National planning for public library service: The work and ideas of Lionel McColvin

Alistair Black

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Lionel McColvin (1896-1976) is regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of British librarianship. In the specific context of 150 years of public librarianship in Britain, his reputation as a visionary influence is second only to that of the nineteenth-century pioneer Edward Edwards, while in the twentieth century his reputation is unsurpassed. McColvin was the major voice in the mid-twentieth-century movement to reconstruct and modernize public libraries. He is best known as author of The Public Library System of Great Britain: A Report on Its Present Condition with Proposals for Post-war Reorganization, published in 1942 at a moment of intense wartime efforts to assemble plans for social and economic reconstruction. The "McColvin Report," as it came to be termed, was a landmark in the struggle to de-Victorianize the public library, not least by emphasizing the institution's universalism and its function as a national, not just a civic, agency. This article briefly describes McColvin's notable contribution to twentieth-century librarianship, resulting from his work as a public librarian, as a leading figure in the Library Association, and as an influential player in the international library movement. The article's core aim is to offer a critical appraisal of McColvin's vision for public libraries by placing it in the context of the project to build a better postwar world. This project was defined by the conceptualization and development of a welfare state in Britain, the underlying values of which can be seen to correspond to McColvin's national plan for a rejuvenated public library system. McColvin drew on the spirit of the time to produce a plan for public libraries that was shot through with social idealism and commitment and with a confidence in the need for intervention by the state - values that perhaps provide lessons for current and future library and information policymakers and professionals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)902-923
Number of pages22
JournalLibrary Trends
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Library and Information Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'National planning for public library service: The work and ideas of Lionel McColvin'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this