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Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science


Krystal Narusaki


University of Hawai’i at Mānoa














Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan

Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan was born in Shiyali, Madras, India in 1892 and receiv= ed his high school education at the Hindu High School (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016).  He received a Bachelor’s and Master’s d= egree in Mathematics from the Madras Christian School and became a faculty member= in Mathematics at the Government College in 1917 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016).   During his time teaching Mathematics, he was appointed as the first librarian of t= he University of Madras in 1924.  In an effort to fit into his new post, Ranganathan traveled to England to study Library Science at University College (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016). 

Upon his return to India, Ranganathan became a significant leader in Indian librarianship with his influence in descriptive cataloguing and the creatio= n of a national bibliography (Gorman, 1998, p. 39).  His career and professional identity was an amalgamation of Hindu and European aspects creating his own definitions of librarianship which blended spirituality and technical facets of the profession. He remained at the University of Madras until 1944 and it was during this time that one of his most well-known and beloved pieces of work was written (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016).

Five Laws of Librarianship

            Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Librarianship was written = in 1931 and aimed to “present to us the kernel, the essence, the distillation = of our professional mission” (Finks, 1981, p. 142).  His Five Laws are simply written with p= oetic clarity and provide a sense of inspiration over the technical parts of librarianship (p. 142). Although the word “law” falls within the title of Ranganathan’s piece, his Five Laws is not an ordinance on how librarianship needs to be but rather a precept for “how librarianship ought to be, how bo= oks and readers ought to be conceived of, what we librarians ought to believe a= nd do” (p. 143).

Law One: Books are for use

            Ranganathan’s words come from a different era when on= e of the main functions of librarians in India was to protect and preserve books rather than promote their reading to the masses (p.144). Although the amoun= t of words in his first law are few, the profoundness resonates and speaks to the structure of Indian society at the time.  During Ranganathan’s lifetime there were other librarians who wanted= to discourage library use to certain groups going so far as to manipulate the physical design of libraries to dissuade use.  Ranganathan spoke out against those librarians and promoted better design, book stack arrangement, and furniture to make the library more user-friendly (p. 144).  His belief= was that libraries acquire materials and one of the functions of a librarian wa= s to make them accessible (Gorman, 1998, p. 56).

            For myself, I can take Ranganathan’s first law and ap= ply it to my future profession in librarianship by focusing on being present in= my library in an effort to help my patrons find the books or information that = they are seeking.  Although the layout o= f many libraries are designed to make access of books easy, being available to hel= p my patron’s search for their books whether via a catalogue or in the stacks is= one way to help books and library materials be used.  The creation of pathfinders and libguid= es is another way to help promote the use of books.  Patrons might visit the library looking for a specific item to help = their research but if there were information guides about the collections, patrons might be able to see a collection as a whole and utilize more materials.

Law Two: Every person his or her = book

            Here Ranganathan is speaking against society’s attemp= t to make learning a privilege for a few and attack society’s belief that women, certain racial groups, and the economically disadvantaged should be deprived their right to have books and learn (Finks, 1981, p. 144).   Ranganathan believed that everyone has= a universal right to their books and wanted to help patrons find the books th= ey sought (p. 144). The materials in the library were not collected in abstract but were rather acquired for a user; by a community request (Gorman, 1998, = p. 57).

            Some of the ways that I can ensure that every person = has their book is by maintaining a connection with my patrons and overall commu= nity to be their aid in finding the right book or piece of information for the r= ight moment. One way is by being aware of my library community in the present but also in the future when creating my collection.  Having the books my community desires on the shelves is one of the f= irst steps in ensuring every person can have their book.  I can also participate in outreach acti= vities within the community and with nearby schools to not only support literacy b= ut also to be a familiar face in the community.  When information needs arise, I’m hoping my time in the community wi= ll make my library a place where people feel welcomed to visit.

Law Three: Every Book its Reader<= o:p>

            Here, Ranganathan is speaking about the “application = of intelligence and creativity to our cataloging and bibliography” (Finks, 198= 1, p. 144).  A library can have a huge collection of books but if the books are not catalogued in a way patrons can understand and use, the books will never be found by its reader. Ranganathan was a supporter of making the library a user-friendly environment by way of open access, classified shelf arrangement, cross-referencing in catalogues = (p. 144) where librarians served as a connection between the users and the mate= rial (Gorman, 1998, p. 58).  Supportive librarians and an easy-to-understand system would create a seamless and enjoyable experience and contribute to the success of a library in Ranganathan’s standards.

            Some of the ways that I can apply Ranganathan’s third= law to my practices as a librarian would be to ensure the books in my collection are properly catalogued and properly shelved.  The proper shelving of books is not only an aesthetic courtesy to pa= trons but having books shelved where they are supposed to be allows for patrons to search for their books and a higher rate of books being found by their readers.  By taking the time to re-= shelve books properly and shelf read, I can contribute to an orderly and systematic library. Another way to help create a library in which books are able to be found by their reader is to be aware of any re-occurring problem.  If books are constantly being re-shelved wrong, it would be wise to think of reasons why this is happening and creat= e a solution.  If numerous patrons are = having a hard time finding a specific type of book, it would be beneficial for my patron’s experience if the librarians looked into possible reasons for difficulty finding the books and think of ways to solve the problem.

Law Four: Save the Time of the Re= ader

            Along with usable catalogs and a library whose design= is accessible, Ranganathan suggests librarians create signs and indexes to make the patron’s visit to the library not only easier but also beneficial becau= se they are able to work more capably (Finks, 1981, p.145).  By librarians thoughtfully creating a s= pace that is user friendly from the moment patrons enter your library, they will= be able to navigate through different rooms and through stacks of information = more efficiently and effectively.  Along= with proper signage and instructions, Ranganathan reminds librarians to stay cur= rent on their knowledge of the library to provide the best service for their pat= ron (Gorman, 1981, p. 59).  =

            I can contribute to saving time for my patrons by creating proper signage for directional issues and making sure that rooms, shelves, and areas are signed properly so the patron never feels lost and wastes time with directional questions.  By trying to see the library from my patron’s point-of-view, I can anticipate areas that might be confusing or need further explanation.  Along with signage and indexes, staying current on trends in libraries, trends in books, and attending conferences = are some ways that I can continue to build my service skills which will transla= te to better service for my patrons. Providing effectual and efficient service= is not only a time saver but a professional standard that shows respect for my patrons. 

Rule Five: The Library is a Growi= ng Organism

            Here Ranganathan recognizes that a library’s collecti= on is not a stagnant assortment of books that will be able to serve the changi= ng needs of a community.  Collections = should grow with richness and a librarian can be the person to nurture the collect= ion (Finks, 1981, p.145). Books will be added to the collection, some books wil= l be removed, and the body of books a library possess will grow like a garden.  As the library is a growing organism, t= he library space, staff, and programs must too be flexible (Gorman, 1998, p.60).  Rigidly adhering to past practices or books that were once popular might make users have a view of t= he library being a thing of the past that cannot meet their current needs.

            In an effort to honor the library as a living organis= m, it would be wise to be aware of my collection and review the collection on a regular basis to make sure that there are no gaps and that things are not becoming dated.  When growing the collection, it is also important to take into account the desires of the community and my patrons to make sure the collection is developing to refle= ct their wants.  Just as the library i= s a living organism, so too are the body of individuals who serve the library.<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>  I must stay abreast to new trends and t= opics in librarianship so I do not become stagnant and outdated as well.



Ranganathan and the Future of Libraries

Since Ranganathan wrote his Five Laws, so much in the library has changed.  Predominantly, the influx of multimedia= and digital items being added to collections in libraries has significantly cha= nged the field of librarianship.  Rangan= athan used the word “books” throughout his piece but this chosen word was picked because that was the format of the time.  He could not have anticipated e-books and electronic journals existi= ng as they do today.  Ranganathan’s la= ws are still applicable to librarianship today and his fifth law can actually be s= een currently in libraries as we see digital becoming the preferred format and libraries needing to make changes accordingly.

Michael Gorman, a British-born librarian and writer of library-related topics, soug= ht to build upon Ranganathan’s original Five Laws and make them more applicabl= e to librarianship today.  He takes Ranganathan’s Laws and creates a more universally applicable definition.  For example, Gorman broadens Ranganatha= n’s first law to create the idea that libraries serve humanity (Gorman, 1995, p. 784).  Ranganathan’s belief that libraries and books would play a part in world peace (Finks, 1981, p. 142) = is expanded in Gorman’s New Laws by pointing out that the service of librarian= ship and providing patrons with information will further higher aspirations of humankind (Gorman, 1995, p.784).  <= o:p>

Gorman and Ranganathan’s Laws beautifully encompass the acts of librarianship and goals that the professional should strive for when providing service to our patrons.  As Ranganathan’s Laws wer= e not the last to be written, I believe that neither will be Gorman’s.  As the years pass, as patrons change, a= nd the library continues to grow, I believe that there will be many more sets of L= aws to help guide the practice of being a librarian.




Encyclopedia Britannica. (2016). Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan: Indian Librarian. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Shiyali-Ramamrita-Rangana= than

Finks, L. (1981). Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science: Their Enduring Appeal. Southeastern Libr= ian, pp. 142-145.

Gorman, M. (1995). = Five New Laws in Librarianship. Americ= an Libraries, 26(8), 784-785.

Gorman, M. (1998). Our Singu= lar Strengths: Meditations for Librarians. Chicago: American Library Association.









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