Monday, September 30, 2013

Congress.gov: The Final Countdown

For nearly two decades, THOMAS has provided free public access to information about Congress: bill text, legislative history materials, member biographies, and committee activities. But in November, the Library of Congress's newer Congress.gov interface is taking over as the default public website for congressional research, after a two-year beta test. (For fans of the older site, the THOMAS interface will continue to be available via a link on Congress.gov until late 2014, although links to THOMAS.gov and THOMAS.loc.gov will redirect to the Congress.gov homepage.)

Congress.gov offers improved search capability over THOMAS's more basic interface. Users can also link directly to search results or individual documents, and subscribe to search alerts via RSS (both features which were impossible with THOMAS's unstable URLs). Congress.gov will soon complete its migration of all historical content from THOMAS (currently, the full text of legislation from 1990-1992 is still available only on THOMAS). Congress.gov also incorporates some content which was not easily accessible on THOMAS, such as a prominent space for the Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (CONAN), an annotated version of the U.S. Constitution which contains discussion and footnotes to case law explaining each article and amendment to the Constitution. CONAN also includes helpful historical tables, such as Acts of Congress Held Unconstitutional and Overruled Supreme Court Decisions.

As noted in the September monthly update on the progress of Congress.gov, several design changes have been made to the site recently in response to user feedback. And the makers of Congress.gov are still soliciting public input on the site's sleek new look: visitors can assist with upgrades to the design of Congress.gov by completing a brief usability test. The anonymous exercise asks users where they might click on the Congress.gov homepage in order to complete certain tasks. Share your thoughts on the new site by completing the 15-20 minute exercise.

Of course, in the event of a federal government shutdown beginning Tuesday, October 1, both Congress.gov and THOMAS will become inaccessible, along with the rest of the Library of Congress website will become inaccessible. Follow the latest shutdown news at the Washington Post – and, while it lasts, Congress.gov. [Update 10/1: THOMAS and Congress.gov remain open during the federal shutdown. All other LOC sites are inaccessible.]

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