Dogfooding or Eating your own dogfood is a concept in software development that says that companies should use their own software. This approach is meant to help developers experience what their customers will.The hope is that this will find bugs quicker and improve usability. It can reveal problems that only become obvious if you use something day to day.

Libraries care about our patron experience. We want all our services to be easy to find and use. We want things to be very convenient for patrons, and we want to know if things don’t work well. Unfortunately, it is often the case that patron’s don’t tell staff about problems, or if they do tell someone, that person doesn’t pass on the information. Libraries also normally do not have the budget for UX experts and design consultants or any training in UX so we are making it up as we go when we add new services. Overall, most libraries do a great job, but we always want to do better.

Taking the concept of dogfooding and applying it to libraries means using the patron side of things. Need to look up a book, use the opac instead of your circulation computer. Need to check out a book? Use the self checkout, or wait in line at the circ desk. Sit in the patron’s chairs, use the public access computers and the public wifi. By using things as a patron we gain insight into what works and what doesn’t. We experience what our patrons do so problems become more visible. We don’t need to wait on someone to tell us our chairs are uncomfortable. We will gain a seat of the pants knowledge of how comfortable our chairs are.

I think this is a healthy exercise for library staff. If something isn’t working, we can fix it. If something is inconvenient, we can find a better way to set it up. At worst, you can sympathize with a patron who complains, and at best you can explain how there is already a plan to fix the problem. In the end, we all care about the patron experience. This is a simple way to help improve that experience.