A little over a month ago , on Sept 27, the official opening of the "The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington", took place at Mt. Vernon VA. Many people are familiar with presidential libraries administered by NARA,
(Vimeo screen shot http://vimeo.com/70210613)
which started with President Herbert Hoover. Other former presidents may have a privately run presidential library, administered by by private foundations, historical societies, or state governments. Such a library is our own state's "The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum", in Springfield. But it has taken over 200 years for our first president to get his own presidential library. It is adminstered by Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
The Association has been in existence since 1853 and is the oldest national historic preservation organization in the country. It has preserved and developed Washington's Mt. Vernon estate into one most popular historic estate in America. The establishment of the Washington presidential library is a crowning achievement for the Association.
Some of the core collection of the library, are nearly 1200 books and papers that Washighton himself had hoped to build a library to house. But never achieved in his lifetime. "The National Library, a 45,000 square foot facility, safeguards Washington’s books and manuscripts, approximately 1500 additional 18th-century books, as well as thousands of important 19th-century newspapers, manuscripts, and documents."
Beyond its valuable historical collections, the library is meant to be a center for research, education and public programming. In an interview, first director of the library, Doug Bradburn, speaks to the need for Washington "...to be better placed in his own times, as a flawed human being, but an extraordinary man in a revolutionary age". Many layers of myth need to cleared away. And many neglected aspects of his life and work should be explored. Mr. Bradburn also sees the library directing more scholarship toward the lives of the slaves at Mt. Vernon and also the life of Martha Washington .
While academic scholars may be the foremost users of the library, Mr. Bradburn hopes to also encourage graduate students, independent writers, and new professors to make use of the resouces of the library. To desseminate the latest research , the library will work with teachers for professional development and to bring the history into the classrooms. Public programs at Mt. Vernon will also provide the opportunity "..to reflect and learn from the challenges that faced Washington's generation."