Internship Week 2: Review (Or: Sensing Out the Position)

Two weeks are now, officially, under my belt. The feeling of confidence and the awareness of challenge run vibrantly through my veins. The experience at ODC has, so far, been outstanding. The best internship offers you insight into a world you never knew existed, and it’s safe to say working in the realm of Open Data in Cambodia offers nothing short of discovery and exposure.

Scheduling

Scheduling comes two-fold. On one hand, I have been going into the office five days a week, from approximately 8:00AM to approximately 5:30PM. With the upcoming week, there is a four-day-long weekend because of Pchum Ben Festival. The following weeks I will be dropping the internship to four days a week in the office. Scheduling-as-concept is important because I am in a position here the internship could, if I wanted it to, consume quite a lot of my time. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Checking up on e-mails and doing research in my off-hours could effectively help the organization, and I am all for that. But have to find a balance that will ensure I do not get burnt out, will allow me to succeed in my other course (on Project Management), learn Khmer, and engage in other projects that I’m interested in. Like travel. Like the Arts. Like my own writing. Like finding a part time job.

Muli-tasking and scheduling can be hectic, at times, because there’s so much going on at ODC. From the internal duties and responsibilities to the outreach-centered participation within the community, “librarian” and, for lack of a better term, “information consultant,” ends up meaning many things depending on the time of day, and the given context/situation. I’m learning more and more to find my position one of flow and flexibility.

Activities and Tasks

You’re working for an open data website in Cambodia, but what exactly are you doing? I imagine people asking this whenever I give them the elevator speech at parties and when chatting. The actual work I’m working on is enticing and diverse. Here are just a few of the tasks and projects I’ve found myself dabbling in.

  • The Library. ODC has a fairly-functional digital library catalog that features links to soft copies (electronic texts) housed on their server (all available through Creative Commons/the public domain). The catalog also has records on their print collection, which is completely disorganized and for internal use only. The digital catalog, available to the public, is my primary interest. But: I am going through the entire catalog, which has (for better or worse) a consistent presence of errors throughout. Spelling, grammar, and misappropriated fields are just some of the issues I’m tackling. For the librarians who are reading this, I’ve had to also audit the entire directory of authority files and change personal authorities to corporate and delete those authorities which are completely unused. The library project is my bread and butter: it’s what I’m hoping to sort out by the end of my time at ODC. Working on the library also involves applying the taxonomy to the records, a task I will describe (in detail) in the future.
  • Advisory. When it comes to the internal goings-on at ODC, there are many responsibilities for everyone on the team. The team, after the head of the project (Terry) and the research/volunteer coordinator (Pinkie), is composed of mappers, IT folks, and editors. And Kim, the research intern (who is collecting resources and working on a research paper). Many of the team members are young and learning, as Pinkie puts it respectfully. And so, though I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in the ways of design, taxonomy, databases, or NGO-writing, I have been able to advise many projects and meetings with the experiences and opinions I have. My largest concern is being an adviser but not a controller; I love the idea of supporting the project, but when it comes to making decisions, I am conscious of leaving the decisions to the others.
  • Outreach. Whether it’s going to events (see below) or helping manage social media (like Twitter or Facebook), part of my workflow involves making the library visible. In many ways, this is a step up from my last library project, which had been a project for setting up an ILS, a library system, but not having enough time to promote the library after the library was setup and, for the most part, running. As ODC relies on fresh data to be relevant to its user population, outreach is very important. And while Kim is able to secure many, many documents for the library through her studies, and I can certainly find one or two when analyzing and critiquing catalog records, the eventual goal is to automate/streamline the process for submissions to the repository. And visibility is, of course, always important. As you can imagine, my SEO background is going to be applied in the near future. Particularly because the library site is far away from optimized.
techcamp_phnompenh

Working with some amazing visionaries on an anti-trafficking concept at TechCamp.

  • Explorer. Recently I had the opportunity to co-facilitate workshop sessions at TechCamp Phnom Penh. As a representative for the ODC, I was also an explorer of ideas and concepts. When you think of the word “conference,” you think: networking, networking, networking. And there was networking, sure. But the exposure to the many organizations operating within Phnom Penh was most valuable to me. I’ve never worked underneath an NGO before, and I’ve never been privy to the mentalities and faculties and agencies of NGOs . . . so to get “thrown into the fire” has been a bit challenging. I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity of TechCamp so quickly. Similarly, next week I will start to see more libraries in the city thanks to a personal tour from Margaret Bywater. The merge of practical experience and exploration is what makes this internship most ideal.

Responsibilities and Roles

Many people at ODC wear many hats. The best analogy I can make is to he childhood playground: roles within games are quick and change every five minutes. Sitting in the office, I may spend an hour working on the catalog, then have to go sit in on a relational database or geo-tagging meeting. I may be assisting with editing and vocabulary (for English challenges) one minute, then helping convert taxonomic elements another. When do I find time to read about the materials in the catalog? When do I find time to do all my networking?

In an environment like ODC, flexibility is the number one quality to embody. And with flexibility comes patience. Breathe. Take a step back and view the situation and the timeline every so often. Because there is so much going on, time moves quickly. (Or at least perception of time does.) It’s important to slow down as often as possible to see the qualities of the activities that are often presented through quantifiable means. “I can do this and this and this and this” means nothing if the actor can’t talk about their actions, can’t process them and present them. I am not an expert on workflow and time management, which is why I’m writing about it right now. By the end of the internship, which I hope does not appear out of nowhere, I hope to have a better understanding of juggling not only actions but the ideas behind those actions.

Additionally, and this might be the most important part, I take on the role of “friend.” Everyone at ODC is friendly, and many of us love to go out for lunch with one another. To get drinks. To meet up and work on other projects. To text each other in the middle of the night, or comment on our Facebook posts. Being personable and recognizing that team members are also personable make the experience not only pleasant, but augmented on an educational level. It makes it exciting to go into work each day. It turns ugly, seemingly-impossible challenges into those that can be turned on their sides and defeated.

Some Links

On a final note, I did want to start posting some links to articles and resources I’ve been discovering week-over-week. Here is the first batch!

Articles

Orgs and Projects

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Internship Week 1: Review (Or: Welcome to the ODC Team)

I meant to write this post earlier, but I have recently come down with a slight cold and the Western medication I’ve subjected myself to has taken hold of me. Plus, I finally have the time to rest when my body says rest, so why not? Somehow I managed to wake up early this morning (maybe going to sleep at 9:30PM helped) and since rubbing my eyes and showering, I have lubricated the senses with a duly significant quantity of coffee so that I can respond to the extraordinary first week of my internship at Open Development Cambodia. Let’s begin, shall we?

ODC is run by the Human Rights-focused East West Management Institute. While ODC is trying to become its own NGO, the process is quite long and involved. So for now, the ODC team exists within the walls of East West (technically on the top floor of the building) and collaborates/communicates with specialists at East West. The setup is quite good, actually, because aside from Terry Parnell, the ODC team is young. And, as coordinator Pinkie re-iterates time and time again, everyone on the team really is still learning. I should mention, as an aside, that while Terry serves as a guide and stakeholder for the project (since it was she who conceived the idea and had it really kick off last year), many of the actual processes and sub-projects within ODC are managed by the team itself, a team that is young and full of energy.

Due to space and time constraints, I’m going to write about the individual team members down the road. For now, here is how the project is broken up: one volunteer and research coordinator, two editors, three IT specialists, three mappers, two interns (including me), and one part-time volunteer. On top of this core team (who I sit with every day), there are numerous folks at East West who provide legal and administrative support. The team could grow significantly through even more volunteers (and the project does need a Khmer-speaking part-time librarian), but at this point, the team is broken down as above.

So, the first week. The first week for me was, as in all internships, about acclimation. This is the first internship I’ve had where I’m not starting out from scratch. That is, I know a lot about what I’m doing in the library environment and can easily find the answers if I don’t know. With Margaret’s help, too, the learning curve is not my largest obstacle. I would argue that learning basic skills is often an internship’s primary focus, and so I am captivated by getting to skip that step. Well, let me back up: I am not skipping the step, but rather the skills I’m learning are more about refinement and mutation, more about taking what I already know and finding new ways to augment that knowledge.

I haven’t received a digital copy of my responsibilities (which I helped draft), so I can’t post that, but here are my tasks and duties over the next few months (divided into buckets): correct the current records in the digital catalog; manage new resources brought into the library (physical and digital); enhance the functionality of the OPAC and online library to improve on-site experience; conduct outreach for document/resource retrieval; assist the ODC team in discussions and decision-making on data-bases, geo-tagging, SEO, etc; contribute to ODC’s social media presence. I do believe those are all the major responsibilities. I most likely am missing a few.

So far I have been privy to nearly all of the above. On Day 1 I met the team (who are all youthfully energized and incredibly intelligent and willing), and started reviewing the website resources and figuring out my personal desk setup. I also read the entire manual for NewGenLib, the library system that’s housing the catalog and digital collection at ODC. On Day 2, Margaret stopped by to give me the low-down on the library and we did some basic troubleshooting. I also got to meet John Weeks, who is on the board of ODC, and some techies who were curious about ODC’s work. I also got to sit in on editorial meeting (which occurs weekly) and discuss relational databases.

The week continued with me reviewing catalog records (though I did not have a system in place) and observing the standards that had been put in place for the thousands of resources in the catalog. It’s been argued that there are only 1,000 resources, but I have seen the accessioning and the ID numbers go well beyond the number “1,000.” I now have been systematically reviewing the items in the catalog (one by one) by browsing by author. It is a slow but necessary manual process. The MARC records had been added or modified by previous catalog folks, and unfortunately in some cases it’s clear they did not have the correct experience to create fully descriptive records. While there is not enough time to be 100% complete in cataloging (subject cataloging is essentially out the window), I have identified the fields and sub-fields to use as an internal standard going forward.

I should note the largest challenge: the taxonomy. The library is getting ready to implement its taxonomy by way of WordPress to allow easy discovery for news articles. The categories within the taxonomy were created shortly before I arrived (which is a relief), but the site still hasn’t transformed to the state they want it in for browsing. The challenge for me as librarian is knowing the taxonomy and finding a way to add, probably through the 653 field in MARC21, the correct data (IE: tag each document in the library with its corresponding taxonomic label). This task would require essentially a degree of work comparable to subject cataloging, though perhaps slightly less, since the vocabulary is already defined. Actually, I have a meeting with Margaret today to figure out the best methodology for implementing the taxonomy into the library.

I’m going on and on about the library, but I should also mention that I’ve had the pleasure of doing some initial outreach and networking since I’ve arrived. On Friday, there was the Geeks in Cambodia website launch party, where I met educators and GIC folks and discussed the nature of technology in Cambodia with them. In this case, it’s clear that there had been a need for a Khmer-language outlet for local Cambodians, for the sake of learning about emerging and recently-emerged technology, and the group met that need. Immediately following this party, which I attended with Pinkie, we flew off to visit the entire team for a work party dinner. As you can imagine, the ODC team enjoys partying. From the delicious food to the numerous beers, we socialized, exchanged information, and had a great time. It was the perfect kick-off to what I hope is a fabulous three (or more) months here.

The following night, on Saturday, thanks to Margaret’s invitation, I got to attend the Youth Star annual donor dinner, which was a very ritzy party in the theme of the American 1920s. Complete with flappers dancing on the main floor, endless wine to match endless discussions, and some amazing humanitarian and education work displayed, the event was enthralling. While it was not the ideal space to network about the library, I was privy to a certain flavor of philanthropic culture in Cambodia that I probably would not get elsewhere.

So, let me summarize how the first week went: it was great. Simply great. The support and excitement of the ODC team, matched with the unique and compelling work (and work space), fill this experience with potential. As I continue working on the catalog, and creating processes to help enhance the flow of information to the ODC library collection, I will be able to learn about optimizing the library on an organizational level. Essentially this internship has been the perfect follow-up to my experience working in the Audubon Center earlier this year. I know it will be even more than everything I’ve thought of over the next few weeks and so on into the rest of the internship. Who knows, though–maybe I’ll be able to secure funding and continue working on the library once my internship (proper) is over!

Preparing to be “Open” at ODC in Phnom Penh

Tomorrow I will begin my internship at Open Development Cambodia (hereafter: ODC). When you enter a space that is dealing with being “open,” you have to ponder what it means to be “open.” You have to ask yourself this question both as it relates to the current terms and their definition, as well as how each term might develop in the future.

The biggest terms under our umbrella, “open,” terms which a lot of people have heard of (even if they don’t understand them or understand them fully) are “open access” and “open source.” Despite major differences between the terms, the latter term is certainly the more common, as some of the most popular computer software applications take advantage or are based on open source technology: Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome, and Linux are all open source. In some cases, even library systems like NextGenLib, used at ODC, are open source and available to be used for free. As I was made aware when I chose OPALS as an open source ILS for the Seward Park Library, open source might equate to vulnerability. But it also inspires community and camaraderie.

You might describe something as “open” the same way you would describe something as “free.” Some people might use “accessible” as a synonym to “open.” When it comes to information and information systems, however, I would argue “open” is a blanket modifier describing a philosophy or system of ethics, particularly of paramount importance to the digital age. When I think of “open” I think of not only the content that is being delivered and received through a system, but also the reasoning behind bringing the information within the content through the system. As defined on Wikipedia, “open access” is:

the practice of providing unrestricted access via the Internet to peer-reviewed scholarly research. It is most commonly applied to scholarly journal articles, but it is also increasingly being provided to theses, scholarly monographs, book chapters, and entire books.

And “open source” is defined as:

refers to a computer program in which the source code is available to the general public for use and/or modification from its original design. Open source code is typically created as a collaborative effort in which programmers improve upon the code and share the changes within the community. Open source sprouted in the technological community as a response to proprietary software owned by corporations.

Regardless of proper definition, in an open culture, information is brought to the public free of charge and in a welcoming, inviting way. Think Wikipedia. Think Archive. Think of public libraries. But! We must never forget that what is public may be paid for, and what is paid for may notbe public. Copyright issues. Information ownership. These countering terms are challenging to deal with, and “open” is a term that deals with them. In some cases we run into issues of creative exploration and integrity. Does having the source code of your software available to everyone help or hinder the mission and vision of your design? If you have information freely available to the public through open access, does that benefit the authors of the work (and the information therein), or is there a stunt to competition?

This is the first time I’ll be dealing with that which is open on a broad scale. And while I have some exposure to openness through my previous library project, and through some coursework, I only have touched the iceberg. But this is an iceburg that is slowly melting, becoming part of the ocean, so to speak. I believe that as we move forward, being more open will be more common in more spaces. The joy of being ethical and beyond the constraints of capitalism, and the building of communities through access and greater sources of obtainable knowledge, will become more and more digestible and attractive to Western countries like the United States, and Eastern countries like Cambodia. In fact, it’s not science fiction, a pipe dream, or otherwise: there are already vast cultures that have long-since been established. Arguably, cultures have always existed championing that which we call “open access” today. But I will post about those later.

For now, a brief update: first, I met with Terry, Tree (the new Director of ODC), and Margaret (my adviser) at East Meets West (the parents org) early last week, where I learned about some of the major current needs with ODC’s digital library. There are many, many things that need to be done and they all involve decisions that someone needs to make. Who, you might ask, will be making the decisions? Well, most likely Margaret and I. I have been deemed “librarian” by Terry (though I do understand how sacrilegious that status is for someone who has not actually held a library title in an actual library, or for someone who does not yet have an MLIS just), and so while I do feel awkward being “librarian,” I may have to bite the bullet and go with it: maybe I will finally be able to call myself this sacred term and move on with my life. We shall see. I also, during the meeting at ODC, met the entire team that creates and maintains the website, and manages the flow, organization, and display of information. It’s a youthful and energetic team of Cambodians and they all seem very, very awesome. I am sure I will have plenty to say after I have worked with them for some time.

In addition to the meeting, I had the opportunity to meet up later in the week with Pinkie, the volunteer and research coordinator over at ODC. She will be my point of contact going forward regarding all of the work that needs to get done, scheduling, coordination, sub-projects, and so on. Pinkie is truly awesome and knows Seattle so we’re already on positive ground. It was a fantastic meeting. We discussed life, art, and (briefly) a sense of the information needs here in Cambodia. We also came to grips with the fact that I’m starting my internship tomorrow, Monday, and will be thrown into the madness like Dorothy in the tornado. Well, maybe the madness is more constructive. But in any case, cheers to all. This is going to be an intensive test as to my abilities as a library enthusiast, and my interest in all that is open. I will try to post twice a week, though there are no promises.

Preparing for the Internship, Preparing for Life in Cambodia

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Greetings! I arrived just under a week ago to Phnom Penh. I had been traveling with my friend, the poet Jason Conger, throughout Southeast Asia for 4.5 weeks prior. We visited Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Vietnam. We were in jungles, on islands, in cities, and beyond. I’m still publishing the countless pictures I took from our adventures. After we parted ways, I took the six hour bus ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, stayed in a fancy boutique hotel room for a night, and then was ushered into an apartment located near the Senate on Street 63. This was all due to friends of friends and the wonderful budding of a local Cambodian/expat network here. And now I’m here. In Phnom Penh. And for the first time since I’ve arrived, I am starting to put my fingers to the test and write some reflections on myself as a student, as a library enthusiast, and as a lover of all-things-information.

Let’s back up, though. Why did I move to Cambodia? At the University of Washington, where I am a graduate student at the Information School (or iSchool), internships are not required but are encouraged. The DFW, or directed fieldwork, is a for-credit internship aligned with a light academic structure (taking place during a formal academic quarter) that is open enough to accommodate the student and organization/business a la a traditional internship. I wanted to partake in an internship to gain more practical experience, follow up the project management from my independent study at Seward Park, and to continue to apply theory into the tangible universe of librarianship.

Also, I had never studied abroad during my undergraduate years, and I had always felt a bit a guilty for losing out on the opportunity of a lifetime, as so many young students comment. So doing just that, studying librarianship and information management abroad, as a grad student, seemed more than ideal. Plus, money was saved from my time at ADP Cobalt, and I had the logistics and resources to allow me some room for adventure. All the lights were green, the flags said go, and I was off.

Cambodia specifically struck me as a place to go to learn because I did not know much about it. I didn’t know about the people, the culture, the government, the history, or anything, really. It felt like a fresh slate, a clean space, a blank canvas to study and grow. One of my dear friends and collaborators from Philadelphia, Linda Thea, told me a little bit about how her family escaped the Khmer Rouge and was able to relocate to America. That was years ago. Aside from that, nothing. I don’t remember studying Cambodia in high school. I don’t remember watching the Killing Fields growing up. I don’t think I really knew anything about the country. Not even where to find it on a map.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before I would gain that introductory knowledge, where I would invest in knowing about where I would be studying. But first I needed the confirmation that Cambodia would happen for me, that there would be an academic, DFW opportunity here. (Granted, since moving here I realize that every day there are countless opportunities all over this city, and country, but I am a student and I do intend on graduating on time!) Originally, to be honest, I had my eyes on the Singapore National Library Board. Later on, people I told about this idea would say that studying there would have been much like being back in the United States. Whether or not that statement is true is beyond me, but I understand their comments–both the USA and Singapore, to be extremely general, have resources for their national libraries; though I would argue Singapore’s may be a bit more prepared for the future and expectations of the people in the future than the United States’s Library of Congress.

After getting rejected from my proposal to study at the Library Board, I asked my adviser, Marie Potter, if she had any leads. Wanna Net, Cambodian librarian extraordinaire, had actually studied and got his MLIS degree from the same program that I’m in, just a few years ago. This was the contact that would lead to my moving here. Wanna helped me meet Margaret Bywater, who is now my formal adviser over here, and we’ve been exchanging communication ever since, crafting (as they say) a plan or outline for what I’ll be working and who I will be working with over the next few months. Here’s where things get interesting.

Both Wanna and Margaret are staff at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), and they are both doing amazing things there and elsewhere (more on initiatives in Cambodia soon!). Originally they were delighted that I had inquired and wanted to volunteer/intern with them. It was a definite possibility. This agreement, which required a hefty, specific proposal (though I probably overdid it, to be honest), actually happened over the course of a couple of months between late 2012 and early 2013.

Fast-forward to now. As anyone who is following Cambodian News knows, Phnom Penh is a rather busy place, politically speaking. Due to acknowledged corruption and a fairly popular opposition to the current party in government, mass demonstrations/prayers/protests (the term changes by the minute here) are occurring on a regular basis and a degree of tension fills the air. How does this affect my upcoming DFW? In significant ways.

Originally I was supposed to study and work on projects at RUPP. Now that political challenges have arisen, I have been denied the internship at RUPP. There are several possible reasons for this, and I do not want to admit to knowing the answer, because clarity is at a minimum at this point. Out of respect to the institution, I won’t go into the details, but if you’re curious about some of the theories I have, please reach out to me. In any case, despite the news above, I am extremely happy to say that all is not lost.

Part of the plan, originally, was to assist Open Development Cambodia (ODC) with their digital library. The ODC deserves an entire post to it on its own, so I won’t go into the details of the organization (in fact, you can read about it on their website, or check out their parent organization, East Meets West, for even more related projects). What was previously a potential supplementary project has now become the spotlight of the DFW. Tomorrow I have a meeting with Margaret and Terry Parnell (the ODC’s project manager) to discuss possibilities. Just for fun, here is a quote from the ODC on what it really is:

Open Development Cambodia is an online hub compiling freely available data in a ‘one-stop shop’ to help consolidate access to up-to-date information about Cambodia, using an ‘open data’ approach. By making materials available to all users, the site intends to facilitate stronger communication between public, private and international sectors.

When you think of a digital repository, what does it mean to you? A collection of electronic documents? An aggregation of links? A combination of both? With ODC, I will have the pleasure of truly understanding what it means, with the added benefit–and a big one at that–of understanding Open Access from the inside-out. You often hear about Creative Commons from a legal standpoint, but the processes of ensuring the information is indeed open and not challenging copyright are both elements of an environment I have not yet entered. Plus: Cambodia. What is copyright and ownership like here? Despite the poverty and the immense division between the super rich and the super poor majority, does anyone care about copyright? And if not, does “open” become less related to “copyright” and more related to general “free access.” Keep in mind that Phnom Penh does not have public libraries. There are university libraries, but universities cost money. So how do individuals get access to reading material? How do NGOs discover valuable research? Where do people go for their news and knowledge? Is the phone and tablet here as prominent as in Western countries? I already have been privy to some hints to these questions; however, I am not yet an expert, and will carefully study the information exchange around me over the next few months.

In addition to actually working at ODC (hopefully!), I will be visiting other libraries with Margaret, and trying to find as many different people to talk to as possible. I already have met (through serendipity and otherwise) a variety of amazing individuals, and look forward to continuing to do so. I also have some librarians on-deck to meet up with over the next few months. In the meantime, if you have any questions about my experiences, about the culture, or about information here in Phnmom Penh, please feel free to comment on my blog, or find me on Twitter, or Facebook, and send me comments. I will happily respond! I will be doing the internship through December and will hopefully be in Cambodia through January (and maybe beyond if all things work out!), so there will be plenty of time to think about the broad and the narrow and everything in between.

PS: remember how I toured some countries in Asia? Well they had a lot of libraries in them, so expect to see some writing on the libraries I visited (or failed to visit due to closures) down the road.