Internship Week 6: Managing Your Learning

It’s been a steady and intense week and I’ve found myself going into the office and then leaving a work day later to ask: where did the time go? As with any activity requiring you fill a position, be it an internship, job, class, or otherwise, the initial dustiness settles and things become normalized. But in such normalization, we tend to learn more about who we are as workers, what we’ve been doing wrong, what we’ve been doing right, and what we’ve taken for granted. Actually, I’ve been paying attention to “taking things for granted” quite a bit because it’s related, extensively, to culture shock. Culture shock tends to strike the hearts of transplants after a couple of months, after the craziness of the new location becomes regular, regulated, and tolerable. I can drive in traffic now without so much as batting an eye, even when I’m almost getting run over. I can go to a food vendor an understand the chances of that food vendor and I not being able to thoroughly communicate. I am starting to get adjusted to politics, both with government but with everyday life.

Of course, I’m still learning about everything, but I can sense myself coming to terms with life in Cambodia regardless of how well I know them. I’m starting to live life in a more static way. I’m okay with not going out as much. I’m okay with not spending as much time studying the language. I’m okay with watching Western films and reading articles on Western libraries. I’m okay with eating a cupcake or a doughnut or all the sorts of food I got sent from the USA by my loving mother in a recent care package. These are the amends, the agreements, people make to “feel okay.” To feel secure. To serve as a reminder that I’m not just some adventurer in a foreign land, but a guy with a history in my own country, with a behavior and interests that extend previous to (and most likely in succession to) that which I’m exploring here. It is all about balance.

That of course is not to say that I am not longer interested in Cambodia! In fact, the more meaningful relationships, the friendships that are starting to become more complex, are being born as we speak. Whether they are with my coworkers, the expats I’ve met through work or through personal life, the Cambodians I’ve met through work or personal life, or otherwise, I’m starting to learn more about everyone and understand how our timelines interact. Like a dance, the lifestyle I have adopted is one of mitigation and intersection. Being careful not to overwhelm myself but also trying not to control every action and activity, are various elements of my life here I try to foster and encourage. That being said, I have always been slightly stubborn and slightly selfish, and my drive to do new things is often dictated by what is most interesting to me. But in most cases, I sit back and enjoy the ride as it’s being created by others.

What You’ve Set Out to Do

I haven’t really gotten into the thick of the internship, but here it is, in all the gritty details (well, almost). What I’ve set out to do includes revising the library, improving the design of the library, creating a workflow for library resource allocation/selection, conducting outreach for the library for the identification of partners and collaborators, engaging in social media for the promotion of the library (and the organization as a whole), encouraging the efforts toward the taxonomy and other organizational methods being used within the website as a whole (including geo-tagging, linked data and content crossover), and assisting the team where they need help.

I enter the office Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The first thing I do is catch up on local and international news. Maybe I’ll read a transformative library article. Maybe I’ll discover a new source of documents for the library. Who knows! I follow over 100 blogs in my RSS reader, and it takes about an hour each day and an hour each night to review everything. Sound like a lot? It sure is, but it’s served me well and keeps my sightseeing capabilities in full throttle.

After browsing the swarms of content, I work on the catalog. The catalog has almost 1,050 records in it. I’ve been systematically going through every record individually to clean up grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. And non-descriptive records need to get made more descriptive. And records need their fields cleaned up. There’s still the question of geo-tagging. There’s still the question of taxonomy implementation. That will happen next, in November. And beyond, the translation of all records from English to Khmer . . . potentially a pipe-dream, but it can be done long-term. For now, it’s all about baseline editorial work from the librarian perspective. It’s gruesome and often brutal how minute the edits are, but it gives me a chance to zone out into the world of music I’ve been snagging since being here.

It takes about 1.5-2 hours (undisrupted) to go through an entire Last Name Initial worth of records. I’m done with “O.” It’s been many hours, and disruptions and distractions are numerous. But that leads me to additional work: meetings. Meetings are constant, and they are typically long. I will go out on a limb and admit that ODC’s meetings are a bit longer than is comfortable, and, respectfully, a bit longer than necessary. I think that everyone on the team knows this, and we’re all struggling to find more efficient and direct ways for getting tasks completed (but also reviewed) without elongation. I do believe that the meetings will get shorter. I do believe that a constant push-back on the length of meetings will help achieve this goal.

During meetings I lend thoughts and opinions and am supportive when necessary. In many meetings I am silent–not because I have nothing to say, but because I value the perspectives and opinions and directions of the Cambodians on the team. I will claim no expertise in any skill-set I have, and while I do think that I may have some knowledge that the others do not, at times I struggle with choosing to focus on my skills over the others. Like jobs I’ve had in the past, admitting your knowledge will create more work for you. As will be described in the section below, having additional work can often detract from your primary responsibilities. And if the core reason for being in the position you’re in is jeopardized, you will have to face disappointment at the end of the position. I struggle (in a good way) to make sure I help where I can but stay on track with what I am mostly interested in and involved with: the library.

When I’m not working on the catalog and throwing in my 100 riel at meetings, I’m tying to make the library website prettier and more usable. I love UX and I love theories on UI and I love the ability to make libraries (and anything, for that matter) sexy. Or sexier. Libraries are always sexy, but that’s obviously a bias. From the verbiage to the language, the library has needed a drastic overhaul for a while. There are many non-functioning elements on the library site as well, which need to be removed. The library, in effect, can get simpler and be easier to use for everyone. I work with the awesome IT team to accomplish this, since most of the editing involves coding expertise. I could probably make the modifications on my own, but collaborating with the IT experts is one of the subtle joys at the office.

And that’s it, really. Those are the three tasks that occur often enough to call them “my regular work.” But it’s not all I do. And in fact, if it was all I did, it would be perfectly fine, but it wouldn’t reflect my own strengths and curiosities . . . it would be a static internship that would probably pass by with the only significance being the results returned on the final day.

Confronting What You Least Expect

What the internship becomes about is something greater, something much more dynamic. It’s all about confronting what you don’t expect. Situations previously-reported regarding TechCamp and BarCamp are great examples. Communicating with researchers and discovering possible partners through seemingly-random social encounters are great examples too. But while many experiences can serve as successes, there are many we can look at as failures. Failure, for those of you who have never talked with me about it, is something I believe in strongly. As an occurrence that one can learn a lot from, and that one must encounter if they really wish to grow holistically.

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Here’s a short story about a fairly brief and painless failure I encountered earlier this week. I must preface this story by saying that others might not see it as a failure, but I certainly do. And I’m sticking to it.

The story is about the October Open House that ODC through for around 20 invited participants from NGOs, international governments, and individuals. The evening was a great success. As you can see in the above picture, there were some enthusiastic visitors who got to know a lot about ODC by coming to the office, listening to several presentations from the head honchos (Terry and Try) and the lead editor (Viceth) and the the outreach coordinator (Penhleak). Even more thrilling was the ability to visit the work spaces of the individual teams and see where the website was being made. That’s right, they visited our desks and were introduced to each team independently.

So what happened? People obviously came up to me, library intern extraordinaire, and heard my elevator speech on the library. There were probably four or five groups of audiences I was privy to communicating with. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and feel like I was able to give some great information out to visitors who legitimately needed it. There are several researchers who plan on contacting ODC in the future for further information specifically found in the library That’s great! Everything was going well, but then I was approached by a young man who asked, “What is your policy for presenting information on the website that is wrong, inaccurate, or misleading?” And: “Will you remove information that is wrong if you discover it is wrong?” And: “How do you verify that your documents are in the public domain? Do you have a process in place?”

I froze up. These are the questions you always read about in scholarly journals, hear about in your LIS course lectures, dream about being an expert on. But I realized I had fundamentally forgotten to prepare myself for these questions. In fact, every librarian in a public position should be able to have the FAQ for their library, and variations to account for being all-types-realistic, tattooed in their mind. I froze up and really wasn’t able to give a great answer. Not even a bullshit answer. I had to turn to colleagues, some of whom I didn’t even really know, some of whom weren’t even in the room, and say: “This is a question for X.” Yes, embarrassing. In Khmer, the phrase “I don’t know is” “Knyom ort yol te.” It was an ort yol te moment for me.

These things, I know, happen all the time. And in some cases it’s even more complicated. In some situations and jobs in my past there have been coworkers, some of which have been higher up in authority than me, who have said things that were simply incorrect. I’ve had to struggle with correcting them or letting the misinformation be spread for the sake of politics. I hate lying. I hate admitting I do not know. But we are not perfect. And we can not anticipate everything. The failure of not knowing to anticipate the questions asked at the open house serves as a firm reminder that many discussions need to take place, even those where I’m the only participant, in order to get a baseline understanding of how the ODC library fits in with all the theoretical that has been branded in me. I firmly believe that failures in communication and having the knowledge to support the “product” I represent are the best forms of failure. As an intern I get the intern pass, the card that says, “I’m new here, so please understand if I mess up.” Obviously that luxury won’t exist in an actual job. And obviously that luxury probably won’t fly in a month from now. Which is why the open houses and the conferences and the communications that are least expected are the ones I cherish the most. Even if there are negative emotions attached, due to embarrassment/ignorance/etc etc.

The conversation here is one that can continue on and on until the end of time, but I will leave it there for now. I think it requires a revisiting, the themes anyway, at the end of the quarter. Next time I plan on writing a little bit about cross-culturation, team communication, and subject knowledge. These ideas are all complicated and haven’t really been approached in this blog thoroughly. And so next week they will be.

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Internship Week 5: Identifying Parameters

The fifth week of the internship is rolling into the sixth. I write this in the dust of BarCamp Phnom Penh (more on that below), which has been a major test to my levels of energy, but has been an extremely rewarding opportunity providing insight into just how inspired and technologically-hyped young Cambodians are. This week I have been thinking a lot about ODC and “just who it is I work for.” I have also been thinking about ODC’s various audiences, which is a question any good resource and content manager (like a librarian) should be asking. This internship, because its nature centers on a lifestyle shift (for me, the intern) in Cambodia, becomes about much more than the swarm of elements zooming around me on a daily basis. It’s about ecology. It’s about relativity and what I’m learning about my life previous to here. And what I’m trying to larn here. And, as if stablity didn’t seem possible, the internship is about the internship. At the end of the day, I’m here to work on the ODC project and assist where I can. The learning comes through critical thought, but also through practical application.

Who You Work For

The ODC is a very complex project existing under the banner of a very complex NGO, EWMI. ODC has partners, supporters, visitors, and “users” like any other website, any other project. Of course, it has its creators as well, who form a significant basis for making decisions on the design and crafting the outline for the project as a whole. We keep our guidelines in check, though, and the users are who I am most interested about. Say what you will about stakeholders and funders: knowing first about the largest group of people who will be able to make the most out of your site’s resources is crucial.

So who are they? While I still haven’t seen the analytics to back up my understanding of the site, the people who visit and use the site include: professional and student researchers, government employees, individuals who are generally curious, and consumers of news. Notice I didn’t say casual readers. I do think that we are relatively casual about our offerings on the site, and as we are open, we certainly allow for everyone to come to our site (with wide open arms) in a tone that is welcoming, we are generally considering readers on our site to already be dedicated to finding data and information for a certain reason. We design the site more often to help provide guidance on where to find the data and information you need, without curating it in a way that everyone can digest. This may change some day, but that’s the state at the moment. And despite our library of over 1,000 indexed resources both digital and physical, those visitors to our website who will gain most success out of the library will know all about how to search and find information that can meet their information needs.

I won’t say that this is completely set in stone, as ODC is still relatively young in its process to substantially say what it’s resources are doing one way or the other, but these are some initial thoughts I’ve made on my own work, in a process of reflection, leading up to this point. I will say, though, that what’s most exciting when working on a library and its catalog and being in a time of flux and youth with the larger website means that many decisions can be made on the content of the library while the revisions of the catalog are going on. Does this seem strange? I think so, too, but what it amounts to is establishing the core, revising the catalog as necessary, but then ensuring there is a blank canvas on the front end as much as possible to allow for substantial growth. And perhaps through insight, operating on different levels at once will augment the catalog: that is, with social media campaigns, with articles and blog posts, and physical interactions during events, the catalog will grow and morph accordingly.

I’ve come across, in the past, librarians who exist in a vacuum, and I think I do occasionally as well. I think about the work I’m committed to as static, as “set and then forgotten” (set and forget it!), but this is the most dangerous mistake, and one that ignores any eye pointed to the future, one that keeps the library from existing in a place that responds to change. What change exists in an NGO may or may not be as drastic as one that is disrupting an entire thematic chain of libraries (see: public libraries in America, which are more often being shut down due to lack of support, lack of passion and a general, horrible misunderstanding of them).

Why You Work

Hopefully my general musings aren’t getting me snagged, but these are what I live for. Why I live for ODC is to help people. Librarians help people. It’s that simple. Forget about your romantic notions of old libraries with walls of books an the libraries are empty and entering the library is like a maze. I love the idea, too, but it’s not reality, and it’s certainly not how we as librarians should be thinking in an age where scrolling through endless screen is as common as walking from point A to point B. Librarians are helpers and they’re helping everyone and anyone, the researchers and other categories of site visitors, in my case, to get their information and receive it properly, receive it so that knowledge can come to fruition.

I actually think that’s one thing that many librarians lack: saying “do you understand?” “Do you get it?” Librarians shouldn’t be obligated (or restricted, because it is time consuming) to individually ask those questions to everybody that downloads a document, but there should be support where support is needed. How many times have you downloaded a document, thought that it sounded useful, but then cowered in fear because you didn’t understand the document well enough to read it? (Or hear it, or smell it, or touch it, etc?)

The librarians, and the entire staff at ODC too for that matter, should be going out of their way to provide greater degrees of interaction with all site visitors. It’s one of the hardest questions to accomplish, not only because we don’t physically interact with our patrons, our users, our visitors, but also because we’re in an age that encourages distance. Say what you will about the benefits of all-things-social, but “social” to me looks more like the Matrix than an egalitarian or democratic wonderland (or an AA meeting).

And so, without going on forever, the librarians and information stewards of the Internet, in a strange twist of fate, need to raise their voices in the previous shhh-environment. No talking has now turned into: please talk to me. And in the case of this internship, it’s fascinating to attempt to learn more about who is conducting research in Cambodia–the NGOs, the individuals, the students, the corporations, the government, and so on–and where communication with those information partners (can I claim credit for using this term first?) comes from, and how it grows. I’m curious both online (again, need more analytic data before I can start understanding that quest) and offline. I met with Chris Rogy a couple of times over the past week. He’s here on a Fulbright and doing some amazing work documenting and engaging local populations through radio. He approached ODC individually and stopped in to take a look at what ODC can offer him. Meeting with him and delivering up that advisory, that consultation, was immensely encouraging to me. But how do we get people lined up out the door asking questions like Chris was asking, questions like “What can I do with your maps? How many documents on economic land concessions do you have?”

The Internship is an Internship!

This is work. The Internship is, essentially, a job. For me, it’s difficult. For me, it’s consultative. For me, there’s a grind and there’s a creative edge to the entire scope. And for me, it’s the type of internship that everyone should experience. I’ve had many bad internship experiences (the FDA, SPL . . . ) and at least one previous good one (RIDOT). What most internships lack is growth. It’s short term, it’s relatively desperate (you’re not getting paid for all the work you do, outside of a t-shirt or a free meal or a rides now and then; though, mind you, you’re getting paid in knowledge and experience), and it’s usually so new that the “fear factor” of the job environment prevents and true conductivity from forming.

At ODC, there have been some psychological and emotional mountains to traverse (and I’m not admitting that I’m over them), but the internship has slowly grown into much more intellectual stimulation and practical application than I ever would have imagined. There is a certain idealism to the regularity and routine work that I can appreciate, and the numerous benefits of being at ODC are extravagant. This is primarily because those activities existing beyond the walls of ODC, but intricately inspired by ODC, are consistent and paradigm-shifting.

The Internship is More than an Internship!

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The past two days, at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC), the 2013 BarCamp of Phnom Penh was held. It, like my experience at TechCamp, introduced me to a lot of emerging issues withint he realms of technology and communication (including art!) here in the Kingdom of Wonder. From mobile development and design, to online education, to comic books, to the ODC’s presence by way of open data and map-making, BarCamp brought together many, many visions and threw them into a pile. I met a young coder from Thailand who traveled all the way down to Phnom Penh because a sister event in his country had been cancelled and was not very informative. I watched many young and eager attendees listen in awe to Naro and Pinkie (center, above, along with Vongseng to follow) talk about ODC’s mission and practical use of the website.

If we step out a little ways, it’s easy to see the other branches of the internship tree. From learning some of the language (hort = tired!), to learning a lot of the culture (the arts, politics, industries family, cuisine, and more), the internship experience abroad is guaranteed to fill the brain and the “soul” with new experiences. It’s like being on a mental vacation, where the sterility you know of everyday life has been replaced with waves of ideas every ten seconds. Overwhelming? Sure. But that is when the internship is best. When it becomes so complex and full that not understanding how it is manifesting, expanding, and taking over your life is the best part! When I look up from my computer at the end of the day and I’m about to go to sleep, and realize I’ve been conducting research on one tiny element of a daily task at ODC, I chuckle and know that it’s working right. If I had a job (which I soon might, hopefully), that extra buffer of energy and motivation might be fizzled to nothing. But I’m enjoying this open terrain and open lifestyle, and attempting to link all choices I make here in Cambodia with the goal of achieving complex, multi-faceted heights of experience.

Next week? Well, this week we have our open house, and design changes are starting to grow significantly. At the end of this week I should be able to actively go into some of the work that’s been going on!

Internship Week 4: Stepping Back to Look in

Week four is over, and now I’m realizing just how fast time is flying here. In Cambodia. In the Kingdom of Wonder. In the land of flooding, love, friendships, and information. There have been some changes this week. First, most of the tasks that I’ll be working on have been entered into project management software. And, while that may sound like a nightmare to people who prefer to confront their lives more naturally, using this software has been immensely helpful not only for tracking my own work and responsibilities, but also for communicating tasks and sub-projects outward to those people on my team who are experts in various skills (particularly IT and coding). And even though using this new platform for task management and organization is yet another screen to look at, I think it will be immensely helpful and encourage efficiency going forward.

Another major change this week has been the switch to a four-day-work-week. Five days was great, and I do feel a bit strange making this move, but the reality is this: I need a job, as I’m going through my savings relatively fast, and would like to keep traveling and spending time with as many different types of people here as possible. Ultimately I will end up teaching for a term at a university. I have submitted my CV to Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC), which I’m likely to be hired by due to my connections to the place. I have one friend who is teaching there already, have met and talked to an Ethics professor, and am scheduled to meet (tomorrow) the head librarian (Kolap Mao, who wrote this important retrospective on Cambodian libraries).

Whether these connections make or break my ability to teach English at this school is yet to be determined; however, I do think that the opportunity to supplement my experience working on a digital project with that of being in a classroom and practicing instruction will provide much more cultural value and personal development. Maybe it will influence my decision to be an instructing librarian. I’ve always had visions of myself teaching college kids in the USA how to search library databases (though I think that romance might dull quickly).

Let’s Be Brave and Step Back

What are the implications of not being at ODC as consistently as I had been? What does it mean that I’m not physically around when decisions are made, when projects are completed, when the rest of the team is present? Will the distance harm the relationship I have with the project and the folks working at ODC? I think that bonding and presence are definitely important. I also think that four days will be just as effective as five days in the office. Huy Eng, one of the IT folks, told me I’d been so helpful or ODC and she hopes I can become a permanent member of the team. I have expressed interest with the entire team, including Terry and Pinkie, about sticking around after the internship is over; however, and I don’t mean this snobbishly, but I would need to find a way to get funded to stay there for the rest of the extra three months.

Working on a project for three months, as I’m already starting to see through the speed of time here, will not be very long. And, further, it will not be long enough to get some of the major design changes implemented into the digital library (such as a scrolling bookshelf featuring “new additions” and/or a Jquery slideshow). One of the most important daily learnings in my short time at ODC has been collaboration. And when you step back, remove yourself from the picture ever-so-slightly, it’s easier to meditate on how the “machine” of the project works.

Everyone shares their own skills and knowledge and, luckily for this project, wants to help each other. I do feel at times like collaboration with me, the library project leader (a term I just came up with, though it sounds more accurate than others I’ve held or been given here, including “librarian”), is one-sided, in that most of the requests to collaborate are me asking for help on things. But I think that inevitably I the person in charge of the library will be able to give as much as they request and/or receive.

The two-way-street model will be implemented after standards and routines and processes have not only been established (they’re getting there), but have been normalized (actually used by multiple people). Once the “language” of interaction has been defined, I think that the communication between various facets of ODC will be more fluid. That’s my hope, anyway. I will be blunt: I do not think this fluidity will be fully established during my time at ODC, even if I get the extra three month extension.

Let’s Look In

You have to ask yourself: What can I do? Given the time and constraints, what is the maximum use I can provide to the team, to the project? And then, once known, how does all of this get worked out and find success? I feel like I’m repeating previous blog posts, but it’s an ongoing conversation I had. I recently had to turn my first “assignment” into my academic adviser at the i-School, Sarah Evans. The assignment, “Learning Objectives,” can be found here for those who are curious! Creating and revising and submitting this document was actually a bit of a bite on my consciousness, because it reminded me about one of the original goals of librarianship: meeting needs.

I really should write a post on “needs” in Cambodia, and particularly with ODC. The range: from researcher to government to casual seeker is vast, and how we actually decide to display information (whether “uniquely,” or after getting ideas from places like Urban Voice Cambodia or the Singapore law site). Even though we face influences from other projects and organizations and websites all the time, we have our own unique user/visitor/engager/market/etc to think about. And it’s not only about the library, but the design of the entire site. And this is where we come full circle for this post: by stepping back I feel like I will be able to look in more effectively.

Often in situation that we form intimate bonds with, we begin to take many things for granted, and create a buffer of experience and knowledge based on our commitment to the program. It’s oddly counter-intuitive. But by creating a separation, one can start to realize potential growth areas that previously went unseen. Or one can become lazy and not critically reflect on their work.

I prefer the former, of course, and plan on continuing to write these updates on Saturdays, when I’ve had the gap of a day before and after the time of writing. So, next time: users and design, updates on the library work that’s being done, and perhaps more updates on libraries I’ve visited. In the meantime, here are a few things that I’ve been checking out/engaging in outside of ODC:

Internship Week 3: Entering the “Work Zone”

A lot of people have been asking me: “What are you doing?” or “So, what is your internship about?” It’s a bit hard to answer these questions because on one hand you can spend ages going on about the actual work, and on the other hand you can spend ages going on about libraries and information science (LIS). And, as if that wasn’t enough, you can go on and on about the organization itself. What ends up happening for me usually depends on what I’ve been doing most in the recent moments.

Let’s Talk About Work

Any internship is going to involve putting in some grunt work, just like a job. It’s inevitable. The catalog at ODC has had some significant issues with it and the only way to actually get those issues “solved” is to go through the catalog in its entirety, record by record. If this sounds challenging and potentially unbearable, I can concur: it can be like purgatory at times. (Fortunately, as I’ll describe below, it’s off-set by other responsibilities). When I go into the office, there are so many things going on, but there’s always that mountain of data I have to sort through. I look at it like a marathon: it’s not an issue of intellectual impossibility, but rather an endurance test. And so I have the lovely pleasure of splicing up the “work” for better management.

Go figure: I just started my online Project Management course at UW (which I’ll be taking throughout this academic quarter here in Cambodia), and I’m already becoming a pro at project management quickly through this practical experience. I call that lucky! But what it looks like is this: there’s a project management site (a cloud application, which actually just got implemented into the ODC project), and each person on the team has tasks assigned to her/him. I’ve taken the liberty of creating a major task for cataloging revisions, and creating sub-tasks for every letter (I’ve been reviewing the entire catalog systematically, by Author Last Name). I’ve given myself two days to “complete” a letter worth of records (remember: I’m doing many other things each day on top of the catalog alone), and every time I do go through each letter, I cross it off in the app. On one hand, it keeps track of my progress in a transparent way, but it also provides a nice ego boost to show my accomplishment, my nearing to the goal.

What does the work actually mean, though? What am I actually doing when I say I’m “revising the catalog?” Over the past year, the catalogers who were assigned to adding new records, new entries, were given the responsibility with little oversight by editors. The first problem is that we have folks who aren’t native English speakers cataloging in English (and sometimes Khmer, actually, using unicode), and so there are numerous linguistic errors. From grammar to spelling, the records are rough. And anyone who’s into searching for information knows what difference a character in a field can make, and how it can break a search experience. In most cases, though, the errors I’ve described are either minimal or non-existent; but they do exist, and the trouble is that there’s no report or query a person can make to highlight all the errors.

The second problem of the catalog, as it stands, is the lack of standardization. In some cases, people have used Z39.50 to find records in other libraries, or have downloaded MARC records from the Library of Congress (or elsewhere) and imported them. In other cases, librarians (presumably Margaret) have created records (usually for the local resources that haven’t found use outside of this environment), and the records are great–they’re descriptive and all the necessary fields (and then some) are filled. And then, of course, you have records that are, simply but accurately put, incomplete. Again, untrained library folks have attempted to do their job, but have left out important fields, or incorrectly filled out fields. One of the troubles I’ve had is reviewing and converting authority files. The majority of the Author authorities have been entered under personal name, when 50% are individuals, and 50% are corporate authors (organizations, the government, corporate bodies, etc). This has been a hassle but it’s part of the grind. In other cases, name fields and title fields and subtitle fields and extent fields and keyword fields and subject fields are either present and lacking or not present at all. In some cases there haven’t been any major access points: the headings that we would normally think of are completely empty, and the only information in the record describes a resource that lacks a shell to keep everything in place.

When I arrived, the first thing I thought I’d be able to do is streamline he cataloging work. But I’m realizing that the project’s needs are very diverse, and the resources of the individuals working on the project are spread thin. I haven’t even mentioned design in this post: to get some very basic design changes (in the OPAC and on the server) might take a lot longer than I thought, even though the changes have been identified and expressed and agreed upon. Cataloging is the same way: there aren’t really any helpers for me. I am the helper. A super helper, sure, but a helper nonetheless. One thing that I’ll be taking care of mid-next-week is standardization. I’m going to be retraining everyone who worked on the library in the past, as well as all the editors, on how to appropriately catalog monograph resources. I haven’t really had a chance to think about cataloging videos and other visual media, though that’s certainly possible. For now, we’ll stick with the books and the reports, since that’s our major influx of material (mostly digital, but that’s another conversation).

It’s about control.

Standardization is all about keeping control over the data, and I’m in the lucky position of identifying what fields are control fields, and what the vocabulary can be used for those fields, and how those fields should be displayed. During the meeting next week, I will go into the necessary fields: what’s needed for each document at a minimum, as well as the fields that are allowed as supplemental. Here’s the reason I’m not saying “go crazy and use every field.” In a library with a full time librarian, that might be a wise decision. And ODC might be hiring a Cambodian librarian at some point in the near future. But how long will that take? It’s not immediate. What is immediate is having folks adding new material to the catalog and being consistent about it.

Redundancy is a major issue. So is categorization. In some cases records have information repeated (IE the keywords are the same as the title or the keywords are the same as the subject headings). In some cases keywords are used in each record and in other cases subject headings. ODC recently rolled out a taxonomy (that has finally seen version 1.0 and is now at 1.1) and Margaret and I decided on using 654 in MARC to identify the taxonomy in each record. The taxonomy fortunately is only two levels deep so it’s possible to be accurately descriptive in MARC. At some point that might need to change. It’s also hard to implement the taxonomy when there are cool things like FAST going on in our RDA universe. But when all is said and done, there are going to be records, they’re going to look like each other, and they’re going to have all the information that the common researcher would need when visiting the site.

To go back to standardization, I also have to mention review. On one hand, understanding the catalog fields is necessary. On the other hand, ensuring integrity and completeness of the field is an issue. And so I will have to construct (probably over the weekend, or on Monday) a workflow procedure for the editors. I really want to have faith that anyone trained in cataloging will do a perfect job, but after having fixed countless errors, I don’t think that faith can be established. The workflow and procedural content I draft will hopefully become policy (or adapted into policy) by a future librarian at ODC. Until that time, the documentation can be used as a reference resource for folks who need assistance, reminders, and for folks who will have to review each new MARC record. I think it’s feasible.

Holiday in Cambodia

This post is coming a bit early as the work week was only three days this week. It’s currently the height/climax of Pchum Ben Festival, a Buddhist holiday where most Cambodians return to their home villages and spend time with their family, bring food to the monks (to give to the ancestors), and take time to relax and reflect on life. If you’re an expat, you’re most likely going to wind up on some beach or island enjoying yourself and having fun. I was supposed to go to Laos, but this holiday remarkably falls in the period of time at the end of the rainy season, where massive flooding is regular throughout the entire country. The folks who invited me to Laos decided not to risk the roads, and instead went south to Koh Rong, a popular destination for escape and moments of paradise.

I decided to stay in Phnom Penh because I heard the city gets a bit quiet. And so far I’ve noticed it. Actually, jut yesterday was one of the largest floods I’ve seen here, conveniently on the first major holiday day. I road my bike through water that was a foot deep, ate Vietnamese food, and enjoyed spending many hours alone in my apartment, reading a book, listening to music, and catching up on some LIS-related material, such as: metadata, linked data, open libraries (a MUST READ for everyone interested in any library or digital repository), public domain, data visualization and spatial reasoning, and cataloging, to name a few. I also took a moment to review Beyond Access, which I’d love to see get started in Cambodia, maybe through ODC-as-Catalyst, and Open Library, which might inspire some projects around here.

Okay, well, I’ve filled up a post with the reflections above. I think next time I’ll talk a little bit more about design, and eventually I’ll touch on the library as one component of many in the ODC toolbox. Collaboration with tools is something ODC is exploring, and it’s very exciting. I had to get the cataloging piece off my chest, though!