So long THOMAS, hello Congress.gov

On September 19, 2012, the Library of Congress announced Congress.gov, “a new resource for United States legislative information.” Currently in beta version, Congress.gov will be the premier site for federal legislative information. According to LOC’s introductory blog post, THOMAS, which was launched in 1995, will cease to exist sometime within the next year. This will only take place after all information has been migrated to the new site.

The About page for Congress.gov sets forth five areas of what’s new in this site compared to THOMAS.  First, searching is improved. The front page of Congress.gov offers a one-stop shopping search box, not unlike WestlawNext or LexisAdvance, allowing users to search across the entire system. Users may search all sources or limit their search to “Member Profiles” or “Legislation” (2001-present). A “Search Tips” section provides information on improving specificity of searches.  Boolean operators are not available at this time, but the site states they will be added at some point in the future.

Second, the cleaner interface, permanent URLs, and easy-to-read text should lead to a more user-friendly design. Third, landing pages for individual pieces of legislation increase ease in locating all related documents.

Fourth, a section on the legislative process includes nine educational videos on a variety of topics, including introduction and referral of a bill, calendars and scheduling, executive business in the Senate, bicameral resolution, presidential action, and more. In addition to the videos that range in length from about one and a half minutes to just over five minutes, this section provides full transcripts of the videos below the embedded video.

Finally, a section entitled “Profiles of Members of Congress” includes information not available on THOMAS. Member landing pages increase ease of locating expected information such as a biography and party history. This section also lists sponsored and cosponsored legislation. The clean interface of this section makes it much easier to locate specific people. Facets on the left also allow users to narrow searches by Congress, Chamber of Congress, political party, and by U.S. State or Territory.  Contact information is readily apparent, making the site accessible to professional researchers as well as the general public.

Overall, the new site is much-improved and provides a cleaner platform for gathering federal legislative information. Because it is still in its beta version, minor kinks exist. Some users find it slightly more difficult to locate particular pieces of information even though the new site improves general searching. Others feel that the new information and interface outweighs any minor functionality kinks that will surely be worked out as they finalize the site.

For more information read Jeff Richardson’s review entitled, “Review: Congress.gov – free legislative information formatted for the iPhone screen.”  He explains that Congress.gov was designed to optimize the mobile user’s experience and that it shows. Vivid screen shots of several of the new site’s features make his review one worth reading.

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