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Time to Say Goodbye to THOMAS

A version of the following article originally appeared in the July 1, 2016, edition of Library of Congress staff newsletter, The Gazette.

THOMAS, which launched with great fanfare on January 5, 1995, twenty-one and a half years ago, is nearing its retirement on July 5, 2016.  Back when it launched, then-Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich led the initial celebration.

In his book, The Hill on the Net, Chris Casey describes why THOMAS ended up at the Library of Congress:

THOMAS Award. Photo by Bhaskaran Balakrishnan

SemiFinalist – National Information Infrastructure Government Award for THOMAS in 1996. Photo by Bhaskaran Balakrishnan.

As library to the legislative branch, and to the entire country, the Library of Congress provides a more appropriate symbolic home for the service. If it had originated in the House, it would have been difficult for many to escape the perception that the service was a partisan tool of the new Republican majority. But coming from the Library, it is easier to accept the source of the information as nonpartisan in nature. By rebuffing Speaker Gingrich’s desire to post his address to the nation in April 1995 on THOMAS, the Library later demonstrated the willingness and ability to protect the integrity of the service.

The Library reported that it took only nine days, from the site’s launch date, for 36,534 users to access THOMAS.

Not long after it launched in 1996, THOMAS was a semifinalist for a National Information Infrastructure (NII) Government Award.

THOMAS during the 106th Congress

THOMAS during the 106th Congress (1999-2000). Provided by Mike Newman.

THOMAS has gone through many changes over the years.  Mike Newman has worked on THOMAS for many years and shared what the site looked like during the 106th Congress (1999-2000) and 107th Congress (2001-2002).

In January 2000, “four hackers from a little country in Europe” defaced THOMAS for a short time period.

THOMAS had a facelift in 2005 that updated its facade to the familiar look it has today.  It was designed to look more like LOC.gov and American Memory looked at the time.

THOMAS even made its way into pop culture by appearing on Jeopardy in 2011 with the answer “THE loc.gov FEATURE CALLED THOMAS LETS YOU SEARCH FOR THESE MADE BY CONGRESS, LIKE H.R. 575″ to the question “What lets you search for laws passed by Congress?”

When new development of THOMAS picked up in 2010–with updates in January (before which THOMAS search results would time out after five minutes), June, and August–it became clear that the system just could not support the desired enhancements that users were looking for.  In August 2010, the first attempt was made to make the homepage mobile friendly. With a new system, the entire site would be mobile friendly.  Users were also repeatedly asking to receive alerts when legislation passed the House or Senate.

THOMAS during the 107th Congress

THOMAS during the 107th Congress (2001-2002). Provided by Mike Newman.

To meet these needs a dedicated team from across multiple service units at the Library of Congress began to meet weekly in September 2011 to plan for the system to replace THOMAS.

On September 19, 2012, the Library introduced Congress.gov and announced that the end was in sight for THOMAS.  Since then, the Library has continued to add data and refine Congress.gov into the site that it is today.  Two years after its introduction, the beta label was removed from Congress.gov.  More on the growth and development of Congress.gov can be found on the Law Library of Congress blog, In Custodia Legis.

Recently, ZDNet published “So long, Thomas.gov: Inside the retirement of a classic Web 1.0 application.”  THOMAS really was a classic Web 1.0 initiative by the Library of Congress.  And as sad as it might seem to see it go, the Library is well prepared with its replacement–Congress.gov.

As we work to continue to enhance Congress.gov, there is a new survey you can complete to share your thoughts.

Goodbye, THOMAS! Enjoy Monticello!

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