Using Presidential Archives for Backgrounding

One underutilized resource available to researchers seeking information about a subject's past employment was highlighted by last week's announcement that several hundred thousand pages of material from the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush archives are now public in their respective presidential libraries.  Often overlooked, these documents are useful for employment verification and fully vetting descriptions that people have made about what they did when they worked for these public figures. Presidential libraries house documents, artifacts such as campaign memorabilia, and audio and visual materials from a president's administration.  There are 13 presidential libraries to date, which are managed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  On a smaller and more episodic scale, prominent federal and state officials also establish private or semi-private archives open to researchers.

As these collections grow, content directories and other tools for searching the collections are developed, often listing a collection's contents and providing a name index of individuals referenced in the documents.  The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta, for example, has a well organized description of its contents available on its website to help researchers prepare for their investigations.  NARA has also created the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), which can be used to search for documents based on their location (including presidential libraries).