By EDWARD OHNEMUS
During the Library's first oversight hearing of the 105th Congress, Dr. Billington, Deputy Librarian Donald Scott and Congressional Research Service Director Daniel P. Mulhollan told a Senate panel that the Library increasingly relies on automation to get its work done and meet the demands of its users.
Addressing the Senate Rules and Administration panel, led by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), on March 20, Dr. Billington said: "Perhaps the most striking change [in our Library work] is our increasing use of technology."
"Today, [our] American Memory collections are the cornerstone of the Library's highly praised home page on the World Wide Web, which has recently been the subject of considerable praise by Time magazine, The New York Times, Parade magazine, and PC World ," the Librarian said.
After welcoming the Library witnesses, Sen. Warner said: "I am ... anxious to hear what the Library considers to be the greatest challenges facing it as it moves toward the 21st century. ... I look forward to Mr. Mulhollan's testimony this morning and would like to add, as I did at last year's hearing, that over the course of my 18 years in the Senate, my office has consistently received thorough and unbiased products from CRS. I am confident that CRS, under the able leadership of Mr. Mulhollan, will continue producing such quality work."
During the question period, Dr. Billington explained to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and vice-chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, that the Library is seeking congressional guidance on its upcoming 200th birthday celebration. "The full reopening of the Jefferson Building in 1997 and the bicentenary of the Library of Congress in the year 2000 will provide special opportunities to reinforce and enhance the quality, intelligibility and accessibility of the American creative heritage that has been gathered here, thanks largely to the placement of the Copyright Office in the Library for the last 136 years and the richness of copyright deposit.
"The Library would welcome the Congress's guidance in crafting this 200-year milestone in the life of the nation's oldest federal cultural institution, and we have submitted draft legislation for your consideration," Dr. Billington said.
The Library has consulted with congressional oversight committees regarding legislation to authorize minting a bicentennial commemorative coin and establishing a Bicentennial Advisory Board.
Dr. Billington told the panel that new technology, such as the Internet's World Wide Web, has allowed the Library to offer more to members of Congress and share its collections with those who live beyond Washington. "Technology has, in a number of areas, helped the Library steadily increase access to its collections and service to Congress," Dr. Billington said.
He told the panel that an Integrated Library System -- a key part of LC's FY 1998 budget proposal (see LC Information Bulletin, March 10) -- would integrate and upgrade many of LC's computer systems for processing and cataloging collections and automate the few remaining manual systems. "The key new request is for an Integrated Library System that will electronically make almost all our key services faster and less expensive," Dr. Billington said.
During his testimony, CRS Director Daniel P. Mulhollan recapped CRS's services to Congress during 1996. "Congress called on CRS for information and analysis on approximately half a million occasions. In response to these requests, we created more than 1,000 new written research products. We delivered nearly 2,800 custom, confidential memoranda and gave 2,600 in-person briefings and consultations. More than 690,000 copies of our reports and issue briefs were distributed to Congress last year.
"CRS staff provided research and analysis to members and congressional staff on hundreds of legislative issues: on sweeping changes in welfare and immigration law, health care legislation, social security and retirement, wages and employment, telecommunications reform, the line-item veto, taxes, banking and finance reform, the farm bill and agricultural concerns, environmental issues, juvenile crime and research and development policy. In addition, we covered issues related to the defense budget and to U.S. relations with Russia, China and Japan and monitored the situations in Bosnia and the Middle East," Mr. Mulhollan said.
He also told the panel that last year CRS developed a plan to improve service to Congress in response to changes in the legislative process and high turnover of members between the 104th and 105th sessions.
"A CRS analysis of Senate activity indicated that more than 70 percent of Senate roll call votes on the floor in 1996 were devoted to budget-related matters. As budget issues have increasingly become the focus of congressional work, CRS has enhanced its analysis of budget and appropriations issues and delivery of this work to Congress.
"In responding to high turnover in the membership of Congress, a recurring pattern over the past three Congresses [with 39 new senators on board since the November 1992 general election], we continue to offer assistance tailored to the unique needs of new members. ... This year we intensified our efforts for the 105th Congress by scheduling visits to all new member offices to brief members and congressional staff about the services CRS provides," Mr. Mulhollan told the panel. He also submitted a copy of his report "CRS Strategic Goals for Meeting Changing Needs of the Congress" to the panel.
During his oral testimony Dr. Billington discussed "the nature and horizons of the Library of Congress ... in terms of What? Who? How? When? Why?"
- "What? ... The Library of Congress ... is the world's largest and most varied collection of knowledge, including the mint record of American creativity made usable on location here in Washington by a diverse and richly talented staff. The Library's 111 million items cover more than 530 miles of shelf space with materials in more than 450 languages and almost all media. The Library is also the hub of a growing electronic network of information that is rapidly becoming accessible almost everywhere.
- "Whom does the Library serve? First and foremost, Congress. Our first priority is the delivery of books, research services and electronic enhancements to the Congress of the United States. The Library provides exclusively and only for Congress an organized, regular flow of scholarly research, analysis and briefings based on the collections through the Congressional Research Service -- and also material and information from the Law Library of Congress and, when required, from other curatorial divisions. We get information about Congress out electronically to the nation in user-friendly, searchable form through THOMAS; we are currently helping to build the Legislative Information System for Congress; and we hope to find more ways to make Library collections and services available and useful to Congress. The Library also serves the scholarly and research community and the nation more broadly.
- "How do we serve? We serve Congress with both the artifactual collections and electronic information networks. We serve the scholarly world largely in public reading rooms here in Washington, and we serve the nation increasingly by providing electronic access to our materials remotely in local communities. We also provide free 23 million items to the blind and physically handicapped every year, save the nation's libraries about $268 million a year by cataloging some 300,000 books and serials and register more than 560,000 copyright claims. We acquire some 7,000 new items every day and recently added to our collections probably the finest collection of Americana still in private hands: the 10,000 items in the Marian S. Carson collection. We are currently recording a total of 1.5 million electronic transactions a day. The National Digital Library is increasingly becoming the centerpiece: our pioneering attempt to deliver the primary documents of American history and culture to schools, libraries, and homes across the nation."
Dr. Billington then introduced Martha Dexter of the National Digital Library Program, who made an audiovisual presentation for the panel.
Dr. Billington then continued with the When? and Why? parts of his statement:
- Our current budget submission is based on a strategic plan projected through the year 2004; and this plan is in turn derived from our Statement of Mission and strategic priorities. These documents, [which the Librarian submitted along with his testimony] are our guides in answering the questions of When? and Why?"
During the question-and-answer session, Sen. Stevens asked Dr. Billington and Mr. Scott what the Library had done to improve its security in the last year. Mr. Scott, on the job as Deputy Librarian since Sept. 30, 1996, told Sen. Stevens that Dr. Billington has made him directly responsible for all day-to-day operations, including security. He said that the Library has been working assiduously to implement the more than 800 recommendations in the 956-page June 10, 1996, Computer Sciences Corp. report on LC's collections security. "We've implemented the first 150 low-level security recommendations from the CSC report already and [new Director of Security Kenneth] Lopez is now overseeing our security management plan."
Dr. Billington said that the Library has improved reading room security with cameras and surveillance. One benefit of improved security in the stacks, he said, is that the Library's not-on-shelf rate has dropped appreciably, due to fewer misshelved items.
Sen. Stevens asked Mr. Mulhollan about CRS's proposed "Succession Initiative." Mr. Mulhollan explained to the panel that in the FY 1998 budget proposal, CRS is asking permission to hire 60 new employees over a three-year period, 1998 to 2000, and then reduce its staff by 60 over a six-year period from 2001 to 2006 to help cushion attrition among nearly 400 CRS staff who will be eligible to retire by 2006.
Mr. Stevens commented: "I've defended CRS in the past from attacks because I believe in the concept of 'shared staff' for members of Congress. ... It's going to be a tough time for CRS [with these retirements] and you're going to have to live through it."
Sen. Warner asked Mr. Mulhollan to up-date him in six months on progress with the succession planning initiative. "The work that you do is absolutely critical to Congress," Sen. Warner told Mr. Mulhollan.
Regarding the upcoming reopening and centennial of the Jefferson Building this May, Dr. Billington said, "On April 30, members of Congress will be invited to preview the Library's first permanent installation of the rarest of the Library's treasures of Americana, including the first [extant] book printed in America, the earliest known baseball card, the contents of Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination and the photograph of the Wright brothers' historic first flight taken at the instant of takeoff."
Mr. Ohnemus is assistant editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newspaper.