Are Ranganathan’s laws obsolete?


Could the founding father of library science have imagined the challenges, the swift changes, the growing anxiety over the future of the book, or even the innovations in store for libraries in the 21st century?

A downright overturn compared to what was happening eighty years ago. So it seems obvious the Five Laws of Library Science of 1931 should be called into question when it comes to their current value.

A group of researchers has done just that. They also wanted to ‘tidy up’ and reinterpret the 5 laws in the light of contemporary changes in information services (for example those concerning electronic data and the Web).

Reordering Ranganathan: Shifting User Behaviors, Shifting Priorities is the title of a report published by OCLC on June 30th 2014 and edited by researchers Lynn Silipigni Connaway and Ixchel Faniel.

So how have the fundamental laws been reconsidered?

  1. “Save the time of the reader” (the former fourth law): libraries must make their resources available by embedding them into the users’ existing workflowsIn a word, they must provide online services that appeal to their specific communities.
  2. “Every person his or her book” (the former second law): knowing one’s community and its needs is its foundation.
  3. “Books are for use” (the former first law): this law is still all about access; the interpretation offered by the authors is focused on the development of physical and technical infrastructure needed to deliver ‘analog’ and digital materials
  4. “Every book its reader” (the former third law): libraries must nowadays increase discoverability, access and use of resources within users’ workflows.
  5. “A library is a growing organism” (the former fifth law): the authors of this report particularly underline a feature of libraries that is subject to growth: the users’ share of attention, that is the total time a person is willing to spend using library resources and services in order to efficiently retrieve information.

The latter seems like a demanding challenge – if I may say so – with Google, wikipedia and social networks.

You can find this extremely interesting report free to download here.



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