Black discusses the post-war public library in the UK

Alistair Black
Alistair Black, Professor Emeritus

Professor Emeritus Alistair Black discussed his research at the UK's Library and Information Group Work-in-Progress Conference, which was held virtually on November 27. At the conference, he presented an analysis of the 1962 feature film Only Two Can Play as a tool for learning about the history of the post-war public library in the UK.

According to Black, feature films can serve as valuable primary sources for researching the history of the societies that produced them, a principle that formed the basis of the Libraries in Film course he taught at the iSchool.

"The lead character in Only Two Can Play, an adaptation of Kingsley Amis' 1955 novel That Uncertain Feeling, is a Welsh public librarian, played by Peter Sellers, who is frustrated by unfulfilled opportunities for both love and career," he said. "In what is probably the only British cinematic production that has a librarian as its main protagonist (as opposed to serving in a cameo capacity), we are provided with a rich cultural commentary on mid-twentieth century public librarianship which both intentionally 'portrays' and unintentionally 'betrays' meanings that either conform to reality, reinforce stereotypes or subvert taken-for-granted images."

Apart from this project, Black is also currently working on the history of information policy in the UK before the computer age. He is the author of 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) and co-author of several other books. Black earned his master's degree in social and economic history from the University of London and his doctorate from London Metropolitan University.

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