Wednesday, January 12, 2011

S.R. Ranganathan: A Bit of Inspiration

Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan (1892-1972) was a mathematician and librarian who devised the Five Laws of Library Science in addition to Colon Classification (in which books are classified by facets rather than a hierarchical taxonomy). His Five Laws (which every librarian should aspire to) are as follows:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. For Every Book its Reader.
  3. For Every Reader its Book.
  4. Save the Time of the Reader.
  5. The Library is a growing organism
I have been reading the original volume of the Five Laws of Library Science, and have found it to be a fascinating and profound take on libraries, information structures, scientific enquiry (for instance, Ranganathan discusses the Scientific method as being like a spiral process, rather than a Kuhn-esque paradigm shift or Popper-ish falsificatory deflation) and even very inspirational. Take the following quotations: 

On Librarianship as Service (the Second Law):

"Because a postman handing over a packet of printed slips is not like a librarian who establishes contact between books and people"

"What is a library? 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."

On the Library as a Living Organism (the Fifth Law):

"But the vital principle of the library - which has struggled through all the stages of its evolution, is common to all its different forms and will persist to be its distinguishing feature for all time to come - is that it is an instrument of universal education, and assembles together and freely distributes all the tools of education and disseminates knowledge with their aid."

Ranganathan's Colon Classification was a form of faceted classificaiton, rather than a ranked taxonomic subject hierarchy. His classification system seemed to embody a certain amount of mysticism as well, something that would not be out of place in Doctor Who or even quantum physics, perhaps. His facets were as follows:
  • Personality
  • Matter
  • Energy
  • Space
  • Time

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