Monthly Archives: March 2012

Just a beginning…

The grant from the IMLS that is funding this project is a planning grant, meaning that it is the first step in what we hope will become a bigger project with subsequent grant funding. The phase of this project consists largely of a Summit Meeting with our Steering Committee and the creation of a beta product. (I will talk more about those two parts in later posts.) Obviously there are many parts that make up those two main happenings but it is important for us to keep in mind that we hope to grow this project to much greater heights than this year-long phase will reach.

And it is a good thing, in my opinion, that the IMLS funds planning grants because the emphasis on planning allows us (the Miller Center) to think through the project and take our time carefully weighing decisions and choices that need to be made. We are starting with a small group of partners and a small selection of presidential materials. As I mentioned in my first blog post, the sheer amount of president items is staggering, and we can’t begin to consider them all at once. So we will use this planning grant to test out our approach and product with just a small sampling of materials.

I mention this because I think it is important for us to keep in mind that while we hope to eventually partner with all the libraries and museums that have presidential materials, we can’t start there. At this stage, there are entire categories of libraries that will not be part of this initial project. For example, the Presidential Libraries of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) won’t be included in this first phase. (NARA Presidential Libraries exist for presidents from Herbert Hoover forward.) They just represent huge collections that are already fairly accessible (on a spectrum), and while we definitely hope to partner with them in the future, we felt it was more manageable to establish the project on a smaller scale.

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Welcome to “Connecting Presidential Collections”

Welcome to “Connecting Presidential Collections.” This blog is designed to track the progress of an IMLS grant that the Miller Center at the University of Virginia received. The grant project began in December 2011 and will run until the end of November 2012.

The grant is designed to help presidential materials become more accessible to the public. Right now there are so many presidential papers, letters, photographs, articles, objects for each president that are located in different places. It is very hard to know where to look or how to find what you want. The official language of our grant application read:

The Miller Center requests a grant from the IMLS to support initial planning and early-stage development of “Connecting Presidential Collections,” a digital resource that supports open-access to all archival collections on, about, or related to all the presidents of the United States.

Possibly this could be a huge project but right now this is a planning grant that is designed to consider the many issues involved in this project and create a beta. We are not planning to make available all presidential materials in the next year. There are a lot of issues with presidential materials, and the main one is mass. To give just one small example, in 2009 the Huffington Post ran a story about 22 million emails from the administration of George W. Bush that had been discovered. Twenty-two million!

Another issue is that presidential materials are spread through the United States and throughout the world. For example, if a scholar wants to study the Vietnam War from the perspective of a presidential policy and decision-making, she would have to travel to possibly seven different presidential libraries, those for Franklin Roosevelt (in New York), Harry S. Truman (in Missouri), Dwight D. Eisenhower (in Kansas), John F. Kennedy (in Massachusetts), Lyndon B. Johnson (in Texas), Richard Nixon (in California), and Gerald Ford (in Michigan).

The goal of this project is to make it possible for users to come to one website, search for materials, and then find what they are looking for, no matter where it might physically be located. By aggregating digital records, we can help users find presidential materials and then go to the website for the organizations that has it.

The project has a long way to go, and I will be using this blog to track our progress.