Roundup: January 11 2023




Roundup Synopsis

Taken From Branding Iron 309 Winter 2023. 

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is located on a steep hill through the Santa Susana Pass in beautiful Simi Valley, California. It began its mission in 1991 to preserve all of Ronald Reagan’s presidential and personal belongings. The Reagan Library and Museum’s claim to fame is the Air Force One Boeing 707 that former President Reagan himself flew on. The speaker at the Westerners’ January 2023 Roundup, Supervisory Archivist Ira Pemstein, provided a unique insiders’ perspective into the workings of this remarkable institution.
The presidential library system developed gradually over time. Initially, presidential records were a former president’s personal property after his tenure of office, unless voluntarily given to the government as a deed of gift. The handling of records became more formalized with the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955. This act meant that once a president constructed his own building, the National Archives could donate the former president’s work to the library. The second law which came in 1978 was the Presidential Records Act, which specifically required all of former President Richard Nixon’s records to remain in Washington D.C., and not be taken anywhere outside of fifty miles from the capital. The Presidential Records Act also transferred ownership of all documents acquired or created during a presidential term to the federal government, to be managed by the National Archives. Ronald Reagan was the first president to be affected by this law, and all the libraries since Reagan have fallen under the Presidential Records Act.
The Freedom of Information Act allows the public to request specific documents from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Most of the records predate the internet and are paper-based, and have yet to be digitized. Some of the archives are preserved in airtight containers and folders, or are refrigerated. Everything mentioned about the president by the three major broadcasting networks were recorded by the White House, including all the debates, campaign events, and Bob Hope specials. The Audio-Visual Archivist oversees photographs, film reels, and audio and video cassettes. The original formats can be viewed on VHS players and film projectors, which are preserved just as carefully as the forty-year-old media that they play.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library has 65 million pages of documents that cover Reagan’s entire life, as well as two-thirds of his career in Hollywood and his term as the Governor of California. The family-operated Ronald Reagan Foundation supplements areas that the federal government cannot, because the material from before and after his presidency does not belong to the federal government. Here is where the Reagan Foundation and the federal government come together. The Reagan family has custody and ownership of the pre- and post-presidential items that are housed at the Ronald Reagan Library and the federal government serves them to the public with the family’s permission.
— Darran Davis