The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999 Page: 540
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
But don't rush to College Station just yet. The laws have changed and with it
the research procedures. Prompted by the ownership dispute over the Nixon
tapes, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act in 1978 to insure that
presidential papers remain in the custody of the federal government and avail-
able to the people. Previously, all such documents were considered the private,
personal property of each president, who could, if he so desired, donate his
papers to a federal facility for safekeeping, or burn them in his backyard,
whichever he chose. The Reagan administration became the first to fall under
the new law, which grants immediate post-presidential supervision to the
National Archives and Records Administration along with a revised method for
The new system is driven by researcher demand, rather than presidential pre-
rogative. When breaking into new subject areas, researchers must complete a
short Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request form, available at the Bush
library, stating their specific topic. The staff will initiate a folder-level search
through 18,ooo document boxes in their data base and estimate the number of
documents responsive to that request. They send that page-count to the
researcher within twenty working days, then place the request in line for process-
ing. Once the processing is complete, they will forward one copy of the folder
list to the designated White House counsel, and a second copy to the counsel for
President Bush (or the counsel for Dan Quayle, if his files are involved). Each
counsel has thirty working days to claim privilege, otherwise, the files are
released to the researcher. While this method clears folders with the highest
demand first, the entire operation can still take several months, perhaps a year
to complete depending on the topic and the waiting line. In short, call first
before coming. One last caveat for anyone interested in writing the first biogra-
phy of George Herbert Walker Bush; the papers generated prior to 1980, that is,
covering his years in Congress, as Ambassador to China, and as director of the
CIA, have not been released to the Bush library, as of this writing.
Accessing the photo archive is less stringent, provided, of course, the request
is kept simple. The photo archivists retain the excellent database created by the
Bush White House staff, which can locate images by date, event, person, and
even general description. Images from Bush's vice-presidential years can be
accessed by date only. The library retains a small collection of pre-1980 photos,
including his childhood and family life. As with the manuscripts, it is best to con-
tact the staff before you visit.
In summary, the Bush presidential archives has the staff and facilities of
which Texas can be proud and the potential for revealing insights into the new
Here’s what’s next.
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Reference the current page of this Periodical.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 102, July 1998 - April, 1999, periodical, 1999; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101219/m1/611/: accessed April 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.