Monday, March 19, 2012

The Five Laws of Library Science

Among the first things I learned at library school were Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science. These laws are the philosophical basis for what modern-day librarianship should be about: the library user.

Ranganathan and his Five Laws of Library Science.
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In 1931, Indian librarian and mathematician R.S. Ranganathan proposed his Five Laws of Library Science, which are: 1) Books are for use; 2) Every reader for his [or her] book; 3) Every book its reader; 4) Save the time of the reader; and 5) The library is a growing organism. All five laws point toward making the library an accessible and up-to-date resource for people of all ages and backgrounds to visit and enjoy.

A little girl gets lost in a book during an afternoon at her local public library.
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As I make my way through library school, I find that the heart of Ranganathan's user-centric philosophy is ever present in readings, lessons, and lectures. And its ubiquity makes perfect sense. After all, if we as future librarians aren't going to make helping the patron our top priority, then why even bother stepping behind the desk at the library? The library user is No. 1! * Last Updated March 19, 2012

Five Laws of Library Science

The five laws of library science is a theory proposed by S.R. Ranganathan in 1931, detailing the principles of operating a library system. Many librarians worldwide accept them as the foundations of their philosophy.

These laws are:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

First law: Books are for use.

The first law constitutes the basis for the library services. Ranganathan observed that books were often chained to prevent their removal and that the emphasis was on storage and preservation rather than use. He did not reject the notion that preservation and storage were important, but he asserted that the purpose of such activities was to promote the use of them. Without the use of materials, there is little value in the item. By emphasizing use, Ranganathan refocused the attention of the field to access-related issues, such as the library's location, loan policies, hours and days of operation, as well as such mundanities as library furniture and the quality of staffing.

Second Law: Every reader his [or her] book.

This law suggests that every member of the community should be able to obtain materials needed. Ranganathan felt that all individuals from all social environments were entitled to library service, and that the basis of library use was education, to which all were entitled. These entitlements were not without some important obligations for both libraries/librarians and library patrons. Librarians should have excellent first-hand knowledge of the people to be served. Collections should meet the special interests of the community, and libraries should promote and advertise their services extensively to attract a wide range of users.

Third Law: Every book its reader.

This principle is closely related to the second law but it focuses on the item itself, suggesting that each item in a library has an individual or individuals who would find that item useful. Ranganathan argued that the library could devise many methods to ensure that each item finds it appropriate reader. One method involved the basic rules for access to the collection, most notably the need for open shelving.

Fourth Law: Save the time of the reader.

This law is a recognition that part of the excellence of library service is its ability to meet the needs of the library user efficiently. To this end, Ranganathan recommended the use of appropriate business methods to improve library management. He observed that centralizing the library collection in one location provided distinct advantages. He also noted that excellent staff would not only include those who possess strong reference skills, but also strong technical skills in cataloging, cross-referencing, ordering, accessioning, and the circulation of materials.

Fifth Law: The library is a growing organism.

This law focused more on the need for internal change than on changes in the environment itself. He argued that library organizations must accommodate growth in staff, the physical collection, and patron use. This involved allowing for growth in the physical building, reading areas, shelving, and in space for the catalog.

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