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Digital Strategy

four cyclists riding down a road with statue in the background
Detail from Washington, D.C. Sunday cyclist in East Potomac Park by Marjory Collins, June-July 1942. Prints and Photographs Division

Digital Strategy at the Library of Congress

Libraries, cultural heritage organizations, and governments have been undergoing remarkable transformations, fueled by technology, for decades. The world  is continuously being reshaped as familiar technologies evolve and groundbreaking innovations emerge, affecting virtually every facet of our lives.

As the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress approaches digital transformation strategically, with curiosity and care. We serve Congress and the American public in a fast-changing world by maintaining our historic commitments to responsible stewardship and services, while incorporating creativity and agility. Our vast digital collections of cultural and intellectual heritage materials, our service as the research arm of Congress, and our support of creative rights require us to innovative, harness new ideas, and prioritize collaboration.

The Library pursues strategic approaches to develop digital maturity across the agency, experiments with new methods and emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, and explores how best to serve our communities. We aim to be a catalyst for transformation and to cultivate dynamic networks that move us toward our vision that “all Americans are connected to the Library of Congress.”

The Library has a long history of innovation. Some well-known digital developments include the invention of MARC (machine-readable cataloging formats) and the establishment of nationwide digital projects like the National Digital Newspaper Program (Chronicling America), the American Memory project, and the legislative information system known today as  Congress.gov. Internally, our early use of computer technology in the 1950s and ‘60s was marked by the appointment of an Information Officer and establishment of a Data Processing Office. In the 1970s we established the CONSER (Cooperative Online Serials Program) to transfer manual records to machine-readable formats, and in recent decades we created the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) and a Web Archiving program. Each of these innovations—and the many more after—built the foundation from which the Library works today to fulfill its mission within the context of other organizations and the communities we serve.

We are passionate about our collaborations across the Library, with our external partners, and with broad and differing communities—and about how those relationships add to this rich history. Ensuring that digital is “baked in” to everything we do is a Library-wide effort. The Library of Congress’s Digital Strategy Directorate focuses on three key areas: digital strategy, emerging technologies, and communities.

Detail from the Tōkaidō Bunken Ezu 東海道分間絵図(Image 7, Scroll 1)by Ochikochi Dōin and Hishikawa Moronobu, 17--?. Geography and Map Division.

Digital Strategy “Baked In”

Our new five-year strategic plan, A Library for All, emphasizes the digital transformation and maturity of the Library by integrating digital throughout its goals to Expand Access, Enhance Services, Strengthen Capacity, and Foster Innovation. With digital “baked in” to all Library goals and objectives, over the plan’s five-year term we will continue our progress and prepare for the future. In this new phase of digital maturity across the agency, we are using our experience and knowledge both to fortify our operations and to explore new approaches.

The strategic plan acknowledges that technology undergirds everything we do, from the foundations of our work to the innovative approaches that are producing unprecedented change. It confronts the implications of our digital age, including exponentially growing data sources, emerging technologies and disruptions, and the changes engendered in people’s lives and livelihoods.

The Library’s strategic plan also guides how, in the coming years, the Library will expand and test its digital transformation in the context of worldwide change. This requires collaborating across the agency and working with partners across the country and around the world to explore opportunities, study and mitigate risks, and adopt digital technologies ethically and strategically.

Detail from Le Sortie de l'opéra en l'an 2000 by Albert Robida, ca. 1902. Prints and Photographs Division.

Innovating with Technology

Experimentation with and adoption of new technologies features prominently in the Library’s strategic direction and organizational culture. While technologies such as Artificial Intelligence have the potential to revolutionize many aspects of our work, digital advances also come to bear in many smaller, less public ways.

Today, innovation is occurring throughout the Library’s stewardship, preservation, research, and copyright arms. Additionally, the Digital Innovation Division (LC Labs) enables our digital strategy and encourages innovation in and with the Library of Congress through experimentation, research, and collaboration.

As a government agency and cultural heritage organization, we must balance the legacy of our technological history with the flexibility of the new. AI tools, for example, have the potential to address data management, access, and analysis challenges that have been present in libraries for decades. The Library is approaching 200 petabytes of data, with almost 25 million records online. Applying AI to areas like digitization, quality control, search and discovery, and digital workflow automation could increase efficiency and transform how we serve Congress and the public. At the same time, AI tools are generally undertested—or even untested—with cultural heritage data and processes. Along with stewardship tailored for the sheer scale of our holdings, we must consider both the heterogeneous nature of historical archival data and our responsibility for trustworthy and authentic care. Imaginative approaches are assessed against the backdrop of their risks and benefits, and within our quickly changing world.

The same is true for all new and evolving technologies. The Library is able to make assessments and approach technology with responsibility and care because we build our work on a strong foundation of thoughtful technological integration and invention. Established regulations, directives, and policies govern all IT use at the Library. This framework is continually amended or expanded as necessary to address the opportunities and challenges posed by emerging technologies.

Detail from African American young people sharing a laugh while riding the subway by Angelo Rizzuto, February 1959. Prints and Photographs Division.

Serving Communities

The fundamental aim of the Library’s digital strategy is to better understand and meet the needs of our users. While our mission to “engage, inspire, and inform Congress and the American people with a universal and enduring source of knowledge and creativity” is broad, our vision that “all Americans are connected to the Library of Congress” is even broader. The communities of people the Library serves have expanded greatly in the last two centuries. Now, the reach of technology-enabled digital resources empowers us to consider ourselves part of America’s great network of public libraries.

With this charge, the Library has a responsibility to better serve not only our original user base, but also to reach new communities of users. Across the Library, we are identifying and seeking to engage potential and existing users with resources and services useful to them. A large component of this work is listening to the user communities themselves, exploring how they would like to use Library resources and where there are barriers to doing so, and then enhancing our services.

One program that illustrates this approach to reaching new communities is the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI), funded as part of the Mellon Foundation-funded Of the People program. This program provides financial and technical support toward the development of projects that imaginatively remix and reuse the Library’s digital collections focusing on one or more of the following groups: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic or Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color. CCDI’s advisory board and staff examine Library-wide possibilities for this work, exploring future avenues for collaboration within and outside the Library.

Detail from A Greyhound bus trip from Louisville, Kentucky, to Memphis, Tennessee, and the terminals. Girl waiting for bus by road's edge by Esther Bubley, September 1943. Prints and Photographs Division.

Looking Back: Continuous Improvement and Iteration

Building upon this rich legacy of digital innovation, the Library adopted our first agency-wide Digital Strategy in October 2019 as a companion to the FY2019-2023 Strategic Plan. This Digital Strategy presented a bold vision for throwing open the treasure chest, connecting, and investing in our future.

During the last five years, the Library made substantial progress in its plans to grow and maximize our collections use, engage our existing visitors and welcome new ones, drive collaboration and innovation, and look toward the future in all things digital. Strategic directional planning, organizational changes, major modernization initiatives, and targeted experimentation cultivated the Library’s digital maturity.

The incorporation of digital into the Library’s FY24-28 strategic plan is the result of growing digital maturity and the importance of technology to everything we do. This integration represents a new phase for all-things-digital across the agency, involving ongoing use and adoption of emerging technologies, increased understanding of and engagement with our communities, and interaction with federal agencies and cultural heritage organizations around the world.

About the Digital Strategy Directorate