Loss of colleague – John Wall

I have to pass on the sad news that John Wall died on 19th January. He was the Bodleian’s first head of a separate Slavonic and East European Section, and my predecessor in that post. Coming to the library in the early 1960s, he vigorously expanded the range and depth of material acquired from ‘the Bloc’ at a time when research and teaching in Soviet and East European studies was expanding rapidly. He was a founding member of the SCONUL group of Slavonic-specialist librarians which evolved from a meeting in November 1964 into the COSEELIS of today.

John turned the practice of book exchanges into something of an art form, visiting and writing to major libraries across Eastern Europe and the USSR, offering them British books and journals, and coaxing them into exerting themselves on Oxford’s behalf. In the 1970s the Bodleian was running over 100 exchange agreements, besides the numerous unofficial contacts that John cultivated as sources for uncensored literature and dissident samizdat. He was also instrumental in planning and stocking the Bodleian’s Slavonic Reading Room, which at the time held the UK’s largest open-shelf reference collection in the field.

A road accident in December 1970 caused injuries from which he took many months to recover, and left him unable to return to full-time work. Nevertheless, he came back as soon as he could to take responsibility part-time for acquisitions from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania. From then until his retirement in 1999 he nurtured exchange partners and sought out new sources of supply as they opened up in the liberalisation after 1989. John left a generation of academics and students deeply in his debt for giving them the means to study an important area of the world at a crucial time in its history, providing them with materials difficult, and often impossible, to find elsewhere.

Gregory Walker

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