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OpenCongress Web 2.0 Tools for Your Library

Here is a great example of “Government Documents 2.0” in action: OpenCongress.org offers several Web 2.0 tools such as the OpenCongress Facebook application, where you can put bills that interest you on your Facebook profile. You can show your support or opposition to each bill, or simply remain neutral by selecting the “just following” option. Each bill links back to OpenCongress, so your patrons or friends can get all the information they need in order to understand and become involved with the issues themselves.

One of their Web 2.0 tools that I use for my GovGuides Wiki (a work in progress, mind you!), is the “Bill by Issue Widget“. I created one for the Environmental Law GovGuides Wiki page I’m working on. It displays the latest bills introduced in Congress on anything to do with environmental law enforcement.

If you are not familiar with OpenCongress, it’s a free, open-source, non-profit, and non-partisan web resource “with a mission to help make Congress more transparent and to encourage civic engagement”. OpenCongress is a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation. It uses data provided by GovTrack.us, which collects data from official government websites, such as Thomas. For more info, see previous FGI posts about OpenCongress: My OpenCongress, Congress Remix, and FGI’s “Remixes page”.

OpenCongress makes it easy to understand each bill by giving a brief summary, who sponsored it, its status, and related bills. And yes, there are links to the full text of the bill and its voting history from Thomas. However, I do encourage students in my instruction classes to cite the original sources that OpenCongress leads them to, such as the full text of the bill from Thomas, congressional record references, or the homepages that OpenCongress links to for various committees and congressmen, etc. And of course I remind them that not everything is online, especially older government information, so they must turn to the print sources that I show them how to locate and use. By that time, the students are much more apt to pay attention and understand the importance of the exotic experience of handling/using the 1945 volume of the Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications or a Congressional Record volume from 1918. 😉

I find OpenCongress to be a very user friendly and a convenient “one stop shop” for learning about legislation. Students in my library instruction classes seem to love using it, so if it gets them excited about government information, then I love it too!

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