Wolfenbüttels ambassador to Kenya

An interview with Flora Khamala, intern at the Herzog August library

From Nairobi to Wolfenbüttel: In September 2016, the kenyan student Dorothy Flora Khamala joined the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel as an MWW intern. The up-and-coming information scientist wanted to learn as much as possible about the creation of digital editions. What she ended up learning about them and many other issues is the topic of this interview.

Forschungshospitantin Dorothy Flora Khamala Ende September 2016 in Wolfenbüttel. Foto: Sarah Melzian

The questions were asked by Felix Stoßmeister. 

Dear Ms. Khamala, for the four weeks of September 2016, you were an MWW intern at the Herzog August Bibliothek (HAB). Was there anything you found to be particularly surprising or noteworthy about Wolfenbüttel when you arrived?

When I first arrived in Wolfenbüttel; I was marveled by the beautiful and great historical buildings and treasures of the town, marking how the residents valued their culture. 

Why did you choose to apply for a position as a library intern at the Herzog August library?

The main reason for my choice to apply for the internship at the Herzog August Bibliothek was my desire to gain hands-on experience on how to develop metadata standards for digital editions and data modeling and get exposure on how libraries and their collections are managed at an international level in pursuit of developing my career as a library and information science professional in Kenya. I had only learnt of Metadata during my lectures at the University of Nairobi but had never had the opportunity to do it practically and so when I got this chance at the HAB I didn´t even think twice. Moreover, Germany has been my dream country since I was a child and that prompted me to enroll for German classes at Goethe institut Nairobi so as to get to learn more about Germany’s language and culture.

You started your work at the project MWW research project “Digital Research Infrastructure” which is working on data modelling and meta data. What kind of assignments were you given, what did your daily work consist of?

My typical day at the HAB entailed practical introductions to various aspects of data modeling and metadata standards such as creation of XML and HTML files using the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) before proceeding to appointments with various staff of the digital media department so as to get acquainted with what happens in each and every section. Among other departments, I visited the workgroup on cataloguing old prints, the editors of the "Zeitschrift für digitale Geisteswissenschaften" and the photo lab.

After a while, you switched into the MWW project “writer´s libraries” which deals with early modern scholar´s libraries and the possibilities of their digitization. What motivated that shift?

As soon as I came in touch with the project on writer´s libraries, I was keen to understand  how the creation of metadata standards for such collections works. Additionally, digitization projects and development of repositories is underway in Kenyan institutions of higher learning. Hence it was necessary for me to gain skills so as to rationalize here in my country. 

What would you say was the most valuable thing you learned while working at the library?

My whole experience was valuable and life-changing. I got to learn so much within such a short span of time. The skill learnt on creation of digital editions using the XML schema was the best part of my internship. I worked on an edition of Bahnsen letters, an early modern mathemetician from Amsterdam, using the same scheme. At first I was slow because I had not yet gotten used to the whole idea of text encoding but I picked up the tempo and did great work at the end of the project. Thanks to Mr. Steyer and Dr. Münkner for that!

Did you already have the opportunity to apply the skills you acquired in Wolfenbüttel back in Nairobi?

Yes. I am currently volunteering at the National Agency for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) where I am creating digital editions using the XML and HTML schemes of their reports for digital publication in the repositories. I am eternaly grateful for the great opportunity to get to work at the Herzog August Bibliothek. I am doing my ambassadorial mandate of spreading the word about the HAB. I also look forward to more interns coming from Kenya to sharpen skills and learn more on Digital Humanities.

Dorothy Flora Khamala is a student of library- and information science at the University of Nairobi (Kenya). As an MWW-intern with a focus on digital humanities, she got to know various departments of the Herzog August Bibliothek during her four week stay in September 2016.

Felix Stoßmeister is a student aid at the MWW-branch in Berlin.