Research Frequently Asked Questions

Notice to NARA Researchers and FOIA Requesters

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of our staff.  As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgment as well as a substantive response to your reference or FOIA request or appeal.  We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience.  Read more on how NARA is addressing COVID-19 (coronavirus) https://www.archives.gov/coronavirus.

President Barack Obama takes questions from student reporters during College Reporter Day in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, April 28, 2016. (P042816AL-0076)

Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon

Are the Barack Obama Presidential records available for research?

Yes. Obama Presidential records became subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on January 20, 2022. Guidance and tips on submitting FOIA requests can be found here


How can I access Obama Presidential records?

Barack Obama Presidential records are stored and preserved by the National Archives. However, they are not accessible to the public. Records, both digitized and born-digital, will be made available for research online via the Obama Library website and the National Archives Catalog (NAC). NARA is digitizing textual (paper) records as quickly as possible. Textual records will be scanned in their original order and organized by folder, so researchers can still read the documents in their correct context.


How can I request records not yet available for public research?

Anyone may request access to Presidential records not yet available for public research by submitting a written Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Guidance and tips on submitting FOIA requests can be found here.


What types of records are available for research?

Textual Records

The Barack Obama Presidential Library holds more than 30 million pages of textual (paper) Presidential records from the Executive Office of the President (EOP). View the Finding Aids page for more information on records released via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Audiovisual Records

The Barack Obama Presidential Library holds over 600 cubic feet of audiovisual recordings and the 3 million digital photographs created by the White House Photo Office. The audiovisual holdings predominantly include materials from President Obama's time in the White House, many of which are already available in the public domain. View the Audiovisual Records page for more information. 

Please contact the Office of Barack and Michelle Obama for information on pre-and post-presidential audiovisual records.

Electronic Records

NARA's Electronic Records Archive (ERA) system stores and processes electronic records from the Barack Obama Administration. The Executive Office of the President (EOP-ERA) version of the system exclusively stores unclassified Presidential records, such as emails and shared drive files.

Over 250 TB of records were ingested into EOP-ERA at the close of the Obama Administration, including:

  • Over 300 million e-mail messages
  • Over 3 million digital photographs
  • Over 30 million other electronic records

These electronic records are preserved within EOP-ERA in groups called Search and Access Sets (SAS). Records are included in a SAS based on the system that originally created the records. SAS includes data created by electronic data systems used for email management, photograph organization, visitor records, scheduling, and other functions.

EOP-ERA also contains files from hard drives on White House computers, including home drives maintained by individual staffers and shared drives used across White House offices. Hard drives are organized by the White House component, and thereunder by individual offices or staff members:

  • CEA (Council of Economic Advisers)
  • EXR (Executive Residence)
  • NSC (National Security Council)
  • OA (Office of Administration)
  • PIAB (President’s Intelligence Advisory Board)
  • WHO (White House Office): This drive contains the majority of the offices that have not already been named, including (but not limited to) Chief of Staff, Domestic Policy Council, Office of the First Lady, Speechwriting, Press Office, etc.

View the Finding Aids page for more information on records released via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. 


What are classified and closed records?

The National Archives and Records Administration aims to provide as much access to records as possible. However, certain records must be withheld for restrictions and/or exemptions outlined in the Presidential Records Act (PRA), as amended, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The information not released includes national security, confidential advice, and personal privacy information. Researchers are alerted to the exemption of records or portions of records. Withdrawal markers on documents provide the reason(s) why the information has been withheld or redacted.


Can I appeal the closure of records restricted under the PRA and FOIA?

Yes. Original requesters may file an appeal challenging the status of records closed under the PRA and/or FOIA provisions.


Can I request declassification of national security information?

Yes. All national security records responsive to a FOIA request will be reviewed. Any records restricted under the national security provisions of the PRA and FOIA are eligible for a declassification review.

Researchers may also file a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) request for specific national security classified records.  Guidance and tips on submitting MDR requests can be found here.


How does copyright law affect my research?

The United States Copyright Law (P.L. 94-553) provides statutory protection for the authors or producers of original works. The copyright law gives the author and his or her heirs the sole right of publication for the term of the copyright. The use of copyrighted material requires the permission of the holder of the copyright. Permission to reproduce copyrighted materials contained in the holdings of the Obama Presidential Library must be obtained from the copyright holder. The copyright law does not apply to material in the public domain or material produced by government employees in the course of their official duties. Researchers with specific questions about copyright law should obtain legal advice. Federal employees are not authorized to provide guidance with regard to copyright laws.


How do I cite my sources?

Guidelines for citations for records retrieved from the Barack Obama Presidential Library can be found here


What materials are not held at the Obama Presidential Library?

Campaign and Transition Materials

As per the Presidential Records Act (PRA), campaign and transition records are considered "personal records," rather than "presidential records." Campaign and transition materials are NOT included in our collection. For more information on the PRA, including an in-depth description of what is and is not considered records, view the PRA guide here.

Vice President Joe Biden's official records

Vice President Biden's records are NOT housed at the Barack Obama Presidential Library. These records are at the National Archives and Records Administrations in Washington, DC. For information on these records of Vice President Biden please contact the Archival Operations Division:

Archival Operations Division - Vice Presidential Materials
National Archives and Records Administration
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, Room G-7
Washington, DC 20408
presidential.materials@nara.gov


President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, walk from the West Wing to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Dec. 1, 2009. (P120109PS-0437)

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Are there additional research resources you recommend?

We recommend non-partisan resources for those who want to learn more about President Obama, the National Archives and Records Administration holdings, and learners or researchers looking for general government research information. 

The Obama Administration

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

  • Archives.gov
    NARA’s main website includes an overview of policies and lists of records available for research, lesson plans and other resources for educators, and information about the NARA facilities across the country.
  • National Archives Catalog
    NARA’s online catalog enables researchers to search for descriptions of NARA’s records and provides online access to collections that have been digitized.
  • The Center for Legislative Archives
    The Center for Legislative Archives is the branch of NARA responsible for preserving and processing the records of the US Congress.

General Government Research

  • The American Presidency Project
    A project of the University of California - Santa Barbara, the American Presidency Project provides a searchable interface for Presidential materials from George Washington to Donald J. Trump.
  • The Miller Center of Public Affairs
    The Miller Center of Public Affairs, part of the University of Virginia, maintains an online collection of biographies, essays, exhibits, oral histories, speeches, photographs, and oral histories about the U.S. Presidential administrations.
  • Gov Info, Government Printing Office
    Online access to official Federal resources from all three branches of the Federal Government published by the U.S. Government Printing Office.
  • Congress.gov
    Formerly known as THOMAS, the website for Congress includes a search engine for legislative information including bills and resolutions, calendars, and the Congressional Record.
  • White House Historical Association
    The White House Historical Association provides insight into the cultural significance of the White House itself, with online exhibits on traditions, furnishings, and holidays, plus biographies of the First Families.
  • CIA FOIA Electronic Reading Room
    The Central Intelligence Agency’s electronic, searchable library of documents has been released through FOIA requests.
  • Department of State, Office of the Historian
    The Office of the Historian of the State Department provides a chronological list of Presidential and Secretary of State travel, visits from foreign leaders, and more.
  • Foreign Relations of the U.S. (FRUS)
    Compiled by the Department of State, the “FRUS,” series is the official historical record of U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic activity.

President Barack Obama meets with former President George H. W. Bush in the Oval Office, Feb. 15, 2011. (P021511PS-0030)

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

How can I research the records of other U.S. Presidents?

The Presidential Library system is composed of fifteen Presidential Libraries, which bring together the documents and artifacts of a President and his administration and present them to the public for study and discussion without regard for political considerations or affiliations. Overseen by the National Archives and Records Administration, Presidential Libraries and Museums belong to the American people and help us learn about our nation and our democracy. Use these links to find information about presidential documents, the U.S. Presidents, and Presidential Libraries.

  • Presidential Libraries
    Visit the Presidential Libraries online or discover how you can visit a Presidential Library in-person. 
  • General
    Research resources compiled by the National Archives. 
  • Inaugurations
    The 20th amendment to the Constitution specifies that the term of each elected President of the United States begins at noon on January 20 of the year following the election. Each President must take the oath of office before assuming the duties of the position. These sources can be used to gain a greater understanding of U.S Presidential Inaugurations. 
  • The 25th Amendment
    Learn more about the Presidential Order of Succession. 
  • Presidential Collections
    Online resources for researching individual Presidents. 
  • First Ladies
    Online resources to learn more on the contributions of the First Ladies. 
  • Portraits and Photographs of Presidents and First Ladies
    Gain digital access to portraits, paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other likenesses of the Presidents and First Ladies. 
  • Salaries and Retirement Benefits of U.S. Presidents
    These resources describe the pension and benefits granted to former Presidents and policy implications, along with up-to-date salary and benefit information for the President, the Vice President, and high-ranking government officials. 
  • Presidential Documents
    Here you will find various government documents, including Compilation of Presidential Documents, Economic Report of the President, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, along with website links to Executive Orders, Proclamations, and other Presidential documents. 
  • Founders Online
    If you are interested in the ideas behind the founding of our democracy, you can use Founders Online to go straight to the source. Founders Online collects in one place the papers, written by or addressed to, seven key figures of the era: John Adams, along with son John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. You can access annotated first drafts of the Declaration of Independence, the spirited debate over the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and the records of the very beginnings of our national story. Also available is firsthand details of the Founders’ personal lives as told in their own voices.