5 Laws of Library Science for the 21st Century

In a recent post at Tame the Web, Michael Stephens writes that a group in his LIS701 class came up with a revision of Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science.

For review, here are Ranganathan’s original laws:

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

…and here are the revised laws from the group in Michael Stephens’ LIS701 course:

1. Collections are for use.
2. Every collection its user.
3. Every user his collection.
4. Save time & energy of user.
5. The library is a growing organism.

I’m trying to figure out why their revisions leave me feeling so unsatisfied.

Perhaps it is because changing “book” to “collection” is too easy.

One might just as well change “book” to “resource” or “library” or “information object”, but this doesn’t really suggest any change other than the fact that books are no longer the only resource offered by libraries. It doesn’t help us adapt the ideals expressed by Ranganathan’s Five Laws to the realities of the present.

More challenging questions might be:

  • “How do we interpret and apply these laws to the present?”
  • “What changes in libraries and library science since 1931 (when S.R. Ranganathan first published his laws) present obstacles to running libraries in the spirit of Ranganathan’s laws? How might these obstacles be overcome?”
  • “If you were asked to author policies for [insert favorite library service or department here], how would you write these policies in the spirit of Ranganathan’s laws?”
  • “Review your institution’s Web site. Where does it fail to live up to Ranganathan’s Five Laws?”
  • “You are a special librarian in an institution that is not primarily academic or a public library (e.g. hospital librarian, corporate librarian). Can all of Ranganathan’s laws be applied unaltered? Are there laws that can only be applied conditionally?”

Extra Credit Question: Write a poem about Colon Classification (or faceted classification generally) and contemporary web technology. Must have at least one attempted rhyme for “Ranganathan,” “Shiyali,” or “Ramamrita.”

Additional reading:
Full text of Ranganathan’s Five Laws
Application of Ranganathan’s Laws to the Web by Alireza Noruzi

6 thoughts on “5 Laws of Library Science for the 21st Century

  1. extra credit:


    We get to things by thinking about them the way that we think about getting to them—we don’t get to the things we don’t think about getting

    The spider understands the relationship between where she chooses to build her web, and access to the things she wants to eat

    Shiyali logged on to ramamrita.com

    Later he logged off and rewrote his last name

    Replacing the As in Ranganathan

    with periods: R.ng.n.th.n

  2. Excellent, Darren!


    However, you didn’t include a rhyme for “Ranganathan,” “Shiyali,” or “Ramamrita.”

    For this reason, I have to drop your grade to a strong ‘B’.


    Thanks for the poem, Darren- it’s awesome. 🙂

  3. 1. Collections are for use. *
    2. Every collection its user.*
    3. Every user his collection.*
    4. Save time & energy of user.*
    5. The library is a growing organism.*

    *Within IT security, HIPAA & DMCA restrictions; and if you can afford it.

  4. That’s very succinct, Mr. Schad. 🙂

    Care to elaborate on which laws you think are most significantly impacted in a hospital library by concerns about IT security, HIPAA, and DMCA restrictions?

  5. 1. Collections are for use
    If electronic collections cannot be accessed remotely by patrons because a mythical IT admin., by specific individually requested permission policy, makes this access a nuisance to gain.
    Even IP authentication issues at an institution whose IT dept makes it’s entire org. look like one IP address can be quite a limitation on #1.

    That’s one issue for one law. A big one.
    Actually, I’m embarrassed that I felt the issues were obvious. I’ll have to think this over. My brains hurt already and it’s not lunch yet.

  6. A few years ago, I rewrote Ranganathan’s Laws thusly:

    1) Information is for use
    2) Every user his information
    3) Evey information its user
    4) Save the time of the user
    5) The library is an evolving organism

    I carry this around with me in my Palm Pilot.

    “Collection” doesn’t go far enough… And the library isn’t just growing, it’s continually and fundamentally changing. Why modify Ranganathan’s Laws any more than this? I believe that they are just as pertinent today as they were back in the day. Like all laws, these are subject interpretation. How do we interpret and apply these laws? In the same way that our predecessors did; creatively… Making relevant growth possible!