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Saturday, August 20, 2005

Thomas legislative database to get improved search interface

If you've ever tried to find the text of some federal legislation, or where a bill is in the process, or who voted how, you probably used Thomas, and you might be interested in this.

From Federal Computer Week: Thomas legislative database to get a facelift

BY Aliya Sternstein
Published on Aug. 17, 2005

The Library of Congress is overhauling Thomas, the library’s free legislative database.

Since Thomas debuted in January 1995 as a congressional initiative, several lawmakers have called for an update to Thomas. Ten years later, library officials expect to complete a prototype of a new search engine by the end of the year, they say.


The new site will cater to first-time users and daily visitors, officials wrote yesterday. It will display a simple, comprehensive interface and include tools for advanced searches.


The library is also updating its Web site to allow users single-search access to text catalogs and multimedia collections. The library’s offerings are now divided among five databases.

Public access proponents are cautiously optimistic about the Thomas project. But they applaud the idea of Thomas cross-searching Congresses and reaching out to multiple skill levels.

“It remains to be seen what their new search engine does,” said Patrice McDermott, deputy director of the American Library Association's Office of Government Relations. “I’m hoping it’s not a FirstGov model,” she said, adding that FirstGov, the federal government’s Web portal, has high recall but low precision.

In the past, McDermott has expressed the need for congressional markups and committee reports in Thomas.

“It would also be really excellent to put in a keyword and be able to pull up committee hearings and legislation -- to be able to put in ‘Patriot Act’ and pull up all the bills, hearings and testimony that pertain to the Patriot Act,” she said today, adding that the system would ideally link to the Government Printing Office, which deposits all the testimony.

I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with it. Of course, McDermott's goal will not be fully realized no matter what is done with Thomas, until the problem is resolved that committees frequently don't publish records of hearings.

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