Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The First Law: Books are for Use

For the First Law, Books are for Use, Ranganathan first provides a brief history of the expanding availability of books from the severe restrictions of the Middle Ages (with their chains) to the then-modern idea of Open Access (no, not publishing, but opening the stacks to browsing).  The long struggle of the First Law to emerge was due in no small part to "inherited habit" of the concept of "Books are for Preservation", even when preservation was no longer as critical due to improvements in printing and increased availability of copies.  R. stresses the that the "Modern Librarian, who has faith in the law that 'Books are for use', is happy only when his readers make his shelves constantly empty" (emphasis added).

Ranganathan provides some explicit examples of how modern libraries could enable this law to its fullest extent, including selection of the the most convenient location (usually the center of town rather than the outskirts), the hours of operation (should include some evening hours), even the furniture (should be comfortable).  Much as we look to Starbucks, Amazon, and B&N to emulate convenience, Ranganathan related the location and hours of the library to emulate those of a shop for its customers.

There follows an amusing imaginary dialogue involving the Rule of Least Cost, Rule of Least Space and the First Law.  Each of the former two attempt to argue against the First Law, but using reason and logic, she prevails.  If only such dialogues were so easy to win.

Finally, Ranganathan then discusses how the attitudes of library staff have been the most difficult to adjust to the First Law.  His statement about the "enormous struggle [that] has been going on for the past 50 years to adjust the Library Staff to the needs of this new concept" could apply just as well to the use of electronic books as it did to Open Access (well, change "50 years" to "5 years").  He then provides the justification for a qualified and educated library staff, advocating that librarianship should be post-graduate degree because of the need for subject expertise.  
  • Books Are For Use:
    • Collection Development - choose the books that will most likely be used. This requires looking beyond "what's good for them" to "what reader's want".
    • Cataloging and technical services - make the books easy to find and access.  This requires being an interface between the books contents and the community's culture and language.  
    • Reference - be active in getting the books into the hands of the readers and used.  This requires knowing how to approach the patrons, how to read them, what they want or need, and the best ways to get the book, information, etc. to them.
    • Progamming and marketing - promote the books, authors, stories, programs and resources that will create the demand.  Clients cannot demand for what they are not aware exists.
    • User Training and Education - teach the patrons how to find the books more easily so that they can be used.
Finally, here are some of my favorite quotes from this section of his classic work:
  • "...the trinity of the library - books, staff and readers."
  • "When the First Law became accepted over 'Books are for Preservation', Librarianship effectively became a profession."
  • "Every moment, the Library Staff should remember that 'Books are for Use'...They should never forget that in libraries, books are collected for USE, prepared for USE, kept for USE and served for USE."
  • "A library is a collection of books kept for use...Librarianship, then, is connecting a user and a book.  Hence, the very life of a library is in the personal service given to the people."

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