Alternative Spring Break at Georgetown Law

I had a great week interning at the Georgetown Law Library this week through my school’s Alternative Spring Break program. It was the best! Here’s a synopsis of what I did.

Usability testing

First, I got to help run usability testing sessions using TechSmith’s Morae software. The librarian I was working with this week, Sara, was testing a new version of the GLL (Georgetown Law Library) website homepage. She had recruited 12 students, staff and faculty to take part in the study.

My role on this project was to man Morae and enter users’ task start and stop times, add observations and log quotes.  We actually tweaked some of the tasks along the way to test different aspects of the page.  This wasn’t ideal, as at the end we actually had 6 distinct studies instead of 1, but it worked for our purposes.

At the end, I  put together a report that provided an overview of participant comments, results of a post-test survey, some high-level observations about places users ran into problems, and a series of questions to include in the next library survey that relate specifically to users’ website needs and experiences.

Law School Website Inventory

I also worked on taking screenshots of law school website elements and adding them to a big database as part of a project that Roger, the head librarian, is working on.  This was pretty straightforward, but in focusing on navigation, social networking, bullets, and search I came up with a few general recommendations. So to all you law schools out there:

  1. Keep navigation consistent through the entire site.  I can’t even believe how often people will have a flashy (often Flash-based) homepage, usually with some kind of vertical navigation, and then completely change the navigation structure for subsequent pages.  It’s so disorienting.  Some websites even change the navigation from section to section, which gives me the same feeling I had when forced to ride the ZIPPER at the Champlain Valley Fair a few years ago.  Nauseous, dizzy, stuff falling out of my pockets.
  2. Two rows of navigation on top of one another: avoid at all cost.  Sorry Berkeley, but it ain’t workin’. It’s a simple rule of Gestalt Psychology (rule of proximity) – elements that are close to one another seem related.  Alumni and Giving?  Ok…but Admissions and Law Library?  Doubtful.  And the inconsistent relationships make it even more confusing.  I digress!
  3. Segregate audience-based, topic-based, and task-based navigation. Some websites mix these navigation schemas (i.e. ‘About, For Students, Faculty, Explore Careers’), but some schools, like Harvard, seem to get it right by visually differentiating links that are intended for an audience from links that are subject-based.  This helps keep things consistent for users, who might be confused if they see verb-based terms mixed with nouns, and audience terms swimming amongst topics.
  4. Let prospective students see your Facebook page.  Lots of law school websites seem to want to hide their community – they only let current students/staff/community members access the school’s facebook page.  It’s a lost opportunity to display a major asset, the other students at the school.  Maybe it’s a control thing, I’m not sure.

Homepage and navigation suggestions

Because I thought it would be fun, I prepared a report that gave suggestions on improving the new homepage prototype.  I went through the 1st and 2nd level navigation carefully and worked on removing unnecessary words and improving consistency.  I also make some suggestions on moving some of the homepage elements around to highlight certain elements and take the emphasis off others.  I knew I didn’t have all of the background information to make all of these types of decisions, so I made suggestions lightly and hoped that they might open a discussion.

One of my main suggestions was to gather more information from users.  Via interviews, more testing, surveys, or even casual discussions.  It will give the library a much-needed decisionmaking power when they are trying to determine which elements should be higher or lower on the page, which should be relegated to lower-level pages, etcetera.

Great times

Overall, great times!  All of the staff were extremely nice to me during my week stay, and Roger and Sara gave me an awesome coffee mug at the end of the week.  They both were great, especially Sara who had to deal with me every day.

Today we had a ‘Southern Cuisine’ brunch at work that was put on as part of black history month.  A bunch of women made an amazing spread that included something called ‘scrapple,’ which is some kind of pounded-looking meat.  I had a little bit of almost everything and felt revived instead of drowsy afterward.  Southern cooking!

DC has been so great.  I love the feel of the city, the shiny shoes and white buildings, the metro station floors so clean you could roll around on them without feeling filmy.  I saw John Grisham!  I took a video of him.  He spoke at Georgetown about a few of his books.  John Grisham!  Very exiting.  I also met some very interesting people at random events, one who spent time in the peace corps in Mongolia, and another who grew up on the island of St John in the Caribbean.

I am completely exhausted after my week, but it’s been the best experience.  Thanks to SI and Georgetown!  Pics to come.


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