The library and museum house the papers and records of the Bush presidency -- including more than 200 million emails, 70 million paper documents and 43,000 artifacts, including Saddam Hussein's gun and the bullhorn Bush grabbed at Ground Zero.
The museum is a history of the former first family, as well as Bush's turbulent eight years in office, featuring everything from a giant chunk of mangled steel from the Twin Towers to a portion of the signed baseball collection Bush began accumulating as a child.
The centerpiece is the "Decision Points Theater," which presents a series of critical decisions the president was faced with, and asks the visitor to make a snap judgment based on that information.
"The purpose of the museum is not to herald me, necessarily, but to explain different events and to show people what it's like to make decisions," the former president said. "And the other message in the museum is to encourage people to serve. One of the really unique features of America is the millions of acts of kindness that take places on a daily basis. And I really think it's an important part of our country and will continue to be important part of our country."
A key message, Laura Bush said, is that the president needs to make countless high-impact decisions, and fast.
The idea, she said, is to "feel the pressure that the president feels. ... The president is a man who makes good decisions and sometimes doesn't. I mean, that's just the fact of life like every single one of the rest of us."
The presidential center opens at a time of broad reevaluation of the Bush legacy. A large cadre of former aides who've descended on Dallas for the museum opening have expressed hope that the a presidency perhaps best remembered now for two wars, an economic crisis, and the aftermath of Katrina will also be recalled for work combating AIDS, expanding seniors' access to prescription drugs, and pressing for immigration reform, just for starters.
A new ABC News/Washington Post poll out this week found that 47 percent of people approve of the job Bush did as president, with negative sentiment softening considerably over the past few years. While 50 percent still disapprove, Bush hasn't seen approval ratings this strong since December 2005 -- less than a year into his second term.
The dedication also comes as national events such as the Boston Marathon bombings stir memories of a defining episode of the Bush presidency -- Sept. 11, 2001. A few days after the Boston attack, an explosion at a fertilizer plant not far from Bush's own Texas ranch stoked fears of further terrorism.
"Whether it be that [attack at the Boston Marathon] or the explosion at West, Texas, I mean -- it hearkened back to days where you become the comforter-in-chief, you try to help heal souls that that are hurting," he said.
The former president told Sawyer that he's comfortable staying far away from day-to-day politics, in contrast with his predecessor, Bill Clinton, and his former vice president, Dick Cheney. He declined to weigh in on raging debates over immigration reform, gun control and gay marriage, saying: "You're either in or out."
"I had all the fame I needed -- and I am trying to be not famous," he said. "I don't really want to undermine our president. And frankly, the only way for me to generate any news is to either criticize the president or criticize my party. I'm not interested in doing either."