It is interesting, yet not altogether shocking, to see plans beginning to form for the Obama Presidential Library despite the fact that President Obama is not quite halfway through his first term in the White House. A Presidential Library is a honor for a city or university campus, brings in tourists and researchers, gives an international flavor to the host location, and establishes an institution of learning and history which will remain intact forever.
In Obama’s case, I can understand the arguments for a Presidential Library in Hawaii and I can also see why Chicago would be a solid choice. In my opinion (which, in the long run, doesn’t matter much since nobody is asking my advice), the best place for an Obama Presidential Library is obviously Chicago. Although the President was born in Hawaii, vacations in Hawaii, and certainly has strong ties to the islands, I believe that he is more readily identified as a Chicagoan. Chicago was the base for his Presidential campaign and post-election transition headquarters, and if you asked Barack Obama, “Where are you from?”, I believe he’d answer “Chicago” far more easily than he’d say, “Hawaii”.
If you remove the personal connection from the decision and choose the Obama Presidential Library’s location on a logistical or logical basis, then Chicago is even more of a clear choice. A Presidential Library is a depository of memories, an engine for legacy-building and history-teaching, and a complete archive of materials for researchers and scholars. Hawaii would likely present the most beautiful setting or allow for architectural brilliance, but a Presidential Library should be accessible and somewhat centrally-located for researchers to converge upon it. Chicago is one of the nation’s largest cities and located right in the heart of the country. It’s easy to get to, easy to get around, and would allow for far greater numbers of tourists — an important funding source for Presidential Libraries.
Hawaii is President Obama’s birthplace and the state should be proud of that fact. I think it’s something that Obama is proud of, too, and I do believe he feels a connection to the islands. However, Chicago is Barack Obama’s home, as well as the home of his wife and daughters. I can’t see a potential Obama Presidential Library being located anywhere else without seeming out of place.
If the decision is too difficult, Obama can always placate both of his homes by splitting his institution up in two separate cities like Gerald Ford did. Ford is the only President whose Presidential Library and Museum are separate entities from one another. The Gerald Ford Presidential Library is a site for researchers to access the Ford Administration’s archives and records and it is located on the campus of Ford’s alma mater, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Gerald Ford Presidential Museum focuses on Ford’s life and career with fascinating exhibits and displays of artifacts. The Ford Museum is located in Ford’s old Congressional District and hometown, Grand Rapids, which is about 130 miles away from the Library.