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Revising Ranganathan

Well-respected Indian librarian Shiyali Ranganathan (1892-1972) contributed his Five Laws of Library Science to our profession in 1931.

  • Books are for use
  • Every reader his/her book
  • Every book, its reader
  • Save the time of the reader
  • A library is a growing organism

Most of us learned about these as ideologies in library school and they live in the back of our minds.  Some updates and variants of the original laws are listed in a Wikipedia entry.

In their 2005 Library Journal article, Ranganathan Online, Michael Cloonan and John Dove reinterpreted the ideologies for a changing information world.

In his own writings, Ranganathan expanded the literal reading of those simple laws.  For instance, books are for use, really implies that all library materials, in all formats, should be unchained.  The ideal library would have empty shelves or usage off the charts. (My phrasing.)  Libraries are essentially about service.

Lately, I’ve been wondering how and if Ranganathan’s laws apply to today’s school libraries.  And public and academic libraries too.

Even with the most expanded of readings, with the exception of Number 5, all of these laws apply to libraries that are transactional rather than transformational.  The laws are about use, access, service, efficiency.  And then I was thinking that even my personal favorite–Law Number 5–needed to be busted open a bit to define that type of growth we’ve seen in libraries across the board.

So using that Ranganathan Online as a jumping off point, I decided to try my own revision.  I welcome your feedback and ideas!  Here’s a wiki version if you’d like to play.

The Law In Ranganathan’s Day


In Today’s World (Cloonan/Dove 2005) Applied to Today’s School Library

(Valenza 2010)

Books are for use Put books in circulation—not just on the shelf Make sure online resources are available where and when they’re needed Books, media, tools, resources in all formats, are for use and/or creation. Make sure teachers and learners have access to traditional, current, and emerging information and communication tools and resources.  Ensure that the library and all its resources, guidance, and instruction have multiple points of access.  Ensure both physical and intellect access by teaching search, access, evaluation, analysis, synthesis, production/creation.
Every reader, his book Break down barriers to the principle of education (and books) for all Eliminate the obstacles that prevent users from making effective use of electronic resources Every learner, his media, tools, channels. Actively maintain and enhance websites, pathfinders, and instructional guides, and instruction to ensure teachers and learners can access and discover the books/information/materials/media and search tools they need in all formats regardless of time or geography.  Librarians work with learners to discover optimum formats to meet their reading, information and communication needs.
Every book, its reader Open the stacks; provide a well-cross-referenced catalog Integrate electronic resources into virtual learning environments and other web pages of the institution Every book or media, its user, consumer, producer. Ensure through guidance, signage, creation and dissemination of electronic resources and active instruction that the learner can get to the information and communication resources and tools he or she needs or wants.
Save the time of the reader Create effective catalogs for speeding the readers’ search for particular books Provide metasearching capabilities so that users can search entire sets of electronic resources. And link resolvers so that readers get access to the best source Help the learner become more effective, efficient, and productive user and creator of ideas and information. Continually evaluate physical and virtual ­­­­­­­instruction and service.  Ensure the learner can access and effectively user the search tools and resources most appropriate to his or her developmental and intellectual and information needs.
A library is a growing organism See libraries as part of the larger community Offer 24/7 anytime, anywhere, access to libraries; the Information Commons; the Invisible Web Library—virtual or physical—is a growing organism.  Offer 24/7 anywhere/anytime access and instruction.  The librarian must function as scout or Sherpa or guru  in emerging information landscapes.  The library’s collection needs continual reinterpretation.
Library is everywhere, anytime. Access to library resources must be available to the learner and the learning community at the point of need through the most effective communication and delivery tools of the time and those that best meet the community’s needs.
Libraries are learning spaces. Libraries are as much transformational as they are transactional. Libraries are about literacies, transliteracy. The library actively employs its staff, resources, and tools to help learners/users learn, collaborate, invent, create, publish, communicate, share.
Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Doug Johnson says:

    i added a very simple rule to Raganathan once upon a time: Every reader his reading format. No discrimination between e-book readers and print readers!

    Good post, Joycie!


  2. Alice Yucht says:

    Perhaps we need to change “books” to “publications”?

  3. Terry Young says:

    I would like to see that what is happening today is done as a collective group of school librarians. Since most of us work in isolation we should become better at sharing the best of what we have with our colleagues at ONE central online location. Happy Holidays!

  4. Yup, Terry. I agree. What you see represents the view from my lens. Play with the wiki if you like. Let’s set something up on more official platforms. Have a wonderful holiday, buddy!

  5. Lisa Morein says:

    Thanks Joyce. I put this in my file titled “What Today’s Libraries Need.” Also if you haven’t read it yet, check out “Making Noise in the Library,” in 360 Magazine, Fall 2010.

  6. George Eberhart says:

    Here are my own, from The Librarian’s Book of Lists (ALA Editions, 2010):

    1. Books are for use. Library users must be able to access information freely. Barriers to its use (poor user interfaces, prohibitive fees, limited hours of access, web content filters) should be eradicated or minimized.
    2. Every person his or her book. Library users in a democratic society have the right to seek out, request, and obtain information for personal education or entertainment, regardless of race, gender, religion, age, ethnicity, language, political viewpoint, disability, or sexual preference.
    3. Every book, its reader. Libraries must create an environment that allows users to find not only the information or materials they need but also the information or materials they do not know they need.
    4. Save the time of the reader. Libraries must train and inspire their users to become information literate and thus lifelong learners. Library resources and services should be extended to users outside the library through such methods as online databases, distance education, digital reference, social networks, mobile libraries, and digital collections.
    5. A library is a growing organism. Libraries must plan for the growth of their collections, the changing needs and demographics of their users, the expansion of staff skill sets, and the evolution of information technology.

  7. Andy Woodworth did an ebook version of the 5 laws on his blog:

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