Tuesday, May 29, 2012

That's Still My Jam, Or, The Continued Applicability of Ranganathan's Five Rules of Library Science

Before I get into the heart of my post, I want to remind you of the Five Laws that Ranganathan proposed in 1931:
  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.
Set aside the quibbling about books versus electronic resources versus movies versus whatever, and the prescience of good ol' Shilayi Ramamrita Ranganathan shines through, even to today's libraries. Or, to get back to my music metaphor, his proposal "has a good beat, and you can dance to it" even now.

This kind of thinking applies to any kind of library, to any kind of resource, and to any kind of person using a library. We don't have Westlaw at my library, but we don't have lawyers or even a pre-law program. On the other hand, we do subscribe to most of the really important databases for the disciplines represented by our faculty. We have a communication department, so we have Communication and Mass Media Complete. We have PsycInfo for our psychology people. And so on, and so on.

Similarly, we have a strong and growing popular reading collection. I know there are still people out there who think librarians should be the arbiters of good taste. That we should guide our patrons away from trash and towards "literature" (imagine those quote marks as sarcastic air quotes). You know what? Forget that. First of all, plenty of authors who are considered high literature these days were considered popular fiction in their own times. Jane Austen, anyone? Second, trying to tell people what they should and shouldn't read goes against Ranganathan's ideas.

In case you've forgotten, or in case you haven't been reading my blog for long, let me remind you what the community I serve is like. I work at a small, liberal arts college that is in a semi-rural part of Northeast Ohio. The nearest public library is in the next town over, but most of the students who attend my college don't have a car so the next town over is still out of reach. We are part of the OhioLINK consortium, which gives the community access to more books than you can imagine, but even those materials take 3-5 business days to arrive.

Taking all of this into account, some people would still question my collection development decisions. Why do I have the "Hunger Games" series? Why do I plan to buy the "Fifty Shades of Gray" series in the new fiscal year? Why did I add a copy of The Overton Window to our collection even though Glenn Beck's politics make me want to scream? My answer: because of Ranganathan.
  1. Books are for use. I know these books will get used. Our copy of Hunger Games doesn't seem to get reshelved much these days. As soon as it's returned, out it goes again. That kind of thing doesn't happen that frequently at a library like mine.
  2. Every reader his [or her] book. I have no personal interest in Twilight or the uber-popular fan fiction it spawned, but readers in my community do. Further, our rhetorician contributed a chapter to a book about Twilight, so I know I need to have the "Fifty Shades of Gray" books.
  3. Every book its reader. I do lots of hand-selling, successfully, for our popular reading collection. There are a couple of members of the English department who are always open to a new graphic novel.
  4. Save the time of the reader. Although I don't mind waiting, most people don't want to wait 3-5 days for a book to arrive. They want to start reading it NOW NOW NOW, especially when it comes to pleasure reading. That's why we have books by Jennifer Crusie and Les Roberts and Stephen King. If a member of my community comes in looking for something fun to read, I can save them time by having these things on hand.
  5. The library is a growing organism. This is the most important of all of the laws. The library grows in response to the stimulus provided by the environment. I'm lucky in that there are many members of the faculty who teach popular literature, so I have curricular support/stimulus for my efforts. I'd still buy the same kind of books even if I didn't, because this is a lot of what the students and staff on my campus want to read. Back to my original music metaphor once again: you cannot dictate what kind of music is going to be popular, or how sub-genres of styles are going to evolve. Just as you cannot tell people what they should and shouldn't read.
It all comes down to the fact that I have Infinite Kung Fu in my collection for the same reason I have Atomic Comics or Writer M. D.: my application and understanding of Ranganathan's Laws.

What about you? Do you agree with the way I've interpreted S. R. R.'s Laws? Why/why not? How do you integrate them into your own collection development philosophy?


  1. Anything, within reason, that gets people into the building is a good thing. If those books get people into the building, and they do at the academic library where I work, then that's great. There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Only pleasure.

    1. Exactly! Another thing is that one person's academic/professional development reading is another person's pleasure reading.

    2. Yes. Great point. Hence the ... and Philosophy series that includes Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Star Trek....

      "All texts are valid, but some are more valid than others."

  2. Hi, I just found you and I love libraries of all sizes & shapes so I know I will enjoy your blog! I would agree with your interpretation, libraries are non-judgmental. That's one of the things I love about them, they are an open minded place where we all can find what resonates with us.