By AUDREY FISCHER
On Jan. 5, 1995, the Library's legislative system known as THOMAS made its debut on Internet, and with it came an online look at the workings of the U.S. Congress.
Named for Thomas Jefferson, the Library's chief founder, THOMAS has experienced a steady growth in usage, with approximately 1.7 million transactions currently being logged monthly. Encouraged by this strong interest on the part of Congress and the public to view the full text of bills introduced by the 103rd and 104th Congresses and the Congressional Record, the Library's Information Technology Services office (ITS) has continued to enhance THOMAS by adding new files and features.
The Uniform Resource Locator for THOMAS is http://thomas.loc.gov. It can also be accessed from the Library's main homepage.
In September 1995 the Bill Summary and Status file (or Bill Digest) was incorporated into THOMAS to facilitate searches of legislation introduced in the 104th Congress. Initially introduced more than 20 years ago into the Library's information retrieval system (SCORPIO), the Bill Digest, prepared by the Congressional Research Service, enables users to search for legislative information by keyword, index term, bill, amendment or public law number, sponsor/co-sponsor, official title, committee/subcommittee or by a combination of up to three of these search terms. The THOMAS version of the Bill Digest goes a step further by providing links to the full text of a bill and to pertinent portions of the Congressional Record.
Similarly, the Congressional Record Index was added to the THOMAS system last fall to facilitate searches through the Congressional Record. Like the Bill Digest file, it also provides links to the full text of the document. Users may click on specific pages to be connected to the corresponding pages within the Congressional Record.
"Major Legislation" was also added to THOMAS. As its name implies, this file tracks major bills receiving floor action in the 104th Congress, and is prepared by legislative analysts in the Congressional Research Service. These bills may be searched by topic, popular or short title, or bill number/type. Major legislation that has been enacted into law or that is under consideration during the current and previous weeks is listed accordingly. The Major Legislation file also contains links to the Bill Digest file, which gives users an overview and status of the legislation before they view it in its entirety. They may then retrieve the full text of these documents and also retrieve the portions of the Congressional Record where it is referenced.
Additional enhancements are in production. Planned for a summer release are changes in graphic design that will not only improve the system's appearance but facilitate navigation both within the THOMAS system and through connections to other Internet resources. The impending addition of House and Senate Committee reports, and links to House and Senate Committee homepages will not only increase the legislative content of THOMAS but reveal the process that takes place from the introduction of a bill until it receives floor action.
Users will also soon be able to access historical documents such as the text of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and broadsides and papers pertaining to the Continental Congress and 1789 Constitutional Conventions. The ability to perform keyword searches on these documents will greatly ease research on the founding of the nation and its governance.
"Continual enhancements to the THOMAS system reflect the Library's commitment to following Congress's lead in opening up the legislative process to the American people," said Herbert Becker, director of Information Technology Services. "Our efforts have been rewarded, both by increased usage of the system, and public recognition, such as a recent commendation from the Coalition on Government Information," a group initiated by the American Library Association. As part of its Freedom of Information Day celebration, the coalition praised the THOMAS system for "ensuring the public's right to know."
Audrey Fischer is a writer-editor in Information technology Systems.