presidential Libraries and Their Role in the Writing of History. If you are not a Chronicle subscriber, the link will not work as a subscription is required to view this article online. Benjamin Hufbauer gives his views on presidential libraries.
In short, he is no fan of them. He questions the ability of president's to be able to control and design their own libraries. He wrote, "The biggest problem is that they get to control how the museums describe their lives and the events in their presidency. The archives are very important, of course, and many books are written from them. But the museum presents a kind of propaganda to the public."
He also describes the building of presidential libraries as egotistical. He wrote, "My impression is that these presidents are obsessed with these things. Their egos are far beyond what a normal human being can imagine. ... They feel this is the way to put in marble and concrete their greatness. Most of them are thinking of it all the time."
So, how valuable are presidential libraries? As a librarian I like the idea. As a fan of presidential history, I like them as well. Is it a problem if the libraries represent the desires of the presidents? Does a conflict of interest exist that makes the libraries less useful than they could be? Since presidents can not control what will be written in the history books, is it OK for them to control what is in their own presidential library? These are some good questions and I do not have the answers.