Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Five Laws of Ranganathan by Savita Kalhan

When I first came across a reference to The Five Laws of Ranganathan, I wondered what on earth these five laws were, and who was Ranganathan? The obscure reference sounded as though it had come straight out of a dystopian or sci-fi or fantasy book.

So I did what most people would do, and googled it, which made me wonder what we used to do before Google and easy access to information from all over the world was just a few clicks away. . . Well, we would have gone to the library to look him up. And that’s important because of who Ranganathan was, and what his five laws are.

Siyali Ramamrita Ranganathan was an Indian mathematician who was appointed as the first librarian of the University of Madras, a role he initially found boring and solitary after teaching maths. But after a trip to the University College of London, and a chance encounter with a Meccano toy set, on his way back by ship to India he began devising a library classification system that became known as Colon Classification (nothing to do with the digestive system as librarians will know!), which became widely adopted in libraries.

He firmly believed that libraries were a key source of education and should be freely available to everyone. He invented the term library science, and he opened a library college in 1929. In 1931, Ranganathan wrote his five laws and they were based on his views of what a library was for – and, just as importantly, who it was for.

So what are the five laws of Ranganathan?

1. Books are for use
Ranganathan believed that books shouldn’t be locked away to protect them. Yes, they should be stored and preserved carefully, but if they are not available to anyone who wanted to access them, what was their point? By emphasising books are for use, he focused on factors like the library's location, loan policies, opening hours, the quality of staffing, down details such as library furniture, temperature control and lighting.
2. Every reader his/her book
Because Ranganathan believed that everyone was entitled to an education and that libraries played a central role in providing education, he felt that librarians were under an obligation to not only provide a well-stocked library, but to know their stock so they could best help and advise their readers.  
3. Every book its reader
Every book should be placed in the library so that its readers can find it. For example, Ranganathan thought that open shelving for children’s books was best, so that kids could find the book they wanted easily.
4. Save the time of the reader
Part of the library service is meeting the requests of readers efficiently. So Ranganathan promoted a skilled staff, trained in library science. And he didn’t believe in centralising books in one place because access to them would be denied to many people.
5. The library is a growing organism
Ranganathan acknowledged that as times and needs changed, so too the library should evolve to meet the needs of the time in terms of books, space, readership, and use.

In 1998 Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association updated the ALA’s five laws of Library Science based on Ranganathan’s five laws:

1. Libraries serve humanity.
2. Respect all forms by which knowledge is communicated.
3. Use technology intelligently to enhance service.
4. Protect free access to knowledge.
5. Honor the past and create the future.

Ranganathan's contribution to library science is marked on August 12th, National Librarians Day in India, which is celebrated in his honour. He was also made vice president for life of the Library Association of Great Britain.

S.R.R. Ranganathan tirelessly campaigned for libraries to be opened all across India – not just in the cities and towns, but in rural areas too, for them to be available, open and accessible to anyone and everyone at all levels of society, and for libraries to be well-stocked – with books and librarians! It’s a shame that, eighty six years after Ranganathan first wrote his laws, we’re still campaigning for the same things in the UK.

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Penny Dolan said...

Thanks so much, Savita. A very fine and informative post. I had never heard of Rangathan or his work or his principles for a library. It's almost unbelievable that we are still defending these ideals, here, today.

Savita Kalhan said...

Nor me, Penny, but his name and his five laws are well known in the library world, so I have discovered from Twitter. Lots of librarians have been retweeting and liking my tweet on this blog post! Sadly it is unbelievable that what Ranganathan was promoting so many years ago, is still so relevant today - and needs defending!

Dotty Jo x said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dotty Jo x said...

Being a librarian, I had heard of Ranganathan and so enjoyed your post very much. He is definitely a library hero of mine and someone to admire.

Savita Kalhan said...

Thanks, Dotty Jo!

Dan Metcalf said...

Excellent post! I trained as a librarian and Ranganathan was a key thinker in information science. Am RTing like crazy