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!

P1070903

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!

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