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Learning how to navigate Congress.gov

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The new and much improved location for Congressional information, beta.congress.gov, has plenty of resources to offer users. Now the Library of Congress (LOC) is offering webinars and in-person training to help users navigate the expanding website. We applaud LOC for providing a variety of training opportunities for those seeking a better understanding of the information available.

Some of the Sunlight Foundation team attended today's LOC webinar. The webinar platform had a few technical glitches for us, the most problematic of which was a gap between the audio and the on-screen visuals, but it was still a helpful event.

The hour-long webinar took us through the main page, the search function, an example bill search, the member directory, and more. Attendees were given plenty of opportunities to interact with the LOC hosts, including asking questions that were promptly answered. The webinar answered a few of our key questions about beta.congress.gov, which will stay in beta for two years while information is transferred to it from THOMAS, the original legislative information website, and LIS, Congress' internal legislative tracking system. Some of the information available on THOMAS is not yet available on its successor, but the goal is to have that information - and more - available on congress.gov in two years. The congressional record will also be on the website eventually. For now, there is a link to the record on the home page.

The home page is well organized and serves as an informative introduction to the main features beta.congress.gov offers. It also has links to some relevant outside resources, including direct links to House, Senate, and LOC information. One of the great internal resources of beta.congress.gov is the glossary of legislative terms. It will help users who are unfamiliar with legislative jargon gain a better understanding of the information available.

Another key internal resource is the feature that guides users through the faceted search. The powerful search function lets users search by topic, by bill name, by bill number, and much more. Users can also narrow down their search by facets such as a particular chamber, a certain congressional session, by the type of legislation, and more. The member directory similarly has helpful search facets, including party, state, and congressional session.

As we have said before, there is still room for improvement with the website. One change we would especially like to see is making the underlying data available in bulk to the public. We have lists of broad and specific suggestions, and we're looking forward to seeing how the legislative information hub continues to grow as a useful resource.