Can the Library of Congress modernize for the 21st century?

Shutterstock image: Library of Congress interior.

The nation's oldest federal cultural institution faces major digital challenges in the wake of the tenure of former Librarian of Congress James Billington, widely regarded as inattentive to IT issues. The recent outage of the electronic registration system eCO at the U.S. Copyright Office, which is part of the library, was just one high-profile indication of an institution that is struggling with a course correction in terms of technology.

Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante told the House Administration Committee on Dec. 2 that it doesn't make sense for the Copyright Office to rely on the Library of Congress for its IT because the two organizations have very different functions.

"I'm not a fan of eCO. Most people are not," Pallante said, adding that the 10-year-old site is "slow and clunky" for customers and employees. She also told the committee that one-third of the Copyright Office's staff should morph into technology and data positions to keep up with a changing and increasingly mobile environment.

"The office is at a time where we need to re-envision almost everything we do," she said.

Acting Librarian of Congress David Mao told the committee he meets with new CIO Bernard Barton Jr. on a weekly basis. Mao said they've made good progress in the past two months, and the library's strategic plan for IT is nearing completion and will likely be released by the end of the year.

Joel Willemssen, managing director of IT issues at the Government Accountability Office, agreed that the library has made excellent progress, especially in the information security area, but "there's a lot more to do." He said the next step is making sure the library's CIO has adequate authority and oversight of mission-critical systems and that the library has a clear inventory of its technology assets.

According to a GAO report released in March, the Copyright Office requested more than $7 million to fund improvements, including upgrading eCO to be more accessible. However, GAO said the office did not include key information, such as three-year cost estimates and the business needs behind the investments.

GAO made 31 recommendations in its report. Willemssen told the committee that library officials have begun taking action to fix the weaknesses and are scheduled to implement all GAO's recommendations by 2018.

About the Author

Bianca Spinosa is an Editorial Fellow at FCW.

Spinosa covers a variety of federal technology news for FCW including workforce development, women in tech, and the intersection of start-ups and agencies. Prior to joining FCW, she was a TV journalist for more than six years, reporting local news in Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. Spinosa is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Writing at George Mason University, where she also teaches composition. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Click here for previous articles by Spinosa, or connect with her on Twitter: @BSpinosa.


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