The past couple of years have been full of upheaval for the Library of Congress (LC)—and this year promises to be one of unpredictability. On June 10, 2015, James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress since his appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, announced his retirement effective Jan. 1, 2016. His tenure was not without its troubles. An acknowledged technophobe, he and the LC—as well as the U.S. Copyright Office, which is part of the LC—were criticized in U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports for their inability to successfully enter the digital age and for their out-of-date and inefficient IT services.
Billington did not make it until the end of 2015; his actual retirement began on Oct. 1. He did appoint a new CIO just prior to his departure, Bernard A. Barton Jr., who came from the Department of Defense. He also hired a new director of national and international outreach, Jane McAuliffe, and a new COO, Edward Jablonski. Upon Billington’s retirement, David Mao, the Law Librarian of Congress since 2012 and deputy Librarian of Congress since January 2015, was appointed acting Librarian of Congress.
Hayden Takes Charge
Until recently, the Librarian of Congress position was a lifetime appointment, but Congress limited the term to 10 years with the potential for renewal, perhaps because of Billington’s unwillingness to adapt to the technological changes that occurred during his tenure. Enter Carla Hayden, former CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. She has a Ph.D. in library science from the University of Chicago and is one of three actual librarians to ever hold the position.
Sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Sept. 14, 2016, during a ceremony streamed live on YouTube, Hayden wasted no time making changes that would realize her goal of opening “the treasure chest that is the Library of Congress even further. …” She created a Twitter account, @LibnOfCongress; as the first Librarian of Congress appointed since the widespread use of the internet, Hayden hopes to bring the LC to the people. In her inaugural speech, she referenced a plan to digitize many of the LC’s collectibles so these items may be read by anyone, including from remote locations such as reservations and classrooms. More and more videos are being made available to the public, including coverage of the 2015 Library of Congress Literacy Awards celebration and webcasts from the 2016 National Book Festival. “Today, through the power of technology … [we can] realize a vision of a national library that reaches outside the limits of Washington,” she said during the ceremony.
With the support of the National Digital Initiatives, a division of the National and International Outreach service that was created in 2015, the LC launched a new website design in November 2016. Natalie Buda Smith, the LC’s user experience (UX) team supervisor, says the library intended to move into doing more storytelling. “How do we take all of these wonderful elements and start to tell stories in a more engaging way? And the home page is really a great step in that direction, because what we’re trying to tell is that the Library is more than just a collection of things in specific subjects,” she says.
Gayle Osterberg, the LC’s director of communications, writes, “The Library of Congress launched its first website in 1994. Since that time we have digitized and made available millions of items from our collections and added new features to help [users] take advantage of all that the Library offers. During the past three years, the Library’s web team has been transitioning these vast online collections into a new format that is mobile friendly, enables faceted search across all formats—books, maps, photographs and more—and applies consistent information and presentation.”
Here is the old homepage.
Here is the new homepage, which is significantly different from and much more intuitive than the old one.
Scrolling down the page brings up links to several new channels. Osterberg continues, “The top of the page features topical content that you’ll want to learn about—a newly digitized or updated collection, major Library events and new resources and services. The selections here will usually change monthly.” In the Trending section, the Top Searches subsection is a list of topics that users search for most frequently on the LC website.
The Featured Item is a staff-favorite resource from one of the LC’s collections. “The rest of the ‘Trending’ section will serve as a dynamic space to expose more resources and voices from around the Library. We will feature recently published blog posts from our 16 blogs, options for connecting with Library experts, and other timely information,” Osterberg writes.
Below the Trending section is Your Library, which features topics of interest to users, including Plan Your Visit, Research Centers, and Ask a Librarian. Below that is a section with “[f]eatured content that is free to use and reuse.” Here is the Thanksgiving-themed content that ran on the homepage when it was first redesigned.
These are truly innovative and welcome changes for the LC’s website. Comments and feedback have all been overwhelmingly positive.
True to Hayden’s promise to provide the American people with more access to the LC’s collections, on Nov. 29, the LC signed a memorandum of understanding with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to become an official content hub, and it will ultimately “share a significant portion of its rich digital resources with DPLA’s database of digital content records.” The first materials provided were 5,000 maps, and additional materials will follow. LC items already featured in the DPLA include more than 100,000 books as part of its partnership with HathiTrust and the Biodiversity Heritage Library.