Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Why Librarians Should Eat Their Own Dog Food

I am on a local task force investigating the deployment of the next version of Microsoft's Sharepoint Service. During the first meeting the convener kept referring to us as the dog food group and that we would be "eating our own dog food." Since I had not heard this phrase before I did what any librarian would do - I went to the Wikipedia and Google.

The metaphor is that a company "eating its own dog food" not merely considers the value of the product for consumers (i.e. whether the dog will eat the dog food), but is a consumer of the product. As a great example, a recent article in BetaNews describes how Microsoft no longer releases any software that it is not first using in production in house. In fact, Microsoft indicates this approach ultimately saves the company staff time!

In software development to "eat [one's] own dog food" refers to a point at which a product under development is delivered, in rough state, to all on the project for use. These early versions may contain bugs, crash often, lose data or otherwise be unusable. It is a way of verifying that the product works under real-world conditions. This approach makes the staff feel the pain before our customers feel it.

The problem as I see it is that all too often librarians come up with ideas for services but really do not fully understand all the aspects of (including technical support!!!) before moving ahead with planning and deployment. The library using it's own products and services before general availability has four primary benefits:

  1. Librarians are familiar with using the products and services they develop.

  2. Library staff have direct knowledge and experience with its products and services.

  3. Customers see that the library has confidence in its own products and services.

  4. Library staff, with perhaps a very wide set of technical skills, are able to discover and report bugs in the products and services before they are released to the customers.
So, as a standard part of the innovation process libraries should indeed be eating their own technology dog food first in order to see how good it is. We should be actively using some aspect of the products and services we offer in a production environment before we offer them to our customers.

For example:

  • To gain a better understanding of how IM would work for virtual reference services shouldn't librarians be using IM in other aspects of their jobs; e.g. communicating with each other?

  • To support wireless and mobile devices staff should be using them to perform basic staff functions, such as working in the stacks?
  • If a library offers a laptop distribution service shouldn't the staff be using laptops themselves?

  • If a library provides digitization hardware for customer use shouldn't the staff assisting these customers be engaged in digitization projects?

  • If the library is considering rolling out RSS feeds wouldn't it make sense that library staff be using them first?

Sure, it will take time for the staff to get use to the taste and texture. Sure, they may not like it at first and wonder why they can't go back to their old food.

In the end we should never expect our customers to eat what we are not willing to eat ourselves. Sphere: Related Content

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