Despite his fame as a “community organizer” and a serious scholar, the city of Chicago is discovering that Barack Obama’s “presidential library” is neither a library nor does it seem to care much about what the community wants.
Whatever the “Barack Obama Presidential Center” is or isn’t going to be once complete, several months ago it was already revealed that it actually would not be a library, at least not the kind of library that fits the official description of an actual presidential library. The Obama Foundation, the organization planning and building the facility, announced that not only will the National Archives and Records Administration remain uninvolved in the place, but Obama has decided not to house his records, papers, and manuscripts there anyway.
All other presidential libraries hold the full archives of its subject’s papers. It is where scholars go to do the deep dive research that can help shed light on a president’s days in office and life before the White House. But Obama has decreed that his archives will be digitized and the hard copies will be kept in an offsite warehouse, far from the “library.”
It turns out that if there are going to be any books at all in this estimated $500 million “library,” they will either be supplied by the Chicago Public Library — which may have a small branch inside the center — or will sit in the gift shop.
In fact, that is why the Obama Foundation has decided to change the name of the building to the “Barack Obama Center,” instead of the Barack Obama Library.
But that is far from the only thing surprising city officials and residents alike about the Obama Center. For a man who became president based on how close he was to the community, thus far, the Obama Center has turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to every request that community groups have asked during these early planning stages.
Local community groups have been dismayed that the “library” is going to eat up many acres of parkland instead of being built over currently blighted south-side areas. But even worse, for a man who prides himself on being a “community organizer,” Barack Obama won’t even agree with the community to commit to hiring local young folks to help run the finished facility.
As the National Review reported:
In May of this year, protesters began a campaign to implore the Obama Foundation, the group overseeing the library’s construction, to sign a community benefit agreement (CBA), which would commit the Foundation to setting aside jobs for residents around the library, protecting low-income housing, supporting black-owned businesses, and strengthening neighborhood schools. The Foundation refused, and when a resident asked Obama himself to sign the agreement at a September public meeting about the library, Obama refused as well.
Indeed, as NR notes, the Obama Center has “steamrolled” community organizations at every single stage of the planning of the place.
So, the City of Chicago has learned what people in Washington, DC, learned some time ago — that Barack Obama is not keen on strict definitions. His “community center” is not responsive to the community, nor is his “library” a library.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.