Historians baffled … unlike any other, Obama’s $500 mil presidential library will be an ’empty shell’

Former President Obama’s forthcoming presidential library will pack a $500 million price tag but won’t be offering any traditional library contents.

Even at that hefty cost, the Barack Obama Presidential Center will be seeking to save money by getting around federal standards and becoming essentially a library-less library.

According to The Daily Caller:

The $500 million Obama center — a soul-crushing, concrete architectural monstrosity — will feature basketball courts, a recording studio, meeting rooms, an auditorium, a children’s play garden and, of course, an exhibition hall for odes to the world-historical idea of Barack Obama. Unlike every other presidential library, however, it will be bereft of historical documents.

The focal point of the three-building campus is a sterile, angular hunk of cement with asymmetrical, haphazardly-placed windows. From the ground, it looks like a drab, concrete Rubik’s Cube ready to tumble over on its side at any moment — crushing any number of visitors loitering on a faux-brick promenade

Obama Foundation officials plan to create an online archive for the center, providing only a digitized version of the former president’s manuscripts, letters, speech drafts and other papers.

The building that bears Obama’s name will essentially be empty, bereft of any paper to mark the past. And the center takes things further with the digital format, circumventing paying any fees to the National Archives and Records Administration for managing the library.

How fitting.

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“All archivists are waiting to see how this will work because we are all struggling with how to make things available digitally,” University of Illinois at Chicago manuscripts librarian Peggy Glowacki 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.”

But for presidential historian, Gil Troy, the idea of a library without physical materials is not valuable in understanding the past.

“There’s always one particular person, a chief of staff, a liaison, that those collections really illuminate,” he told the Tribune.“When you view the collection, you meet the people around the president, not just the president. That comes from being there, not just logging on.”

According to the Chicago Tribune:

Currently, Obama’s papers are stored in a private facility — a handsome and sprawling, bright white brick building on a commercial strip on West Golf Road in suburban Hoffman Estates. Officials initially thought the papers would be kept in Chicago. But after they spent $300,000 to ship Obama’s documents to the Chicago region and about $223,000 a month to store and provide security for tens of millions of textual records, artifacts and audio visual materials here, they decided to ship them back to Washington once a decision is made on where to keep them permanently, a spokeswoman with the National Archives and Records Administration said.

The classified documents will be housed in an existing facility in Washington, D.C., the spokeswoman said. The non-classified papers will likely be placed in an existing NARA facility in a Washington suburb.

“This is going to be completely different,” Foundation CEO David Simas said. “What the president and first lady said … is they simply did not want a museum that served as a mausoleum, as a way to look back.”

Set to open in 2021, the center is being welcomed by the University of Chicago to the city’s South Side as it will provide an opportunity for “economic development, job creation, civic engagement and cultural enrichment,” according to a spokeswoman.

But while online records may be attractive for their universal accessibility, some maintain that the value of physical contact with historical documents cannot be replicated in a digital format.

“There’s a power in the place,” Troy said. “It helps to get the atmospherics and environment that helped shape the president. You won’t get that online.”

Twitter users didn’t miss the chance to mock the future library with no materials, empty inside like its namesake.

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Frieda Powers

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