With almost three years, at a minimum, left in office, Barack Obama has been understandably silent about his plans for a presidential library. But lawmakers and university officials in the two states where it might most obviously be located are already in action. The University of Chicago (where Obama taught) and the University of Hawaii (near Obama's childhood home) are working on their proposals—and the 50th state is poised to approve an official invitation. By tradition, these archives and museums are built wherever presidents want.
History does, however, offer Obama guidelines. Every chief executive since Herbert Hoover has inspired a library, and the locations have followed a distinct pattern. Eleven of the last 13 presidents built their libraries in the state where they were born or raised—including Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, like Obama, never held office where he grew up. The two others, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, opted for California and Texas, respectively—the states where they made their names. So Obama could find precedent for both his options, Honolulu or Chicago. The place he chooses will, of course, reveal something about his own sense of identity. It will also undoubtedly have some influence on future historians, by calling attention to either the multicultural atmosphere of his earliest years or the urban political culture he mastered to become president.
Beschloss is the author of Presidential Courage and a member of the board of the National Archives foundation, which helps support presidential libraries.