He also said the library, which opens Thursday, would be a cultural and economic boon for his old hometown.
"I felt I owed it to my native state that allowed me to become president, and I wanted to make a contribution to the development of this city I love so much," he told about 2,000 business leaders at the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting.
The library has already inspired about $800 million (euro617 million) in new development in downtown Little Rock since Clinton chose to build it in a rundown warehouse district in 1997.
Not only does the library lay out his legacy, but Clinton said it would teach Americans "what it's like to be president" and how the government affects their lives.
"It was maddening to be president and see people make judgments that were completely disconnected from what we were doing every day," Clinton said. "So when people come here, I hope they will see, whether they agreed or disagreed with what I did, that people in public life ... embrace certain policies and those policies have consequences in the lives of people."
He also responded to criticism of the library's design.
"I wanted to build a building that would capture the imagination of people today and in the decades to come," he said. "The London Economist, in typical snide form, compared it to a glorified house trailer, and I thought, well, that's me. I'm a little red and a little blue. They got me good there."
He contrasted his library with others in the National Archives' presidential library system. Most of them are too dark, he said, because they must protect archive documents from light but try to put the museum and archives in the same space.
The John F. Kennedy library in Boston and the George H.W. Bush library in College Station, Texas, are beautiful buildings, he said, but lose out on tourists because they can't be bright and inviting like his glass-and-steel structure. He solved the problem by putting the documents underground in a separate building.
By David Hammer