Internship Week 14: The Show Goes On

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Last Friday was my last day as an intern at Open Development Cambodia. If you’ve been following this blog, then you know about my adventures as a library and information management dude, as a socializing outreacher, as a presenter at events, as an explorer and adventurer here in Phnom Penh. For those of you who don’t know much about my experience, the best way to get a good understanding is by reviewing the previous posts.

In short, as this is supposed to be a “Summarize and Profess the Future” post, I’ll do just that. First, the mandatory blanket statement: working with ODC was a fantastic experience. For better or for worse, the internship was quite short (at around 3 months in length) and could have easily been double that. But the timing seemed quite well, too, as my projects and daily routine were becoming routine. Had I continued on in the same liminal intern mode, I probably would not have achieved my potential (see below). And so I’m glad that it’s over. But I must not discredit the experiences, and there were so many, I encountered and learned through while in that amazing office. From learning about cultural norms and language, from learning about management and influence, from learning about the library and what it means to be “open,” from learning about the many, many challenges in political and social upheaval and difficulty, from learning about communication and teamwork and group membership, the experience with the project was powerful, important, and well worth it.

That’s not to say the internship was perfect, as nothing is perfect. There were some major goals I had, particularly around design, that simply were not met. Many of these goals were not failed because of me, but due to limitations in software, or a lack of resources to help support getting the work done. Understanding these unaccomplished tasks is extremely important and reflective of how many of my professional experiences have gone. We come up with friction and tension in our daily lives. Being a grad student in a realm of the abstract and ideas, at times the ideal solution to an issue, the answer that will make everything infinitely better, seems like it can be more obtainable than another circumstance, like a pre-grad-school job. But not being able to successfully complete a task or project in the ideal has been quite the learning experience. In a way, it’s numbed me to reality. Despite the “Ever thing/Anything is possible” way of life, we need to understand that in some cases there is reason for something to be not completed, something not to go full-way.

In other cases, there is compromise. For example, if ODC has one task that will have higher utility or impact the website or the way of life for researchers/visitors to the site more than, say, updating meta-data in the catalog, then that other task will take precedence. It’s okay to look at your own needs and put them behind others. This is what working on a single project is all about: figuring out the order and structure of the project as whole. In many ways, the ODC project, because it has no clear end-point, no clear ultimate goal, is beyond the scope of my understanding on Project Management (I wish my professor had taught about those types of projects, those that are persistent, for lack of a better word). But in many ways the word “project” is thus an inaccurate term, at least in the PM world, is it not? I’m not entirely sure.

Let me change tracks of thought and say this: despite completing the internship, I’ll be back at ODC in a couple of weeks. From January to June, I will be working 20 hours a week for ODC. I’ll be doing a lot of what I had been doing during the internship, except that it will be a paid gig (and one of my first paid library gigs, to be honest). So that’s quite exciting. I’ll be showing up also to train (hopefully, ideally) someone who will become the library staff person. This goal was part of my original TOR for the internship, but it was never accomplished because we (meaning me and other crucial members of the ODC staff) never focused on finding someone to work at ODC. There were interviews for a new editor position but none of the applicants appeared capable of being trained for the library position on top of all their expected editorial duties. So it will be time to escalate this task and truly get it done, complete, ready to bring about the positive change for when I no longer am in Cambodia. Other duties will include much of what I’ve already put into motion: a continuation of all general cataloging responsibilities, establishing relationships with other information centers throughout the city (which has already been put into motion), and generally improving the library’s design. But more importantly, there will be some major changes happening with the website (potentially a switch away from WordPress) in the future, and though it might not happen while I’m in Cambodia, the planning will happen, and having the library consultation (both through me and Margaret), will be invaluable. I honestly can’t see a data migration being anything but messy with NewGenLib, but maybe it will be easier and more imaginatively substantial than I can currently imagine. My one hope is to have the search interface augmented by a discovery layer in the next site, and maybe having a site that runs beyond MARC records will allow for a metadata schema that will be more specific to the needs of ODC.

In addition to working part time for ODC, I’ll be working part time for FCC, a local hotel and restaurant in Phnom Penh, where I’ll be doing blogging and marketing support. I’ll also to be doing another internship with Mao Kolap for the Cambodia Library Association: I’ll be working on information literacy workshops that can be taught to first library staff throughout Cambodia and then applied to students and teachers at universities. As if that wasn’t enough, I’ll be spending time working on two courses: my final project on the DPLA and one course on information literacy (which will support and will be supported by the internship).

In short, the first chapter of my time in Cambodia may be over, and the first of two major experiences with ODC may now behind me, but my time in Cambodia and my time with ODC is not yet over. And that’s very exciting, because I’m constantly learning, and constantly changing the more I live here. Maybe that’s apparent through these blog entries. Maybe not. But that’s for you to see and me to see later. About the future of this blog: I will actually use this blog for similar posts when my next internship occurs, as I will have similar requirements to fulfill. I expect the posts will be shorter because the internship will technically be shorter in terms of academic credit and total work performed. But you will have to continue to follow me to see for yourself how I approach it.

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Internship Week 13: Put Your Presentation Where Your Experience Is

This late posting is coming due to me having a delightfully packed schedule over the past 7 days. Last Thursday I ended up hosting another poetry open mic at Java Cafe, which led to a late night on the town. Friday, being exhausted, I ended up rushing around after the internship hours were over, got an offer from the editor of the Advisor, turned down the AEC teaching gig (for a second time), and then went to an arts and crafts party at a bar near my current apartment. I ended up staying too late making this wonderful collage out of tour guide advertisements.

Over the past two days I had the pleasure of joining a group of around 33 artists, all Cambodian to some degree, on a writing tour at Chambork Eco-Resort, which is near Kirirom, between Phnom Penh and the coast. The experience was fantastic because it allowed me to gain access to an area of Camboda life and history that I have been reading about during my adventures as library interns at Open Development Cambodia: the forest. Development consists of many angles, and one of them is the removal of natural resources, and resources in general. Deforestation and forest cover change over time are two major elements of Cambodia that have been in the spotlight for some time now. ODC just released this widely-reported page to the masses last week. You’ll notice the links in the corner of the page directing to library documents, which were hand selected by me. I feel like an anonymous benefactor–albeit a minor one, but one nonetheless. In fact. since I’m on this tangent, I’ll just go to speak out and say that the work done in under two weeks to make that page and release it to the public was extraordinary. The efforts put in by all the teams–the mappers, the ITers, the editors, and everybody else–impressed me over and over again, and it makes me proud to be the ghostly figure working among the champions, offering murmurs of advice on design and language when I can.

Back to this weekend: visiting Chambork was an intense experience as it involved teaching writers and non-writers alike, many many elements of the poetic mind, including motion/transience, and observation/environment. The experiences afforded to me as an educator were extraordinary enough, but I found myself being educated by many people on many subjects. I was the only English language native there, and though there was a fantastic impromptu translator by the name of Say Mony, who works for Voices of America, around to help me out when necessary, I did have the language barrier as a mode of isolation and yet inspiration as well. We toured the location, we did a home-stay, and we taught village students about writing. The event ended in a trip to a waterfall (pic below), which offered fantastic escape from city life and all its distractions.

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Many of the problems with academia (and bad internships, by extension), revolve around too much theory and not enough practice/application of the ideas considered in the classroom. I would argue grad school is the same way. It can even be “worse” or “more intensely disassociative” than undergraduate experience for those students who don’t push themselves to go out and apply their education to everyday life and every possible opportunity for learning outside of the classroom. I’m no longer the lazy student (though I am exhausted most of the time, these days), but I had to learn like many people at early stages to make the most out of my time with everything I have done (especially those things, like grad school, that cost a fortune). Visiting the eco-resort was powerful mainly because it wasn’t tied with ODC, but still applied to the presentations of ideas I have gotten since starting grad school and since being at ODC.

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In addition to learning about deforestation, we had the chance to check out the local library, school building, and pagoda: essentially a trinity of information centers scattered across the grounds of the entrance to the jungle, and a few kilometers from the heart of the village. The spaces were each beautiful and each had their own sense of truth to them. Additionally, the library was very new. While it seems archaic (and perhaps, by Western standards, is, with its bamboo walls and shelves), the library is a fantastic example of minimalism and ultimate utility. It is a house of books, and is open every day. You’re not going to find an MLIS graduate classifying the shelves, but you will find a used mess of books scattered this way and that. The disorder brought a smile to my face as I contemplated what it means for a library to be used, and once again revisited the idea that libraries outside of the “developed” parts of the world are still used as great generators of knowledge and holistic education.

Lessons turn up in unexpected places, and usually they come through immense challenges. From sleep-deprived poetics training to trying and being a part of a huge group of Khmer-speakers, this weekend actually reflected, quite well I must add, on my ability to handle a situation of experience and “information specialization” here in Cambodia. I have one more week and I still haven’t talked about some of my other experiences. Officially the course of the “DFW” is over, too, but the internship’s contract is still going, so I will still report. And a special preview: over the next few months I’ll be working with the Cambodia Library Association on developing some information literacy training for library staff throughout Cambodia. This upcoming experience will be quite different and yet equally mesmerizing. I’ll most likely continue to post about it after a two-week break, so stay-tuned!

Internship Week 12: Adventure Works Both Ways

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a bit about the National Library and I may have expressed myself in an overly-critical way. I didn’t give the space much credit. That’s probably one of my largest personal flaws: I am a generator of generalization and assumptions. That being said, I visited the Cambodia Book Fair, just as I said I would, and was blown away at the programmatic success. While I was only present for one of the three days due to an excursion to the coast, I got to see the marvellous activities and attendance put no by so many powerful knowledge growers in the country.

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The event had flushed out all of the vehicles from the parking lot (well, almost all of them), and set up a ton of booths for publishers and book stores to display in. There were even a few NGOs present, including SIPA. There were games and activities for children, as well, and my friend Suzanne, who joined me in attendance, even got to interview some of the activity organizers. With the light of the sun dampened by some trees, and the constant flow of people in and out of the space generating a clear idea of literacy and community, the day was quite inspiring.

There were two main presentation areas at the Fair. The first one: inside the National Library. The second: just outside, under a tent. Penhleak and I had the chance to due a dual presentation on ODC, with my chunk being related to the library, and we had the opportunity to do this presentation inside the library, which was great. It was quite problematic to us that the previous speaker went over in time nearly one hour (and our time was cut back significantly), but we got over it. The chance to speak to a room full of people young and old alike was extraordinary. I was personally a little bit rattled when I realized the entire audience was composed of Cambodians and then, after being asked by Penhleak if anyone spoke English, only two hands went into the air. But, after Penhleak was done doing an overview talk about ODC, I went into my presentation. I would call it “1.0” of a series of revisions (I’ll get to this in a moment), focusing on the importance of digital libraries and going through the ODC site specifically to show a local and relevant example of a digital library in action.

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I started the presentation by doing one of those stand-up and sit-down games, where I asked people to keep standing as I rattled off questions about how often people use the library. When I finally got down to just a handful of people, I asked “how many of you visit the library every day?” and one dude was left standing. He received a round of applause. I then went through the same series of questions, but switched “visiting the library” to “use the Internet.” The results, as I’m sure you can expect, were both obvious and startling. Of the 50+ folks in the room, only a few people sat down saying they did not access something on the Internet every day. So then I made the transition to my presentation, which argued about the power of the digital library and how you don’t need to go to a physical library to get access to the wealth of knowledge the library provides. Now, I know that’s a pretty old and simple idea by Western standards, but for many people I’ve come across in Cambodia, digital learning is simply not part of the flow of life. On one hand, my presentation was to promote the ODC site as a tool that students, researchers, and anyone from the public can use to get information about development. On the other hand, I was advocating digital learning and literacy.

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How many people benefited from my chat? I’m not so sure, but I will say that a couple people came after the talk was over and talked to me, getting pamphlets and my business card (in case they needed help getting information). While I hope they’ll be able to use the site on their own, the power of library reference should not be discredited! I was overall pleased with the presentation and the event as a whole, and I think that the library could become a staging ground for additional activities that are similar in nature. I think that the people coordinating the Book Fair put in tremendous effort, and I don’t think it should fall on them to set other types of similar events up. For example, having some kind of hack-a-thon, publishing conference, or writers assembly would be fantastic, and could be completed successfully by other champions and organizations.

So, all that being said, I should probably address the title of this post, which is “Adventure Works Both Ways.” In terms of adventure, I’ve realized that, if you’ve got free time and energy, being in an internship means throwing yourself into scenarios you wouldn’t normally be a part of, scenarios that challenge your way of thinking. The adventure of this experience is also related to being as much of a leader for yourself as you can be. You need to lead yourself through the educational process and no easier is that accomplished than through different opportunities at events and on projects. The book fair event presentation most likely wouldn’t have happened had I not stepped up and reinforced the purpose of giving that presentation. And I’m obviously glad it was done, since there was such a positive crowd and great feedback.

When I talk about “Both Ways,” I’m talking about time. I’m currently sitting in a hotel room waiting to jump into a tuk tuk and head back to Build Bright University for Day Two of BarCamp Sihanoukville. The event has been a mix of positive and negative as it’s been quiet (compared to the other BarCamp I visited, in Phnom Penh), and it’s been exhausting, and it’s been really fun hanging out with the ODC team, and some other great folks (like those from Nou Hach, and some IT folks). I’m giving a presentation, technically version 2.0 of the presentation I gave at the library, on Digital Libraries in the 21st Century. This presentation is a whopping 36 slides in total, and goes from the importance of libraries to examples of digital libraries to a thorough walk-through of the ODC library. I’m not sure if I’ll have any audience, but I will have my faithful translator, Penhleak, and at least some fellow ODC members, Kalyan and Eric.

The evolution of a presentation, much like that of a project, and of course much like that of an internship, is fascinating to watch, and involves concentration that I haven’t had in many contexts in my life. In many cases, the evolution involves inflation and deflation in the scope of the work. In many cases, the audience or the market for whatever goal is trying to be accomplished will shift and then the goal will ultimately have to change, at least slightly.

I only have two weeks left. I have had to fill out a reflection on the internship experience (for UW) that you can view if you’re interested. It was odd writing this reflection because I’m not technically through with the internship; however, I’m sure this blog will be a staging ground for future reflections that I find the need to process and express. I also want to note that the document above goes pretty thoroughly into the actual work I have been doing at ODC, which is why I’m not going to keep writing about it here. One thing I think I’ll tackle next time is the presentation I’ve created, with some added narrative (a short essay, perhaps?), that will be pretty engaging and summarize the internship learnings at the same time. As always, comments are appreciated!