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:

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