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Open government and the importance of the National Archives

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U.S. Constitution
U.S. Constitution
National Archives via AP

Every time the president tweets, he is creating a public document. In the spirit of having an open government, there is something called the National Archives that contains everything from America's founding documents to the latest emails and tweets from the president and federal government employees.

David Ferriero is archivist of the United States. He and moderator Tom Weber together quoted President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said at the dedication of his own presidential library in Hyde Park, New York: 

"To bring together the records of the past, and house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a nation must believe in three things: It must believe in the past, it must believe in the future, and it must believe in the capacity of its own people, so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future."  

How does the National Archives know what it's entitled to keep, or know that it even exists? Who will know what's been deleted or lost? Or is fake?

Ferriero said it is important to "take the human decision-making out of the record-keeping," because all documents — large and small — created by public employees or elected officials, must be preserved. 

He said 90 percent of the Obama administration records are "digital only," and that Barack Obama's presidential library will be different from those built by his predecessors. This digital reality will also change how historians do their research. 

Former Minnesota Public Radio host Tom Weber moderated this discussion about the importance of the National Archives at the University of Minnesota. It was part of the Friends of the Libraries annual celebration held on May 17, 2019.