DALLAS - The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on Monday began accepting Freedom of Information Act requests for records from Bush's presidency.
The day marks five years from the end of Bush's presidency, on Jan. 20, 2009. Access to the records is governed by the Presidential Records Act, which says the records may be requested by the public five years after the presidential administration ends.
"We're really looking forward to this new chapter of the library," said Brooke Clement, supervisory archivist for the library. "We've been systemically processing and this is going to be a whole new way or processing for us ... essentially processing toward what the public is requesting."
The requests must come in written format -- email, mail or fax -- and must state that the request is being made under the Freedom of Information Act. While requests could start being sent Monday, staffers were off for the federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They return to work Tuesday.
The library, which opened last year on the Southern Methodist University campus, notes the process will take time and cited factors including the volume and complexity of presidential records.
Some records remain closed until 12 years after a president leaves office. Also, some materials related to personal privacy and national security remain closed.
The archives include 70 million pages of text, 43,000 artifacts, 200 million emails and more than 4 million photographs.
A glimpse at some of the holdings can be seen in the museum, which has displays on topics including education reform, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and efforts to fight the spread of AIDS. Artifacts on display include the bullhorn Bush used after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to address a crowd of rescue workers at ground zero.
Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas with a specialty in presidential politics, said the opening of the archives at the five-year mark gives scholars the opportunity to dig into their particular area of interest, for example, someone studying the president's management style or a specific policy issue.
"Most of the stuff that's explosive enough to be really interesting, for example to reporters, is classified or the story is already out there," said Buchanan, noting that both Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney have written books explaining certain decisions.
The Bush library is the 13th overseen by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Others in the National Archives' system span from Herbert Hoover's presidency to Bill Clinton's. Some earlier presidents have libraries that aren't part of the system, and other presidential records are kept at the Library of Congress.