5 laws

Ranganathan’s 5 laws of Library Science 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.

There is some discussion as to whether these laws need updating in the ‘information age’, as many feel we seem to be changing our roles. I would contend however that the role of a librarian remains the same and the laws still apply.

The first law is undiminished and is what divides libraries from museums. The public library collects that which may be used and rightly weeds those books no longer required, so as to make room for the new. The collecting library also makes its collection available for use by in-house readers, by loan or now by digitisation. For that which cannot be read or otherwise accessed is pointless.

The second law talks of equitable access and opposing censorship, so that all users irrespective of their standing and irrespective of their tastes and interests are covered. That each may have access to the work of their choice. This is clearly not an area from which we should be resiling.

The third law similarly states that for every book, there is a reader and that it is part of a library’s role to make that book noticeably available, so that it might find its reader. As our catalogues expand onto the web, we can see how this is true, as the more we expose our collections, the greater the demand.

The fourth law asks us to save the user’s time. This is certainly an area where we have shown the most adherance to any of the laws. Online catalogues, digitisation, inter-library loans, online reference, online reservations etc. etc. are just a few of the ways that libraries have incredibly reduced users time. With, for example, digitisation what would have taken a user days or even years to find in searching through historic newspapers can now be found in seconds. We sometimes forget how successful we have been in meeting this laws intentions, it is libraries advances and not just Google which has revolutionised information access.

The last law is where we have to continually challenge ourselves. A good library is indeed a growing organism, not just in its collection, but in the all the ways we serve. Our goal should always be to lead and follow the technology and the needs of our users. To continue to offer as wide a choice, greater access and faster delivery. To grow and change, divesting of that which is no longer required so that we may spread further. I would mention here the e-book debate, but that would be too obvious.

So if all the laws are sound, why the need by some to re-model the laws. Some say that the term ‘book’ does not encompass all the myriad media that libraries now possess, but at the time of writing (1931) it didn’t either (there being periodicals, newspapers, ephemera, film, pictures etc.) available then as now.

There is a temptation to change the word book to media or even information, but it seems wrong. A book is still the standard intellectual vehicle, valued beyond any other medium. Plus, I think maybe we are already moving away from the idea that a book can mean only a paper book, so there is not that imperitive to change the terminology to clearly reflect digital media.

Ranganathan’s laws then are still valid. And they are still being followed by libraries, long may that be so.

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One thought on “5 laws

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