Chairman Ted’s Little Brown Book


It is an honor to be on the same team with one of my mentors, Ted Balcom.

Let’s step into the Wayback Machine (for the young:

Way back in the early nineties, four Milwaukee-area librarians attended the same Public Library Association event in Chicago.  These were seminars held in the years that the annual PLA conference was not being held.  One of these sessions was on reader’s advisory, a new culture to those of us from a state where you are considered literate if you read the Packer’s media guide once a year. 

We were especially impressed with a group of librarians from Minnesota who told us about an annual retreat they held every year to sit around fireplaces and talk about books.  We four librarians immediately thought, “How can we get paid to do this?”

So, Bev DeWeese, Cathy Morris, Katie Schultz and I returned to the state of Wisconsin to form the Reader’s Advisory Roundtable.  A roundtable is one of the smallest organizations in the Wisconsin Library Association.  To form one, you need a minimum of four librarians intent on forming an organization to talk about books, evidently.

As our first goal, we wanted a dynamic speaker who could enthuse our resident librarian population with a love of literature, a respect for talking about books, and a need to start a reader’s advisory effort in our state. We picked Ted Balcom, the Villa Park, Illinois, Library Director and the author of Book Discussions for Adults: a Leader’s Guide  (ALA, 1992, 0838934137).

For those of you who have never met Ted, you must understand that your first impression of Ted is correct.  From the moment you meet him, you understand that he is an urbane and intelligent gentleman.  More psychiatrist than librarian, he appears to have a calming influence on all situations, a quality that served him well when he drew almost thirty people to a book discussion held after he had trained the first ever meeting of the Wisconsin Library Association’s Reader’s Advisory Roundtable.

I remember distinctly how Ted told us, in his persuasive and dulcet tones, that he knew thirty was too many for a book discussion, but as we were librarians, he knew he could trust us to behave well to our neighbors. 

I think I have been behaving well to all ever since. This was my personal epiphany when I realized that RA was not about sitting around fireplaces talking to the convinced about good books, but rather it was about gathering the uninitiated into the circle through a well run and fun book discussion.

Back in the days, that little instruction guide cost me little compared to where it and its author have led me. Today, it is long out of print which is unfortunate.  However, take heart in that if you wish to buy it through Amazon from used book dealers, it will cost you from $86.85 to $167.93 a copy.  I kid you not (!

Now that Ted is retired, and assuming his duties on Book Group Buzz do not eat up all his spare time, isn’t it about time to have a second edition of Chairman Ted’s Little Brown Book?

 So, I owe it all to Ted and his little brown book. Thanks, Ted.



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

1 Comment on "Chairman Ted’s Little Brown Book"

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  1. This book is in my own personal professional collection! I still refer to it.

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