LOC seeks more funds

The increasing popularity of the Library of Congress' THOMAS World Wide Web site and the organization's expanding effort to digitize historical documents in its collection have required the Library to request an additional $5.2 million for its fiscal 1999 information technology budget.

Librarian of Congress James Billington this month appeared before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee to request a total of $369.3 million for fiscal 1999— a 6.5 percent increase over this year's budget. A large portion of that increase is needed to fund the Library's attempts to ratchet up its automation efforts, he said.

Billington said the funding will be used to upgrade the Library's Legislative Information System, adding content to the National Digital Library (NDL), installing the Integrated Library System and a modern copyright system, purchasing workstations needed to ensure Year 2000 compliance and increasing computer security.

Billington said money appropriated for automation in the late 1980s and early 1990s produced successful projects that have whetted users' appetites for even more online services.

"In the scant three-and-one-half years since we launched the [NDL], the popular response to the content we are offering has continued to astound us," he said. "In fiscal 1996, our Internet transactions numbered 134 million; in fiscal 1997, they increased more than two-and-a-half times to 345 million."

Donald Scott, the deputy librarian of Congress and chief operating officer, said much of the increase in Internet usage has been due to the success of the THOMAS Web site, which offers users access to information such as the text and status of pending legislation. "THOMAS is receiving 2 million hits per day, and that is increasing," Scott said, noting that use of the site quadrupled in the last fiscal year.

Billington said the NDL project will step up its efforts to make the Library's collection available online. "The [NDL] will make millions of interesting and important items...available online in local communities throughout America by the Year 2000," he said. "In the past month, for example, the Library has put online a virtual Lincoln Library and 8,000 letters of George Washington."

A spokesman for Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the committee, said Warner believes the Library's budget increase request is reasonable. "We feel that the purposes for which they want to use the money are beneficial," he said.

Scott testified that about one-third of the Library's 127 mission-critical systems are Year 2000-compliant. He said the agency is requesting $2 million to replace one-third of the systems that will not be repaired to meet Year 2000 requirements. The Library is working to upgrade the remaining third, he said.

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