The Obama Library Won't Be Just About Him

by Chris Tognotti

Former president Barack Obama left office on Friday, Jan. 20, at right about 12 p.m. ET, as his successor Donald J. Trump ascended to the presidency. What that means for domestic politics, international politics, and the world overall is yet unclear, although it looks like it's going to be a very different new age, one that's more chaotic, and far more right-wing. But for Obama, this also marks his step back into post-presidential private life, where countless honors and memorials await. For example: What does the Obama presidential library do?

If you haven't heard yet, the Obama presidential library ― actually titled the Barack Obama Presidential Center ― is being constructed in the former president's hometown of Chicago, Illinois. It's not open yet, and won't be for a while yet, but when it does it'll fulfill the same function that all presidential libraries do: educating the public about the tenure and legacy of America's 44th president, in an obviously positive, warm light.

That's true even for the libraries of presidents immersed in scandal and low approval ratings at the time they left office. If you stop by the Richard Nixon presidential library, while you will indeed learn about the Watergate affair, there's no doubt that it views Nixon's legacy in a more positive light than most.

Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In the case of the Obama library, however, it sounds like there's an additional goal, and it's spoken to by the name ― the man himself has said he wants the presidential center to be, as the Chicago Tribune characterized, "a center geared toward fostering active citizenship."

The Obamas themselves teased the center's opening, and put out an open call for suggestions in a short video released Friday morning, just hours prior to the former president's departure from office. They said they'll be taking some time off to relax, and may be out of the limelight for the immediate future, but will be back to advance the goals of the Obama Foundation and the presidential center in due time.

The center will be based on the South Side of Chicago, but it will have projects all over the city, the country, and the world. More than a library or museum, it will be a living, working center for citizenship. That's why we want to hear from you. Tell us what you want this center to be.

In other words, at least some aspects of what the Obama presidential center will do are still up in the air, and if you so desire, you can play a part. If you're interested in weighing in, you can do so at the official website for the Obama Foundation.