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!

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