As a Presidential Library, operated by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the George W. Bush Presidential Library is an archive of textual, audiovisual, and electronic Presidential Records. The records within the archives include documents created or received by the President, First Lady, and White House staff. In addition, the George W. Bush Presidential Library hosts personal papers collections donated by people connected to the Bush Administration, and it is the custodian of the gubernatorial records of President Bush.
Steps to Perform Research:
Consult secondary sources on the topic, if available.
Perform as much research as possible online, which includes viewing collections through a Records Search.
Search the National Archives Catalog (NAC). Most of the Library’s digital holdings are here and are keyword searchable.
Utilize the archived White House website. In January 2009, the White House archived its website as a way to preserve the online presence of the Administration of President George W. Bush. This archived website provides access to primary sources including photographs, speeches, press releases, and other public records of the Bush Presidency from 2001 - 2009.
Consult with an archivist on the topic. Many archivists have specialized knowledge and can suggest places to look or keywords to search. Email the Library’s reference team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look at the Plan a Research Visit page before visiting the Library to become familiar with research room policies and procedures.
What the Library can provide researchers
Archives staff can provide researchers access to collections and FOIAs that have been fully processed and notified. In accordance with Executive Order 13489, archives staff must inform the incumbent and former Presidents (through designated representatives) of the intent to release records. The notification period begins only after all processing is complete and reviewed records are officially proposed for opening to the public.
What the Library cannot provide researchers
There are some instances in which records are not available.
- When the records requested are unprocessed. Archives staff must perform all processing tasks (arrangement, preservation, review, and description) and notification before making records available to the public.
- When archival staff must apply restrictions to records. Archivists most often apply restrictions to records based on statutory requirements per the FOIA and the PRA. If a document is restricted in whole or in part, it is noted on a disposition sheet at the front of each processed folder.
- Archivists will deny a FOIA request in whole or in part only when they determine that information may be withheld under one or more of the eight FOIA exemptions that apply to presidential records. The reviewing archivist only withholds information in a record if they determine that disclosure would harm an interest protected by such exemption. If only part of a record must be withheld, the reviewing archivist will redact (or take out) that specific information and provide access to the rest of the record.
- Presidential records subject to the PRA may also be withheld under six PRA restrictions during the first twelve years after the end of an administration. The PRA restrictions for George W. Bush Presidential records expired on January 20, 2021. The Library is planning to proactively propose for release records previously withheld under a PRA restriction on a rolling basis beginning in 2021. The Library will post these records on the Library website as soon as they have gone through the PRA notification period required by law.
- When analysis of a topic or a list of compiled information is requested. Archivists do not create, compile, or analyze documents. Archivists cannot provide documents that do not already exist in the collections. To assist researchers with finding materials on several popular research subjects, archives staff have written topic guides.
What do researchers do when they cannot find what they want
- Ask for assistance. The archives staff is here to help, and is eager to answer any questions to help researchers find what they need.
- File a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on a topic of interest.
- If a document is classified, file a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) request. MDR requests are not topical, like FOIA, but instead ask for the declassification review of specific documents.
What is a record, what is a collection, and how do archivists make them available to researchers?
Records are information stored on paper, electronically, or in audiovisual formats that tell a story about the past. Records become evidence for researchers to understand the world during the time the record was created. Records range from notes and doodles scribbled in a meeting, to a letter sent by President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Tony Blair, to a photograph of the presidential pets, to emails sent between two White House staffers.
Unlike traditional libraries, archives collect records in separate manuscript, audiovisual, and electronic collections created by individuals and organizations. Archives professionals then process these separate collections and make them available to researchers. An example of a collection from the George W. Bush Presidential Library is the White House Office of Records Management Files.
There are a number of different types of records within the Library’s collections. Any type of document used in the course of a business day at the White House is included within the collections. Specialized records unique to the White House include the Presidential Daily Diary, briefing papers, and presidential speeches.
Members of the public make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to access records on a particular topic. Topics are subject based, and the request can be narrowed by date or by the White House staffer who collected the material. Archivists receive and process these requests. Since FOIAs are topical in nature, the records that are responsive to that request may be from several different collections, and are brought together because they are on the same topic.
What does it mean to process a collection or FOIA?
Archives professionals work with collections in several steps to make documents available to researchers. These processes include arrangement, preservation, review, and description, most often in that order.
Arrangement: Arrangement is the process of maintaining either the original order of the creator of the collection, or creating an order where there might not be one. The arrangement should assist researchers in finding what they need. Common arrangement schemes include alphabetical order, chronological order, or by subject. Processed FOIAs are also arranged similarly.
Preservation: Records may come to archives in a state of disrepair. Archives professionals remove staples and paper clips (which can rust), make preservation photocopies of quickly degrading papers like newsprint, and place documents in acid-free folders and boxes. This preservation is vital to keeping the records safe for generations of researchers to examine and use.
Review: Archivists determine what records can be released under the provisions of the law. They review documents under the terms of both the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The PRA governs the official records of the Presidents from President Reagan onward, while the FOIA provides access to government information in executive branch agency records, including those of the president.
Description: Archivists describe how a collection or FOIA is arranged in guides called finding aids. Finding aids enable researchers to find what they are looking for. Check out the Library’s finding aids.
What is a finding aid and how does it help researchers?
Finding aids are documents that serve as guides to each collection and FOIA. Archivists write finding aids after they arrange, preserve, and review each body of records. Finding aids also detail the types and amounts of records (textual, electronic, and/or AV) and include a list of each folder contained in the paper record as well as list the Search Results Lists (SRLs) for electronic records. In addition, they contain an administrative or biographical history relevant to the collection. Finding aids also detail how the records are arranged in the collection or FOIA. Finding aids are indispensable to researchers in guiding them to what they are looking for.
What is the difference between a primary and a secondary source?
Knowing what to look for in the finding aids involves having a basic knowledge of a topic. Conducting research in secondary sources first helps researchers find the relevant primary sources in the Library’s collections. Primary sources are documentation of an event from observers or participants at the time the event occurred. An example of a primary source is a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on weapons of mass destruction. Secondary sources describe, analyze, and/or interpret these events using primary sources. An example of a secondary source is a book discussing the NIE, how it impacted events at the time, and how it reflected the intelligence the government had at the time. Consulting secondary sources on a topic allows researchers to know what to look for at the archives and in the primary sources. Scholars often cite their sources in their scholarship, thus enabling other researchers to find them in the Library’s collections.
Contact UsArchives Staff
George W. Bush Presidential Library
2943 SMU Blvd, Dallas, TX 75205
Phone: 214-346-1557 Fax: 214-346-1558