Sadly, John Merriman died on 19 April at the age of 81 from a seizure following a long period of treatment for cancer. I visited him a week before he died for our very last chat together. He seemed very weak from his long treatment, and I hoped he would recover, but it was not to be.
John began his working life in the Public Library Service in Newcastle but that was before I came to know him. I first met him in 1956 when I returned to Blackwell's Bookshop after my National Service in Germany; a usual experience in those days. Here we worked together in the Periodicals Department on the first floor above the main shop in Oxford. John, who had himself previously served in the army with the Royal Service Corps in Singapore, kindly helped me to adjust to my own return to civilian life.
We both became members of the Mounthill Rambling Club, walking each Sunday and often spending the evenings with a group of young walkers putting the world to rights. When it was John's turn to lead our weekly walk we seldom covered less than 20 miles that day, a practice he was to continue for most of his life. Both John and I met our future wives in the walking club. Regrettably, John's first wife Pauline died young, but not before she gave birth to his first three children.
He became a director of the BH Blackwell company and when I moved into journal publishing at Pergamon Press I was delighted that the Blackwell subscription agency, which John managed, was my biggest and best customer.
John is best remembered for his concept which was to become the United Kingdom Serials Group [now known as just UKSG]. His idea began originally with two small private conferences which he arranged in Oxford for Blackwell's library clients. These proved so successful that he subsequently expanded these meetings into larger public gatherings. Thanks to his great drive and enthusiasm it developed into a national movement with a successful annual conference bringing together serials librarians, booksellers, journal publishers, end-users and others interested in the role of the international serials industry. Its 34th Annual Conference was held in Harrogate a few weeks before John's death and attracted well over 800 delegates. In his many international visits he also encouraged the formation of similar groups in many other countries including the USA, Australia, The Netherlands and Scandinavia. In addition to its regular British conferences, UKSG has also held several international meetings in The Netherlands and Ireland.
Today his work is recognized by a bursary set up in his name by UKSG to assist library staff to attend such conferences. With his usual gentle persuasion, John ensured that I became involved in this movement, which I did willingly and most enjoyably for some 20 years.
John was also a leading light in the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), being a connoisseur of real ale with a lifelong appreciation of country inns. In fact he published some of his favourite country walks which also featured the locations of suitable inns serving real ale along the routes. In old age our walks were very much shorter but usually included a pub lunch with real ale, of course.
For over 50 years, John lived in a limestone cottage in Charlbury in Oxfordshire, where he ended his days. He leaves Ina, his wife of 41 years, five children and four grandchildren.
Alas, a great friend and an English gentleman has passed away. John will be missed by his many friends locally and also in the library community, in bookselling and publishing and by his CAMRA and walking companions.
29 April 2011
As the current Co-Editors of ‘Serials’, we were saddened to learn of the death of UKSG's ‘founding father’, John Merriman. We were in the very fortunate position when we took over the editorship in January of this year of inheriting a well-respected and much-loved journal, enabling us to play our part in the vision that John created over 30 years ago. He will be missed by so many in the information community.
Lorraine & Steve
I first met John at the UKSG Conference in 1992 at Heriot-Watt University. That year and over many succeeding years I remember his enthusiasm for all aspects of serials work – while delighted at the growing availability of electronic resources, and the widening remit of UKSG over the years, he did have a soft spot for the traditional print journal. Even more do I remember his enthusiasm for the late night dance floor, and for the impromptu singing and conversation sessions that often followed. But most of all I remember and appreciate his warmth, friendliness and the welcome given to one and all over many years – a gentle man and a gentleman.
The death of John Merriman is highly significant for UKSG – it really is the passing of an era. John was the founder of UKSG – which in the early days was the only organization in our information world which truly brought together librarians, publishers and intermediaries on an equal footing. I attended many of the early conferences (which certainly did not attract the many hundreds of delegates we now expect) and they were huge fun and full of informative presentations for me as a fledgling serials librarian at Loughborough University. John was a larger than life character. The famous (infamous?) late night parties at the early conferences are legendary. John would have his car boot full of beers and wines, and several delegates – notably Langley Shearer – would magically produce guitars for late night entertainment. The last person standing would always be John! And not only did he manage the late night, he was always there on the front row for the first presentation the next day (although once or twice he might be caught dozing …). What huge stamina.
As the leading light of UKSG, he saw the number of members and the status of the conference grow over the years. When small numbers of US librarians started to attend the conference, led at first by Marcia Tuttle, he made them extremely welcome. Marcia would always arrange an associated tour for her group in some lovely area of the UK. These became known as ‘Tuttle's Tours’ and John became their advisor, guiding them to (among other things) real ale pubs in the area. John had a number of passions but walking and real ale featured highly. His enthusiasm for the concept of UKSG led him to work with the US librarians in setting up a sister organization in the States. This was NASIG (the North American Serials Interest Group) and the links between the two organizations are still extremely strong.
I last spoke with John at the UKSG Conference in Edinburgh in 2010. He was still bounding with energy, still keen on his walking and his CAMRA activities. I am glad that he was able to be in Edinburgh for the launch of the Merriman Award which sponsors one UK librarian to attend the NASIG conference and one US librarian to attend the UKSG Conference. He gave a lovely speech and was clearly delighted to have been invited – even if he was totally amazed by the number of delegates the conference now attracts. But the continuing success of UKSG is a testament to his initial idea; and we are very, very grateful to him. I will miss John.
In Remembrance of John Merriman
My first introduction to John Merriman was in the early 1980s, at an American Libraries Association or other major conference, when I was starting my career as a serials librarian, and John was front-and-center at the Blackwell's Periodicals booth. Due to my interest in the serials vendor-publisher-library connection, and what was then newly being called the ‘serials information chain’, John proved a wonderful mentor. He not only explained the background and context to what then was just the beginnings of the coming ‘journals pricing crisis’, but he also introduced me to others in the vendor and publisher realms, and to other more seasoned serialists, so that I could obtain wider and more varied perspectives.
Later, after John helped design and launch the organization of NASIG, he attended just about every NASIG annual conference. During that time, I remember him as a mediator and voice of reason in what often became quite heated discussions during NASIG sessions between publishers, vendors and librarians over various aspects of the journals pricing situation. John was one to continually strive for meaningful, but respectful, conversation and co-existence between those representing the publisher, vendor and librarian points of view. People LISTENED to John and RESPECTED him.
Lastly, how can one reminisce about John Merriman without remembering how much he loved to dance? He danced with enthusiasm and sometimes utter abandon. I recall at one of the NASIG opening night receptions, I was standing beside John as he was taking a ‘time-out’ from several sequential dances. As the music started up again, he halted mid-sentence and exclaimed, “A schottische!”, and zoom! There he went, right back out on the dance floor! That little vignette perfectly reflects John's love of life, of people, and of the moment he found himself in.
Whether as an information professional, a mentor, a colleague, a caring human being, or a magnificent dancer, John Merriman's presence will continue in my memory – in all of our memories — irrepressible and long-lived. It was a great pleasure and an absolute honor to have known him.
E Gaele Gillespie
Serials Librarian, University of Kansas Libraries
I first met John in 1974 when I took up the post of ‘Library Services Advisor’ (‘Sales Rep’ in other words) at Blackwell's in Oxford. John was Director of Blackwell's Periodicals Division and it was my role to visit UK universities promoting the company's mail order books and periodicals services. Here John introduced me to the arcane world of journal subscriptions that would become a big part of my working life and I feel very fortunate to have worked alongside such a key industry figure in my early career.
During three very enjoyable years at Blackwell's, I worked with John on running the two Blackwell's Periodicals Conferences in Oxford in 1975 and 1977 (that led on to the setting up of the UK Serials Group). John managed to persuade Robert Maxwell of Pergamon Press to give a paper at one of these – a session that I somewhat nervously had to chair.
The Aslib Conference was the key annual library event for suppliers in the early '70s and it was at these, and the later UKSG conferences, that I marvelled at John's remarkable stamina and staying power – late night parties he organized for delegates that could go on until 2.00 or 3.00 in the morning (sometimes even longer). John would always be amongst the last to leave and yet be as fresh as a daisy for the first conference session next morning. On more than one occasion John informed me that it was my room that was to be the venue for the night's revelling.
When I moved to a position at Swets I continued to have regular contact with John by way of membership of the Association of Subscription Agents and the Committee of UKSG. John was Chair of both of these organizations and here his organizational skills were very apparent, particularly the meticulous planning for the annual UKSG conference – even producing a comprehensive guide for running conferences.
A particularly enjoyable committee responsibility was travelling with John and a small group of other members in his spacious Peugeot to universities round the country, checking out potential venues for future annual conferences. This was always fun and included a nice lunch laid on by the university, a tour of the campus, and working through John's checklist of vital questions directed at the university conference staff. The journey home was generally via a very circuitous route, based simply on the location of key pubs in John's CAMRA pub guide and was always many hours longer than the outward journey.
Those were the days.
My first encounter with John was at the interview for my initial job with UKSG. He didn't ask a lot but, had my answer to “Do you like a drink at the bar?” not been in the affirmative, I doubt that I would be with UKSG today. The subsequent initiation ritual (which I'd been warned about) involved trying to keep up with John on the dance floor at the first UKSG conference I attended (UMIST 1999).
Pubs feature strongly in my memories of John. In 2000 I hadn't long been living in my current rural location south of Newbury when John decided that I needed to be properly educated about the real ale hostelries of Berkshire. We met for a swift half in the Swan at East Ilsley which was followed by a swift half at the Harrow in West Ilsley and then a quick dash to the Bell at Aldworth for another half … I forget where we stopped.
I have a somewhat faded Post-It note going back to 2000 stuck to my pinboard which John sent me after what was one of his last Serials Editorial Board meetings as editor (in the days when board meetings were conducted in a private room of The Victoria pub in Paddington). It reads:
“What a super après meeting we had. I feel really sorry I am giving up Serials. Hope the new editor likes real ale!”
Business Manager, UKSG
I started attending NASIG in 1988, which was their third conference. I was thoroughly delighted by the mix of librarians, serial agents and publishers who were participating in this newly formed group. It was obvious during those early years that the British contingent had a hand in encouraging a level of revelry that was decidedly absent from certain other professional conferences. This atmosphere provided us a level of congeniality which in turn helped us actually solve problems rather than simply bicker about them.
I can't help but think that John Merriman was properly named – as he was indeed a ‘merry man’. He was genuinely a gentleman, but he also had a knack for fun. And above all else, he was a very smart gentleman, and left quite a legacy of influence both with UKSG, NASIG and many other venues.
John's energy was legendary. He had a little secret though – the afternoon nap. The reason that he could stay up until the wee hours of the morning was because he made sure to get some shut-eye earlier in the day. And after staying up until the birds started to sing, he'd be right up with the rest of the crowd at breakfast looking just as chipper as if he had turned in at 10 pm!
I could tell some stories (and will in person, if you ask) about some of his antics, but suffice to say that he could out-party anyone and everyone and do it with style. When the party was over, it was NOT over if John had his way, and would make us keep going…
Alas, those days are over and turning in at 10 pm is more the rule than the exception for many of us. But still, I count my memories of hoisting a glass and dancing the night away with the likes of Mr. Merriman and his band of merry fellows as some of my favorite. Oh yes, and talking about serial prices, which of course we are still doing…
Eleanor I Cook
Assistant Director for Collections & Technical Services, Academic Library Services — Joyner Library
East Carolina University
Always a most charming and interesting travelling companion on our shared trips to conferences in the '90s, John could make a three-hour journey simply whizz by. Some of the fondest memories he shared with me of early conferences were of the ‘sessions’ that took place until the early hours, remembered here with equal fondness by his colleagues. He was very much a ‘people person’ and confessed that John Jardine's ‘People’ was the first section he headed for in the UKSG journal.
Back at HQ, John was always a welcome visitor when he dropped in at the UKSG office (i.e. Jill Tolson's house) to help quality-test the coffee during his time as editor of Serials. Living just a few miles from John and near Oxford, I often encountered people who lived in his village or who had worked at Blackwell's. Their reaction, when asked whether they knew him (and they always did!), was invariably to break into a wide smile, then to recall some tale of how kind to them he had been, whatever their role, followed by the verdict that he was a true gentleman. So apart from his obvious public success and charisma, John struck me as a very fair, grounded person, genuinely impressed by people's varied talents and interested in their characters and lives, not limiting his time to just those who might be considered important or useful to him. His warning to “beware the dewy-eyed idealist” placed him firmly with his feet on the ground but, of course, at the same time with that wicked twinkle in his eye. This is how I will remember John.
Ally (‘Alison’ to John) Souster
Publications Associate, UKSG
The older photographs included in this tribute are a selection from the UKSG archive, which is currently being scanned and will appear in due course on the UKSG website