The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
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Right after Thanksgiving, on a promotional tour stop for his post-presidential memoir, Decision Points, George W. Bush visited Palo Alto, California to chat with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. According to a CBS News report, Mr. Bush mentioned that while he has more than 600,000 Facebook "friends," and now uses a Blackberry and iPad, during his presidency, he didn’t make much use of digital technology because of the complex business of the presidency, and the volume of requests for White House documents (about 3.5 million a year back in 2005) under the Freedom of Information Act.
That said, according to a feature article published on Christmas day by the Associated Press, archivists are gearing up to deal with the 80 terabytes of digital data to be housed in Bush’s Presidential library, under construction in Dallas. The digital archive will contain over 200 million e-mails (compared with the 20 million in former President Bill Clinton's archive), shared drives, hard drives, scheduling systems, and digital photographs. According the Alan Lowe—director of the The George W. Bush Presidential Center, scheduled to open in February 2013 on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas—the Bush administration’s e-mails alone are the equivalent of 600 million printed pages, which surpasses the total number of printed pages housed in all the other National Archives’ presidential libraries, combined. It is estimated that processing all the records will take decades, but some records will be handled as requests come in.
With systems now in place to search the system and retrieve documents, the next step is for archivists to read through each of them to assign them topic designators and decide what needs to be redacted for personal or national security reasons. About three years from now in 2014, five years after Bush left office, citizens will be able to request access to the material, which includes records from everyone in the Executive Office of the President except for Bush, himself. As he explained it to Mark Zuckerberg, "I didn't want any of those (e-mails) to be mine. The problem is that if you were to read some of my e-mails today you can read anything you want into them."