Half a century ago, President John F. Kennedy predicted that widespread access to his historical record would one day be available. "I think that we can -- and this will certainly be increased as time goes on -- we will find it possible to so reproduce the key documents that they will be commonly available," Kennedy said at a press conference in 1962. "There are many other things of interest which I think are rather advantageous to have spread around the country, particularly as it stimulates the study of the Presidency."
Today, his vision became a reality when the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation unveiled the nation's largest online presidential archive, providing unprecedented access to Kennedy's records to anyone with an Internet connection.
"Next week we will mark the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's inauguration. His time is becoming part of history, not living memory, and we need to reach across the generations in new ways. In our increasingly fragmented society young people are often disconnected and disillusioned with politics. President Kennedy's example, his words, his sprit, are more relevant than ever," Caroline Kennedy, the President of the Kennedy Library Foundation, said at a press conference today at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
"That's why this effort that we are announcing today is so very important. Using today's technology we will be able to give today's generation access to the historical record and challenge them to answer my father's call to service to solve the problems of our own time," she said.
Starting today, the online community will be able to view, search and download the records of Kennedy's 1,000 days in office, including the documents and recordings surrounding the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the civil rights movement, the space program and much more.
"For students today, if it isn't online it doesn't exist. The digital archive extends the reach of our nation's historical heritage right into homes and classrooms," Archivist of the United States David Ferriero said at the press conference.
The launch culminates a four-year, $10 million endeavor to digitize approximately 200,000 pages of documents, audio recordings of all of Kennedy's speeches, 72 reels of film and 1,500 photos. While the library began the project by digitizing the files most used by researchers, the online archive will continue to grow in the coming years.
Archivists hope the project will serve as a model for other presidential libraries. "The lessons learned through this initiative will serve as a prototype and model within the national archives and for the international archival community, providing a road map to any library or public center that undertakes its own digitization projects," Ferriero said.