This is a guest post by Judy Graves, Digital Projects Coordinator, Digital Reference Section and instructor, Introducing loc.gov, the monthly webinar series and Pamela Barnes Craig, Instruction/Reference Librarian.
“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government. . . .”
Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789
Believing wholeheartedly that citizens should be well-informed, we were thrilled to be part of the training team for the new legislative website. . . after all, we both had been educators before coming to the Library of Congress. We were asked to look at the feasibility of different delivery methods, classroom and web conferencing, as Congress.gov was being developed. Being on the ground floor with the development was a boon because we would have time to plan as we watched the site grow.
We soon learned it is a tremendous responsibility to develop training for something that doesn’t exist except in the gleam of a developer’s eye or from screen shots in pre-launch briefings. A thousand questions raced through our minds as possibilities unfolded while we watched the development of the site. Somehow in our excitement, we had to remain focused because we had to identify and answer questions before students asked them of us!
There’s also a tremendous sense of purpose because Congress.gov makes the legislative process transparent for legislators and citizens alike. Having developed and taught orientation sessions on THOMAS, we initially focused on similarities and differences between the two sites, especially in searching and retrieval of legislation. As we planned and practiced with the site, we realized that the training we were developing had the potential to enable anyone to find and use congressional information in their daily lives and participate more fully in the democratic process.
The orientation for Congress.gov goes beyond searching for legislation since the site offers features such as: legislative process videos developed by staff specialists at the Library of Congress, quick links to historical legislation, current and past congressional member information, and so much more. It truly represents the legislative process in action: detailing the path a bill takes through its life in Congress, the role committees play in the process, actions on the floor of the House and the Senate, and the tasks performed by members of Congress as members of committees, sponsors or cosponsors of legislation, and as representatives of their constituencies across the United States.
We tested the beta site, tried all types of searches and basically put ourselves in the places of our students. What would they search for? How? What steps would students need to know to perform certain tasks? Did any features need special treatment? What resources should be highlighted? What was new? Different? What was the best way to introduce each aspect of the site in a logical, coherent manner? What practice searches would best highlight the new features of the site? All of these questions needed to be answered and just when we thought we had some answers, more content or another new feature of the site would be added, changing the shape and content of the training design.
The next step was to test Congress.gov in our web conferencing software. “It’s one thing to gauge student response to training in person; it’s entirely another challenge to design training for a heterogenous audience you will never see, with diverse backgrounds and information needs, not to mention different computer equipment with varying levels of connectivity to the Internet, from across the United States and beyond,” states Judy, having done webinars for eight years. “Moreover, would the new website display well inside the web conference software? What demonstration examples would have the widest possible relevance to this unique, diverse audience that joins you for one brief hour during their day?”
A pilot class and webinar were conducted, and adjustments to our training design have been made. We’ll be offering our training monthly in a classroom setting and webinar format beginning in October. We look forward to the comments from our students and the feedback we hope they will provide.
The training design is flexible and will evolve as we evaluate the feedback and make adjustments. It will also change as the site grows and enhancements are made. All that remains is for you to attend one of our sessions and we invite you to do so. Please register under the heading Congress.gov.