Libraries of Light : British public library design in the long 1960s book cover
1st Edition

Libraries of Light
British public library design in the long 1960s

ISBN 9780367193034
Published June 7, 2019 by Routledge
256 Pages

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Book Description

For the first hundred years or so of their history, public libraries in Britain were built in an array of revivalist architectural styles. This backward-looking tradition was decisively broken in the 1960s as many new libraries were erected up and down the country.

In this new Routledge book, Alistair Black argues that the architectural modernism of the post-war years was symptomatic of the age’s spirit of renewal. In the 1960s, public libraries truly became ‘libraries of light’, and Black further explains how this phrase not only describes the shining new library designs – with their open-plan, decluttered, Scandinavian-inspired designs – but also serves as a metaphor for the public library’s role as a beacon of social egalitarianism and cultural universalism.

A sequel to Books, Buildings and Social Engineering (2009), Black's new book takes his fascinating story of the design of British public libraries into the era of architectural modernism.

Table of Contents

Preface & Acknowledgements

Picture Credits


Chapter 1 The Long Journey to Libraries of Light

Chapter 2 Modernisation and Modernism: The Post-War Public Library and the Revolution in its Built Form

Chapter 3 Style, Siting and Space

Chapter 4 Flagship Libraries: Intersections of Style, Siting, Space and Light

Chapter 5 Holborn Central Library: Scandinavia ‘Light’

Chapter 6 Hampstead Central Library: Into the Light

Chapter 7 Bourne Hall Library: Light from Space

Chapter 8 Birmingham Central Library: Light from Within




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Alistair Black is Professor in the School of Information Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA. He is author of A New History of the English Public Library (1996) and The Public Library in Britain 1914-2000 (2000). He is co-author of Understanding Community Librarianship (1997), The Early Information Society in Britain, 1900-1960 (2007) and Books, Buildings and Social Engineering (2009). He was Chair of the Library History Group of the Library Association, 1992–1999, and of the IFLA Section on Library History, 2003–2007. He was editor of the international journal Library History, 2004–2008, and the North American editor of Library and Information History, 2009–2013. He is general editor of the journal Library Trends.


"Libraries of Light is a triumphant exploration of a time when a shared, forward-looking political discourse, an emergent architectural style and fast-changing aspirations and lifestyles found a common cause and even an object of desire"

Ken Worpole in The Journal of National and International Library and Information Issues

"A thoroughly grounded, beautifully illustrated, and superbly researched effort that connects the developments of the welfare state and civic architecture in post-World War II Great Britain within a discussion of the construction of Sixties public library buildings. Black identifies the conflicts and compromises (most were successful, some not) struck between proponents of management efficiency and advocates for physical attraction that 60s librarians, ironically, often resisted."

Wayne A. Wiegand, Florida State University, USA

"Libraries of Light is a work of impressive research and scholarship, as one would expect from the author concerned, and contributes immensely to our understanding of public libraries as social institutions. In re-presenting and reevaluating this important era in the development of public libraries in the United Kingdom, Black reminds us all how librarianship has continuously tried, and largely succeeded, in adapting to the challenges of the new worlds that progress presented to it."

David McMenemy, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland

"Alistair Black's new work on British public library history, Libraries of Light, offers not only a rich treatment of the design revolution he sees manifested in these oft-maligned buildings but also a thoughtful engagement with larger cultural and interdisciplinary issues from which these designs emerged. Black, ranks among our most accomplished and prolific library historians. He has produced a work for knowledgeable professional librarians interested in library design and history as well as the institution's connection to larger cultural meanings."

Anthony Bernier, San Jose State University, USA