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 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.
— OpenDev Cambodia (@opendevcam) September 27, 2013
- 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.
- 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.
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!
- What do you think about Open Access? by Jenica Rogers
- The Open Data Future: More B2D than B2C? by Mark Boyd
- Open Data Training at the Open Knowledge Foundation by Laura James
- Two-way libraries, open catalogues and the future of sharing culture by Phil Minchin
- What’s the point of open data? by Martin Tisne
Orgs and Projects