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As a librarian, I’m pretty familiar with the concept of Metadata – the information about information that we use to catalog items in our libraries and arrange information in our websites, among other things. A concept I’m just starting to become more familiar with, however, is the concept of Metawork. This is work we do in order to work – the email processing and the time management required to get to work on time as well as to get work done by deadlines and the understanding how to attend, take notes and process work from meetings as well as general “how to make sure we can do the work we learned how to do in college or in our training” activities. These skills are rarely, if ever, taught in school – most people just sort of pick them up as they learn the ropes in their first few jobs, but those first few jobs would be far more productive and useful for both the employee and employer if the ideas behind the metawork that we all have to learn how to do is more explicitly taught.

I just finished reading a book: Charnas, Dan. Everything in Its Place: The Power of Mise-En-Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind. New York, New York: Rodale, 2017. In it, the author compares the chef’s practice of Mise-En-Place to the office worker’s need to get things done efficiently and effectively. He begins the book with a story of a *really * bad day at the office that bleeds over into the “hero’s” home life and just sounds miserable – because most of us can relate. Dan then goes on to describe a way of thinking about what is essentially metawork that happens in order for the “real” work of your office to get done.

Many of the elements of metawork I listed above (time management, meeting management, etc.) I cover in a piecemeal fashion in the classes I teach on Project Management, Personal Knowledge Management and Time/Task Management. I’m really not familiar with any course or webinar or collection of good articles that covers the entirety of what you should know before you start working, besides the details of your profession, of course. I don’t cover email management, though that is touched on in the GTD time management classes I’ve done and meeting management I’ve glanced over in various classes like my Project Management course at Library Juice Academy.

One way to tackle the problem of metawork was mentioned in R. J. Nestor’s Weekend Upgrade Newsletter on the idea of recurrant work needs to be templated. In my job, I make a fair number of training and tutorial videos and having a process that I can use as a checklist to ensure that I’ve:

  1. Created a storyboard document outlining the scenes and information I want to include
  2. Applied the template that I’ve created in Camtasia to the video and set up the production settings for each video properly.
  3. Created handouts and other documentation for each video
  4. Uploaded and posted and advertised the video to my libraries for their use

Those kinds of tasks (and this is a simplification of the actual process I go through, of course, but it hits the high points) are things I have to be able to do in order to produce the work that I’m being paid to produce by my employer. It’s a form of metawork as well – and knowing that coming up with a template that outlines the process and how to store/navigate/use that template as you do your work are all metawork kinds of skills.

So I’m toying with a metawork class, but I’m not sure where to put it (Library Juice? ALA Ecourses? Somewhere else?) and what *exactly* the course would cover, but the idea of getting a class together that young professionals could access in order to give them a bit of a leg up on how to do the work around the work they do sounds interesting to me…


Servers go boom

I’ve been dealing with servers – web servers, file servers, rented servers and servers I’ve had ultimate control (and responsibility) over for more years than I really care to admit (15? *sigh*). One thing I’ve learned in those years is that servers can and do go boom. Either they get hacked or a hard drive fails or a lightening strike hits a bit too close – whatever happens, the fact is that servers will fail – spectacularly – if you use them long enough.
Here at the library, we’ve been hacked, we’ve been hit by lightening and we’ve had hard drive failures. All have required a great deal of scrambling to recover from and all have taught me something about the management of servers.
Of course, the most important bit of server management is your backup strategy – but the part of *that* that is most important is the testing strategy. Do you regularly go into your server’s backup software and try to recover individual files from past backups? If not, all the careful configuration of your backups won’t save you if something goes wrong and you don’t notice it. I try to do testing of a single file on a single server monthly – I go in, recover a file, confirm that the file is usable and uncorrupted and then delete it from the server. That server gets marked off the list and the next month I do it again to the next server in line. I only have a few servers, so this means that every one gets tested about quarterly. If you have more servers, you may want to double up your testing. It rarely takes long – 15 minutes, usually – but it can save hours of work.
The next important bit of server management is security. There are whole areas of the IT landscape that are dedicated to security professionals. I’m not one of them. I can, however, do some basic stuff to try to keep my servers secure and then outsource the rest to the real professionals. What I do is a compulsive checking of the logs each morning as I come in (I’m hoping to consolidate that into a checking of the combined log when I come in – but there are more things to do than time in which to do it…), setting reasonable policies that allow for security considerations while giving librarians a chance to actually do their work without tripping a bunch of security wires and training the staff on security issues.
No, my library’s staff never touches the servers – directly. Except for the file server, when they store documents that might or might not be riddled with viruses. Or the web server, where they do their content creation and maintenance, or the active directory server when they set their (hopefully) strong enough to be secure, easy enough to be remembered passwords. Ok – they do touch the servers in ways that aren’t immediately obvious at first glance, so the training issue is mega-important. If your staff can sniff out a phishing email a mile away, you have one less vector through which viruses can come.

Finally, patching for updates, learning about how your servers and the network on which they live works and keeping up with the hardware status of your machines will help alleviate a lot of problems as well. Nothing is going to prevent a direct strike from a lightening bolt from doing some damage to your infrastructure – even the most robust power surge equipment can fail or be overwhelmed in a huge strike – but keeping backups that work, security policies that are effective and an attitude of lifelong learning about all the new things that can go wrong on your network is a big step toward making servers that go boom a small inconvenience as opposed to a big problem.

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