Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Assessment of my BER experiences

This entire BER experience has been 18 months in the making, beginning with some innocuous comments I exchanged at a round table presention at MAME 33 in Grand Rapids, late October 2006. Afterward, I was approached by Boyce Heidenreich, a program developer with the Bureau of Education and Research regarding opening discussions about trying out with BER.

Thus, I had some negotiations with my district about getting the necessary release time to perform the seminars, and the higher-ups made the situation seem too expensive and onerous to make it worthwhile for me to accept Mr. Heidenreich's offer, so I never really pursued the position at that time. But, BER called back in June 2007 with a firm offer and positive words, which Tiffani heartily encouraged me to accept.

Then came the preparations. First priority, though, I had committed to give a paper at MAME 34 on graphic novels in libraries, which would not only serve as the boilerplate for an expanded version of my BER session, but also provide an opportunity for polishing my public speaking. The session went over reasonably, and my recruiter, Mr. Heidenreich, was present with some positive and critical comments, not to mention a delicious dinner the night prior.

BER has enough experience and vision to understand that deadlines are very important in these processes, and my next threshold was to author an introductory note that was to be included in the brochure, which was required right around the time I was finishing up preparations for my MAME paper. The next deadline was my handbook, for which I'd been dabbling on, but really got earnest with after football season finished. I had other examples of BER handbooks from which to draw inspiration, including one from my predecessor, who had done a graphic novel seminar as well, yet unsuccessfully. I was determined to really organize it well, make it thorough, and give it some tangible value.

IED presenters -- the company for which one auditions before being accepted into BER -- are evaluated by their attendees, and are required to average marks of 6.5 on a 7 point scale. The cumulative scores for my content averaged 6.07, and the contribution of instructor score was 6.43, both residing below the necessary threshold for continuation with BER.

Moving on to a discussion of the economics of my IED seminars encompasses the following data, which includes both actual and estimated figures:

BER expenses:
  • Lecturer: $675 x 4
  • Per diem: $51 x 4
  • Program manager: $150 (estimate) x 4
  • Per diem: $51 x 4
  • Conference room: $500-$1000
  • +10% fudge factor and miscellaneous expenses, like tips and cabs.
  • 100 paid and registered participants (7 in Rochester, 43 in Cincinnati, 25 in Manchester, 25 in Providence) at $199 per participant, BER and IED: $19900.
Creating a sum total of expenses ranges from $6279 to $8479, and a potential profit of some $11500 to $13500. I was informed within a few days after my last session that I would not be retained for the following year due to poor attendance, the repressed economy, and the expense of travel. In my view, it would seem that the company made significant enough profits from my sessions for me to continue, but I failed to make the attendee evaluative threshold.

Other random thoughts:
  • Over 400 hours were invested in the authoring of the handbook and presentation and rehearsals, putting a big dent in my final average hourly wage.
  • Skype was tremendous for maintaining visual contact with the family, the kids got a real kick out of the gimicky ability to see and talk to dad over the computer. And while it was great to touch base via this means, they didn't really sit still enough for a good conversation. I really enjoyed, though, starting every morning and ending every night with a visual Tiffani chat.
  • The attendees varied in terms of being informed, where some were looking for some general insight, some were looking for persuasive arguments for their supervisors, and some were already tremendously well-read. I truly valued their presence and their insights a great deal, I frequently found myself taking notes on their discussions, insights, and book title submissions, and I've even had follow-up emails and exchanges of ideas and lesson plans with several.
  • In general discussions with the program managers, it is interesting to note how blended the hotels, cities, and airports become. Regular travellers have a hard time recalling if they've been to a particular city.
  • Business travel isn't anywhere near as glamorous as outsiders might envision, considering the schlepping of equipment and bags, the pursuit of, and the odd hours of meals, the strange noises and smells of hotels, the airport inspections.
The BER tryout was a tremendous growth experience, both professionally and personally. I was asked to author a small book, and be prepared to speak to groups of people in an informed manner for five and a half hours, and I am certainly a better librarian for the preparations, the people, the sessions, the entire experience.