Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science

I've been devoting my off-time reading to that classic of librarianship that many (although I wonder if most) librarians have heard of but few have read (including myself): The Five Laws of Library Science by S.R. Ranganathan.  There is some controversy regarding sufficient exposure to the 5 Laws to budding librarians - many more recent graduates are not aware of Ranganathan and his laws.  But a quick search on the Web does return a healthy set of relevant results, including the listing on Amazon of a recent printing, several published journal articles, and a plethora of items from the library blog-world.

There are a number of articles that are devoted to interpreting, revising, enhancing, and applying the laws in our more modern-day world, but I have been avoiding these until I complete my first full reading.  I am taking my time, making notes, recording notable statements, and being particularly thoughtful about what is written, the context in which the ideas were conceived, the progress that has been made since their conception, and the relevance to my current ideas of librarianship and library science.

By the second printing of his book, Ranganathan was already considering how to expand his laws from "books" to the broader scope of resources.  At this time, 1956, "documentation" was the term used for this generalization.  However, "Documentation is for use" and "Every reader his or her documentation" just doesn't sound as universal and classical as the original, "Books are for use" and "Every reader his book".  It is easy for me to accept the generalizations of "his" to including all people (Ranganathan places emphasis on extending access to books to women and girls, among other oppressed groups), and "books" to include all resources.

It is interesting that Ranganathan was a mathematician by training, a socialist in political thought, and a humanist at heart. The field was lucky to have had this combination in a person to distill what we do and have done and will continue to do down to these fundamentals.  Each law can be applied to each facet of the profession.  I would like to spread this message over several days by concentrating on each law and how librarians and library staff fulfill these laws with their everyday work.

1 comment:

  1. The full text of the original 1931 edition of The Five Laws of Library Science is available in PDF for free at HathiTrust Digital Library at