Alistair Black

Photo of Alistair Black

Professor Emeritus

PhD, The Public Library as an Agency for Social Stability, 1850-1919, London Metropolitan University

238 LIS
(217) 244-6279
alblack [at]

Office Hours

Flexible, email for appointment.
Curriculum Vitae   

Research Focus

History of public libraries, corporate libraries, the library profession, the information society, and pre-computer information management.


Alistair Black has been a full professor in the School of Information Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA since January 2009, having previously taught and researched for nineteen years at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK. He is author of the following books: A New History of the English Public Library (1996); The Public Library in Britain 1914-2000 (2000); and Libraries of Light: British Public Library Design in the Long 1960s (2017). 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), a socio-architectural history of early public libraries in Britain. With Peter Hoare, he edited Volume 3 (covering 1850-2000) of the Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland (2006). He was chair of the Library History Group of the American Library Association (1992-1999) and of the IFLA Section on Library History (2003-2007). He also served as editor of the international journal Library History (2004-2008); North American editor of Library and Information History (2009-2013); and Library Trends coeditor (2009-2013) and editor (2013-2016). Presently, his research focuses on the history of corporate libraries and staff magazines and the design of public libraries in the 1960s.



Research Projects

From Voluntary to State Action: Laissez-faire Philosophy and the Early Public Library Movement in Britain

The public library system in Britain today is reeling under the impact of neo-liberalist attitudes to the role of the state in society. This contrasts starkly with attitudes to public libraries when they were first proposed and established in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. At this time, economic liberals argued in favour of state involvement in the provision of libraries to compensate for the patchy and 'exclusive' provision that had been built up voluntarily over the...

Bridging the "Two Cultures": The Architecture of the New British Library

Opened in 1997, the new British Library at St. Pancras, London was designed as a building of two main volumes, one devoted to the arts and humanities, the other to science, technology and business. This dichotomy echoed the debate set in motion in 1959 by the publication of C.P. Snow's The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. The project asked in which ways this debate fed through into Colin St. John Wilson's iconic design for the new British Library, the plan for which was more than...

Information and War: The Intelligence Branch and Library of Britain's War Office, 1873-1914

Intelligence has always been an aspect of organized warfare. It was not until the 1870s, however, that the British Army effectively recognised this formally by establishing a dedicated division named the "Intelligence Branch," to be supported by libraries spread across a number of locations. The project explores the ways in which these services developed before the First World War and, specifically, what information and library management techniques they employed?

Completed Research Projects

Related Topics

History of Information, Libraries and Librarianship