Below are just some of the pictures from the very successful IL training I co-conducted with MAO Kolap as part of the DFW training program on information literacy I’ve been working on over the past few months. It was a great pleasure (though exhausting it was too) to engage Cambodian librarians and library staff over two days. I will be writing a formal response to this experience this coming weekend.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!