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Digital Future Laid Out in Library of Congress 5-Year Blueprint

User-centered design to feature in physical and online presence

The Library of Congress released a plan Tuesday for “digital transformation” of the agency. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
The Library of Congress released a plan Tuesday for “digital transformation” of the agency. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, is moving towards a “digital-forward” strategy, according to a strategic plan released Tuesday.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced a five-year plan for a “digital transformation.”

“Improving our understanding of the numerous ways users interact with the library’s nearly 170 million items in our collections, experts and services is fundamental to delivering our mission,” Hayden said in a statement. “Our goal is to make the world’s largest library a place you can connect with in new and meaningful ways.”

The library wants to “throw open the treasure chest” and make public access to its vast collections easier. Over the next five years, the library plans to continue their “aggressive digitization program” and expedite the availability of new content on the web.

Experimentation is a major tenet of the new strategic plan. The organization has been stuck in the past in many ways, from a computing system built in the 1970s to static processes for staff. But the library is looking to shed that baggage, by promising that staff will have “training, tools, infrastructure, opportunities, and organizational support needed to enable staff to adapt to a changing information landscape.”

“We are being bold in our thinking, finding ways to use technology to fulfill our mission to inform and inspire the American public,” said Director of Digital Strategy Kate Zwaard, who led the effort to develop the digital strategy.

More digital resources mean the library will need more storage. The federal services arm of contracting giant Accenture won the $27.3 million contract to build the long-planned new data center for the Library of Congress in August. 

The library’s current primary computing facility was built in the 1970s and Hayden has told lawmakers it can no longer provide a sufficient level of reliability and resilience. The new data center was a key fiscal 2018 priority for the library.

In 2017 the library’s websites had 115 million visits and more than 1.9 million visitors visited the physical facilities. The library’s five-year plan includes employing user-centered design to invite digital and physical visitors to explore more offerings.

The library took a major step toward transparency with the launch of a public website for Congressional Research Service reports in September.  But the site posts the reports in one of the least dynamic and user-friendly formats, PDFs, despite having other versions available on internal congressional sites. 

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