[Series] So What Do You Do? Interning for Government Website Usability

This post is part of a new series called “So What Do You Do?” in which LIS students talk about their experiences as interns. We want to showcase the wide range of things people are doing in the world of library and information science.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Steve Ammidown, and I’m a student in the Archives, Records and Information Management specialization at the University of Maryland’s iSchool.  My undergraduate background is in sociology and gender studies; prior to that I spent nine years working in the corporate sector as a paralegal and office administrator.

So what do you do?

I’m just finishing up as a Usability and User Experience intern at the U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (and people wonder why acronyms are so popular in the federal government?) here in Washington, D.C.

The program I was working with is known as First Fridays.  At least once a month, we do live usability tests of federal government websites, at no cost to the agency or department who owns the site.  I’ve been assisting with the live tests, and taking part in guideline-based evaluations (often a first step in the usability testing process).  I’ve also been working on trying to translate the work we do into lay terms.  I’ve written a number of blog entries for the DigitalGov blog, and created a before and after gallery on our website to showcase some of the changes sites have made after our testing.

Are you finding your coursework helpful in that position? In what way?

Welllll- yes and no.  It’s still my first semester, so I’m taking broader introductory courses. We did a usability project as part of my information technology class, and I found the lessons from my internship quite useful there. I also found things I learned during that section of class useful during my internship.

That being said, on a theoretical level, this internship combined with my coursework got me thinking about some big ideas…

What would you say are the lessons you’ve taken away from this job/internship/etc?
The honeycomb of user experience

Peter Morville developed this honeycomb diagram to show the inter-dependency of all of the elements of user experience.

Funny you should ask!

The core tenets of usability go way beyond websites. Usability really addresses the ways in which those with information provide it to their end users.  Systems designed solely for the convenience of their creators or the protection of information inevitably create barriers to the information they hold.  This applies to, say, online catalogs just as much as it does physical spaces.  For example, an archives with limited hours and strict user rules is doing a disservice to at least part of its customer base. That’s a usability issue.

Overall, this internship has me thinking a lot about how information spaces both real and virtual can take a more open and welcoming stance towards a broader group of users. Thinking in terms of Joanna’s and Nicole’s recent posts on librarians and techies, this is a spot where the two fields really need to meet and work together.

How do you think this will help with your career?

When I started this internship, I was a little skeptical about how well it would apply to the rest of my life.  But the principles of usability have a far-reaching impact on any field where they’re applied.  As information science continues to evolve, I think there’s always going to be a place for people who can bring an understanding of this more “touchy-feely” stuff to the table. In short- jobs!

What’s your take on usability and user experience as it applies to our information spaces? Have you done any usability testing?

Interested in sharing your internship experience? Contact us at hacklibschool@gmail.com.

8 replies

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