Did you know – #2



He is known as the father of library science. The only reason I ever knew about S.R. Ranganathan’s existence is thanks to my wonderful tutor of ‘Knowledge management’ and an excellent mentor Diarmuid Pigott.

The scholar that I am going to talk about today is known as S. R. Ranganathan to the world. His full name was Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan. He was a well known mathematician and librarian. Ranganathan is known to be the father of library science, documentation and information science in India. His contribution in the field of library science is one of the most fundamental ones and well-appreciated across the world.

Ranganathan pursued his B.A. and M.A. in mathematics from Madras Christian College and was a successful member of mathematics faculty at Universities in Mangalore, Coimbatore and Madras within a span of five years. In 1923 University of Madras created a position of librarian to look after their library and none of the applicants had any formal training in librarianship whatsoever. Ranganathan eventually got selected for the position and in some months time got seriously very bored keen to go back to teaching math. The man’s life goal was to teach math.

But, he got offered to go to London instead and study contemporary practices in librarianship. The gentleman went on learning it. Now, there he noticed some flaws with popular decimal classification system. Unlike most of just merely suggesting the flaws he also started working towards exploring the new better possibilities on his own. Dewey Decimal Classification as he termed it had ‘intellectual laziness’ (“What?” “ Why?” Find it out yourself and work upon your ‘intellectual laziness.)

He then started creating drafts of the new system of classification trying to overcome the flaws of DDC and this system eventually got renowned as ‘Colon Classification’. He had started the draft in England which he continued working on even after coming back to India. He then continued to be the librarian for Madras College for two more years and worked through-out the country to establish free libraries. During the same time he also gave his famous ‘Five laws of library science’.

Five laws of library science are as follows:

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

After two decades of serving as librarian at Madras – a post he had intended to keep until his retirement, Ranganathan retired from his position after conflicts with a new university vice-chancellor became intolerable. At the age of 54 he submitted his resignation. After a brief bout with depression he accepted a professorship in library science at Banaras Hindu University in his last formal academic position, in August 1945. He cataloged the university’s collection there. By the time he left (four years later) he had classified over 100,000 items personally.

Ranganathan headed the Indian library association from 1944 to 1953. However, he was never a particularly expert administrator. He left amid controversy when the Delhi public library chose to use the Dewey Decimal Classification system instead of his own Colon Classification. He held an honorary professorship at Delhi University from 1949 to 1955 and helped build that institution’s library science programs with S. Dasgupta who was a former student of his.

Ranganathan’s final major achievement was the establishment of the ‘Documentation Research and training centre’ as a department and research center in the Indian Statistical Institute. He served as honorary director for five years there. In 1965, the Indian government honored him for his contributions to the field with a rare title of “National Research Professor”.

Note for the readers: For all those who are interested in knowing what Colon Classification is or what is Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) do a quick Google search on it as it is out of the scope of this article to justify the appropriate explanations of them. There is a fair bit of information available on the web regarding the classification systems and there are many others such as these two.


Originally Written for ‘The Quest – an intra personal critique’ – issue #8

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