John Nichols Berry III, editor of Library Journal magazine for more than half a century, stalwart defender of freedom of speech, freedom of information and public libraries, died in New Hampshire on Saturday, October 10th of an apparent heart attack. He was 87.
A giant in his field, John guided and mentored generations of librarians through his leadership at LJ, as a public speaker who traveled the world on behalf of libraries, and as a teacher at library schools across the country including Pratt Institute, Simmons College, University of Pittsburgh, University of Arizona, Dominican University and Louisiana State.
A trademark of his tenure as editor-in-chief of Library Journal from 1969 to 2006 was his use of the position for advocacy about the role of libraries in an informed democracy and to push strong and controversial positions about how they can improve that role. He gave his favorite speech on this subject, “The Library As A Public Good” at E.J. Josey’s Presidential Program at the 1985 American Library Association annual conference. In 1992 he was awarded ALA’s Joseph W. Lippincott Award for distinguished service to the profession of librarianship.
John embraced confrontation about his opinions and debate was a fixture of both his public and private life. He loved a good discussion… and a good story. His oratory skills were an extension of his passion for storytelling. A natural raconteur, he would always regale his family and friends with anecdotes and yarns full of his sharp wit and charming sense of humor. A favorite story and career milestone for him was interviewing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal. He also spoke fondly of his involvement in the 1991 “Rally for America’s Libraries” bus caravan from Atlanta to Washington D.C. with Jesse Jackson and Newt Gingrich.
But what he will be most remembered for is his profound humanity, kindness and concern for the wellbeing of others. He was deeply involved in social justice and social responsibility, and he lived and championed those values through every facet of his long life.
He is survived by his wife, Louise Parker Berry, director of Connecticut’s Darien Library for 35 years until her retirement; his daughter Elizabeth Berry DiMauro, a teacher; and son, Thomas Parker Berry, a screenwriter. He is pre-deceased by his son, John N. Berry IV, artist, musician and a founding member of the Beastie Boys.
A memorial fund has been established in his name at Richards Free Library in his hometown of Newport, NH 03773 where John and members of his family have been involved in the Sarah Josepha Hale Literary Award since its inception.
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Richards Free Library
58 N. Main Street, Newport NH 03773