Even the Pharaohs might do a double take were they to see the shrines to former U.S. presidents now dotting the American landscape.

Eight such edifices - known as presidential libraries and dating back to Herbert Hoover's administration - are currently in existence. Ground was recently broken for two more - President Reagan's in Simi Valley, Calif., and former President Nixon's in Yorba Linda, Calif.Although presidential libraries are built with private funds and presented as gifts to the United States, it is the taxpayer who ends up footing the bill for their operating costs - now set at about $15 million per year.

And that's the rub. The concept, which originated out of the desire to preserve history, has sadly given way to glorifying the White House years of its occupants.

Reagan's library, for example, is just under 100,000 square feet, slightly smaller than Lyndon B. Johnson's library in Austin, Texas, and will cost more than $40 million to build.

Fortunately, Congress has seen the light and no longer condones building epic-sized monuments to former presidents. Reagan himself signed a bill limiting the size of presidential libraries to a mini palace size of 70,000 square feet - not before his own presidential library was exempted from the law's requirements, though.

Still a nagging question persists: If preserving the history of a presidency - and not its grandeur - is the ultimate goal, why are these massive libraries built in the first place?

If availability to scholars is the goal, wouldn't it be more prudent for a president to simply donate his papers to a specific university, which would in turn add a wing on a campus library, or perhaps just make room in a existing building?

Considering the nation's current budget deficit, perhaps the greatest example our former presidents could set is that of frugality.