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UPDATE: The permanent and special exhibits at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum are open to the public. Our Research Room remains to closed to the public. We will continue to respond to written requests for records at gwbush.library@nara.gov. Please check the Library and Museum's website for updates on our operating hours and status.

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.

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A researcher reviews a Presidential Blue Line Proclamation.

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 Diarybriefing 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.

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Stamps used by archivists to stamp acid-free folders that house Presidential records.

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.

Steps to Perform Research:

  1. Consult secondary sources on the topic, if available.

  2. Look at the Library’s website to view what is available for research, including consulting the finding aids and looking at the topic guides

  3. Perform as much research as possible online, which includes viewing collections in the digital library. While the digital library does not provide all of what the Library has available to research, it is an invaluable resource for many researchers before they come to do research in person.

  4. Search the National Archives Catalog (NAC). Most of the Library’s digital holdings are here and are keyword searchable.

  5. 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. 

  6. 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 gwbush.library@nara.gov.

  7. Look at the Plan a Research Visit page before visiting the Library to become familiar with research room policies and procedures.

Contact Us

Archives Staff
George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum
2943 SMU Blvd, Dallas, TX 75205
Phone: 214-346-1557   Fax: 214-346-1558
gwbush.library@nara.gov