May 31, 2012
By Menachem Wecker
Late-show hosts greeted the opening of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library near the University of Arkansas—Little Rock campus in November 2004 with jokes and jeers.
"It rained on Bill Clinton's parade yesterday, which is kind of a switch; usually Hillary does that," said Jay Leno. And David Letterman joked that President George W. Bush was excited to visit, "because he'd never been to a library before."
Letterman's joke highlights part of the ambiguity surrounding presidential libraries, which essentially function more like museums and archives and less like lending libraries where card holders can check out books. The 13 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration advertise collections with tens of millions of pages, thousands of artifacts, and deep photography reserves. But students and recent graduates are divided on the degree to which having a presidential library on campus directly benefits them.
When the George W. Bush Presidential Center opens at Southern Methodist University in 2013, it will benefit both undergraduate and graduate students by bringing speakers, scholars, and programs to campus, says Jake Torres, a Teach for America instructor at W. W. Samuell High School in Dallas and a former SMU student body president.
"If I were trying to decide which university to attend, I would want a university that offered the widest range of programs and experiences," he says. "Having a presidential library on campus separates an institution from other schools." ...