Library of Congress Introduces New Search Engine

Wednesday, September 26, 2012, by Amanda Jones

Have you ever tried to research legislation on the Library of Congress webpage?  If so, the next time you go to look up your favorite piece of legislation, you will be in for a nice surprise.  Congress recently debuted a new search engine, Congress.gov, to replace the THOMAS system that had been in place since 1995. 

This new search engine appears to be much more user friendly than the outdated THOMAS system.  From first glance the new website appears much more like search engines we are familiar with such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo; the webpage had a single search bar to search “all content across all available years.”  The THOMAS system is complex and difficult to use for those who are not familiar with the ins and outs of the system, making Congress.gov a drastic improvement over THOMAS.

Comparing THOMAS to Congress.gov is ‘like comparing a tricycle to a Cadillac.’

From a legal research standpoint, the introduction of this new, up-to-date search engine will be a great help in research of current and past legislation.  For example, if you are writing a paper about the legality of civil commitment and wanted to include some of the legislative history concerning civil commitment into the paper, you simply go to beta.congress.gov, type in “civil commitment” and the system provide a listing of relevant legislation.  The website also provides an easy to understand timeline for each piece of legislation.  Furthermore, the legislation listed from the search is accompanied by helpful details, including: the latest title of the legislation, the sponsor of the legislation (which is linked to a member profile for the Congressman sponsor), the status of the legislation, and the latest action concerning the legislation. 

But it just continues to get better, because from the webpage with the listing of relevant legislation related to civil commitment it is easy to filter the search by categories such as year, political party, status of legislation and subject of legislation, making it much easier to find the most relevant legislation to your research! The THOMAS system does not include this feature. 

Congress.gov also has the ability to allow outside search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing to be able to search the site and retrieve information.  The older THOMAS system could not handle the searches from these outside search engines. 

Lastly, it was only appropriate when designing a new, up-to-date website, to make it mobile friendly.  Andrew Weber, a member of the in-house team which created Congress.gov, stated the website “is also designed to dynamically fit the size screen you are using, which is very helpful if you are like me and will look at Congress.gov on a monitor, tablet, and phone.”

There is no question that this new website and more efficient search engine will save a significant amount of time for many legal researchers, as well as the public who are interested in learning more about certain legislation.  The website is summed up best by Jim Karaman, the Chief of Web Services for Library of Congress, who stated that comparing THOMAS to Congress.gov is “like comparing a tricycle to a Cadillac.”