Contributors to the article: Elizabeth Matos, Marc LeBourdais
I want to share this short biography I did as part of a class at Simmons College. Shirkali Ramrita Ranganathan (1892 - 1972) is widely considered one of the greatest librarians of the 20th century and regarded as the “Father of Library Science.” His groundbreaking work continues to be relevant today, as his Five Laws of Library Science have come to be viewed by librarians as “timeless objectives that put our profession’s goals into perspective.” Similarly, his advocacy of open access to knowledge (for all) has renewed significance in this age of online access and digital rights management and his contributions of faceted classification have become popular with online applications.
Ranganathan transitioned into library sciences after studying and teaching college level mathematics. In 1924, after becoming the first librarian at the University of Madras in India (in Chennai) he went to train in England for a year. He was impressed with the services provided at the various libraries he visited and this experience greatly influenced the direction he was to take in his career inspiring a library movement, increased library professionalism, and open access in India amidst the country’s struggles for independence.
Dedicated to his new field of library and information science, Ranganathan spent years reflecting and researching and by the end of his life he had written 60 books and nearly 2,000 research articles including The Five Laws of Library Science (1931), Colon Classification (1933), and Classified Catalogue Code (1934). His five laws read:
- Books are for use
- Every reader, his/her book
- Every book its reader
- Save the time of the reader
- The library is a growing organism
These laws reflected two main themes which represent a revolution in library theory and practice that advocate for a framework of library services based around access and customer service. These themes also resonated within the context of the Indian independence movement as Ranganathan sought to transform a fossilized colonial library system (very different from what he saw in Great Britain) to one that met the needs of millions of underserved Indian people. Ranganathan believed that books were for people to use and that patrons should be able to find whatever they were searching for.
Building on this idea, he realized that classifications needed to be more flexible, to reflect the various subjects that a user may want to find. He felt that the Dewey Decimal Classification system forced knowledge into predetermined templates whether the subject fit or not. His Colon Classification provided an alternative system to organize information and was the first faceted classification system. The system divides the each class into facets, which define its properties and characteristics such as the “matter” or physical material of a category, its “personality” or core of the subject, and the “space” or place a category may consist. These facets can then be reorganized by the user, placing each one into a new context depending on its position relative to its neighbors. This method attempts to include all possible subjects, reflecting the needs of diverse users, and therefore, the main principles of Ranganathan’s Five Laws.Ironically, Ranganathan’s influence on library classification may turn out to be indirect, despite his prominent role within the discipline. Although extremely influential, his colon classification system has not been widely implemented by librarians outside of India. His work around facet analysis has been more widely adopted. The Art and Architecture Thesaurus uses a faceted system and popular online services like Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and many other retail-oriented websites have adopted Rangathan’s methods for their site’s information organization.
Cochrane, P. A. (2002). Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan. In J. R. Schement (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Communication and Information. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
Rimland, Emily. Ranganathan’s Relevant Rules. Reference & User Services Quarterly. Summer 2007, Vol. 46 Issue 4, p24-26
Roe, George. Challenging the control of knowledge in colonial India: political ideas in the work of S. R. Ranganathan. Library & Information History, March 2010, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p18-32
Sharma, R. (1992). Ranganathan's impact on international librarianship through information technology. Libri: International Journal Of Libraries & Information Services, 42(3), 258-267.
Weihs, J. (2010). A Brief History of Classification, Part 5. Technicalities, 30(5), 14-16.
A Select Bibliography of S. R. Ranganathan
Dudley, Edward. S.R.Ranganathan, 1892-1972: papers given at a memorial meeting on Thursday 25th January 1973, Library Association, London 1974
Ingwersen, P & Wormell, I. (1992). Ranganathan in the Perspective of Advanced Information Retrieval. Libri: International Journal Of Libraries & Information Services, 42(3), 258-267. p193,196,179
Pauline A. Cochrane. Putting knowledge to work: an American view of Ranganathan’s Five laws of library science, Vikas Publishing House, Delhi 1973
Posted by David Rowntree. Posted In : Access