When determining the best place to hold six decades’ worth of her personal and professional archives, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, M.P.A. ’71, had two goals in mind. She wanted global reach for her archives, which would enable scholars worldwide to learn from them. And, with so many of the materials being deeply connected to her tenure as president and her work to secure peace in Liberia, Sirleaf wanted her archives to continue to have a home there.
Fortunately, she was able to find a solution that offers the best of both worlds.
This week, Sirleaf and the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development (EJS Center) announced a unique agreement with Harvard Library to steward and provide access to Sirleaf’s personal and professional archives. The materials will come to the Harvard University Archives this summer and will be made publicly available within two years. The physical materials will reside at Harvard for an initial 25-year deposit term, with a plan to return them to the EJS Center after that period.
“This partnership will enable researchers from anywhere in the world, including Liberia and Africa, to access these papers online and help them carry out their work,” Sirleaf said. “They especially need to be preserved and made available for women to follow the history of my life and, I hope, to provide inspiration for future generations.”
Martha Whitehead, vice president for the Harvard Library and University Librarian, said this stewardship model is a first for Harvard Library.
“This is an important advance in how Harvard Library is enabling discovery of, access to, and preservation of world knowledge,” Whitehead said. “We are intent on seeing communities in all parts of the world empowered to share their local research resources broadly while retaining their ownership, a significant shift from collecting practices of past centuries. We hope that our partnership with President Sirleaf and the EJS Center inspires future partnerships that help expand access to archives of international significance.”
Whitehead added that Harvard Library is honored to work with Sirleaf, particularly, on the first such partnership.
“We are thrilled that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has chosen to partner with us in bringing her legacy to the world,” Whitehead said. “She is a trailblazing world leader, who helped shape a better future for women in Liberia and serves as an inspiration to women in public leadership positions.”
Sirleaf was president of Liberia from 2006 to 2018; her tenure was historic as she was the first elected female leader of an African country. As president, she worked to secure peace in Liberia, promote the country’s economic and social development, reform areas of governance and reinstate the rule of law, and improve infrastructure and basic services.