BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Theodore Roosevelt's love of the country's untouched, natural beauty spurred him to create and conserve hundreds of national forests, parks and monuments during his presidency.
His legacy, though, is being preserved digitally.
A devoted group of scholars and Roosevelt admirers has been scanning his papers and artifacts for years and is finalizing a design for a library and museum commemorating the life of the 26th president. Unlike the presidential libraries that came before it, however, the Roosevelt library will feature a collection that is primarily digital.
The physical library is expected to open in 2019 in Dickinson, a city of about 20,000 residents about 35 miles east of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which includes ranchland that once his. However, the library has already made thousands of notes, letters and photographs available online.
The National Archives in Washington, D.C., oversees all presidential libraries from Herbert Hoover on, but any library for a president prior to the 31st, Herbert Hoover, must be built and managed without the help of the federal government. The oversight of the archives help to create a central location for the more recent presidents' papers, while those of earlier presidents are often scattered across the country in private collections and in archives at places like the Library of Congress and Harvard.
To overcome this, the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University, which is spearheading the library project, has digitally archived about 50,000 documents, ranging from personal and presidential notes to letters and belongings since 2007. And it hopes to have hundreds of thousands more in the collection that grows every week.
"It's very difficult to create a traditional presidential library for TR, because all the materials will never be gathered physically in one place," project manager Sharon Kilzer said.
She said this approach could be used to open other presidential libraries for those who occupied the White House before Hoover.
"This could be a model through which the legacies of those other presidents are also preserved and made accessible to the public," Kilzer said.
Other libraries outside of the National Archive system, like the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, have digitized much of their subject's materials as well — but those digital collections add to an already-impressive physical collection. The Theodore Roosevelt Library and Museum will tentatively open by the end of the decade on a bedrock of a digital collection scholars hope will eventually include every Roosevelt-related they can find.