Mobile App Reviews: Congressional Record
Reviewed by Sara Stephenson (June 2014):
The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings of the United States Congress. The Daily Edition of the Congressional Record is located online through the Government Printing Office’s (GPO) Federal Digital System (FDsys). Here, users can browse the Congressional Record by date, or perform keyword searches within the collection. In January 2012, the Library of Congress, in cooperation with the Committee on House Administration and the GPO, launched the Congressional Record app for iPad devices (Committee on House Administration, 2012). The app was updated in July 2012 to include access for iPhone and iPod Touch users. The Congressional Record app provides users with mobile-friendly PDF versions of the Daily Edition of the Congressional Record. It also displays the most recent bills, resolutions, treaties, and nominations being considered on the floor of the House and Senate. The app covers the period from January 4, 1995 through the present day.
Forte et al. (2011) note that the Congressional Record “makes for surprisingly interesting reading” (p. 71). As the world goes mobile, many followers of the Congressional Record are likely to want to access these interesting documents on a mobile device. The app’s target audience is this group of individuals. FDsys is not designed to be mobile-friendly, so navigating the site on a mobile device can be difficult, and searching within PDFs is not always possible. The Congressional Record app allows easy access to the information found on the full website.
The Congressional Record app functions fairly well for most users. It opens to the most recent date that Congress was in session, with links to the individual sections of the Record, as well as the entire issue. There are also links to the full text of recent bills, resolutions, treaties, and nominations. Users may browse historical editions of the Congressional Record using a calendar feature.
Home Screen of the Congressional Record app
“Select another issue” feature
Selecting a section of the Congressional Record brings up a PDF. Users can highlight and copy text and, at the top right, there is a search function, allowing keyword searches of the document. There is also a share function, from which users can email the PDF or open it in a web browser or other app. A button in the upper left provides a link back to the homepage. When using this link, the user is sometimes greeted with a message that “There is no Congressional Record for [date]. Please select another date.” Since the user just finished looking at text from that date, this is clearly a bug in the app. The user can tap the calendar, keep the same date, tap “view,” and the correct information once again appears.
“There is no Congressional Record” error
There is a major accessibility issue with the Congressional Record app. With the Voiceover feature activated on an iPad running iOS 7.1.1, the PDFs that make up the bulk of the app are overlooked. The menu options on the homepage are easily navigated using Voiceover, but when a selection is made and a PDF launches, the only accessible items are the three buttons at the top of the screen: back, search, and share. Tapping on the PDF itself provides no indication that there is anything on the screen. Though a user can swipe through the pages of the PDF, the Voiceover feature does not recognize the text and so does not read it aloud. This is a big problem, especially for an app designed by the Library of Congress and containing information from the GPO, which, as federal agencies, are required to make their electronic content accessible to people with disabilities (Workforce Investment Act of 1998, Pub. L. No. 105-220, § 508, 112 Stat. 1203). The Library of Congress is also home to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which makes this accessibility issue even more unacceptable.
Making the app accessible should be the top priority for its developers. It could also benefit from the ability to search the entire collection at one time, as is possible through FDsys. At this point, users can only search one document at a time. Unfortunately, the iOS app has not been updated since July 2012 and there is no app for Android devices, so it would appear that development of the app has stopped. The app was an initiative of the Committee on House Administration and there is little to indicate that the committee will request further development. The only mention of the app on the Committee’s website is a press release from the day the app originally launched (Committee on House Administration, 2012).
Sara Stephenson is an MLS student at the University of Maryland iSchool enrolled in the eGovernment specialization. Sara is a recipient of a Laura Bush 21st Century scholarship funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Committee on House Administration. (2012). New app for Congressional Record.
Forte, E.J., Hartnett, C.J., and Sevetson, A.L. (2011). Fundamentals of government information: Mining, finding, evaluating, and using government resources. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.