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.
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.
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.
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!