Dr. Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan (1892–1972) of India was an inventor, educator, librarian, and a philosopher. His early education was of a mathematics background. Using this systematic way of thinking, he later applied this to his work in library science. His most notably work was on library classification and administration (Indian Statistical Institute Library, et al. 2007). He went abroad to study librarianship at the University College of London, working under W.C. Berwick Sayers.

He was a university librarian and professor of library science at Benares Hindu University (1945–47) and professor of library science at the University of Delhi (1947–55). The last appointment made him director of the first Indian school of librarianship to offer higher degrees. He was president of the Indian Library Association from 1944–53. In 1957 he was elected an honorary member of the Federation Internationale de Documentation(FID) and was made a vice president for life of the Library Association of Great Britain (Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Biography, 2000).

Ranganathan made fundamental contributions to world library and information profession.

These laws are:

  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.

The Five Laws of Library Science are some of the most influential concepts in the field of library science. According to Rubin (2004) since they were published in 1931, these five laws “have remained a centerpiece of professional values…” In fact, these basic theories of Library Science continue to directly affect the development of this discipline and the service of all libraries.


 First law: Books are for use

The first law constitutes the basis for the library services. Ranganathan observed that books were often chained to prevent their removal and that the emphasis was on storage and preservation rather than use. He did not reject the notion that preservation and storage were important, but he asserted that the purpose of such activities was to promote the use of them. Without the use of materials, there is little value in the item. By emphasizing use, Ranganathan refocused the attention of the field to access-related issues, such as the library’s location, loan policies, hours and days of operation, as well as such mundanities as library furniture and the quality of staffing (Rubin, 2004).

 Second Law: Every reader his or her book

This law suggests that every member of the community should be able to obtain materials needed. Ranganathan felt that all individuals from all social environments were entitled to library service, and that the basis of library use was education, to which all were entitled. These entitlements were not without some important obligations for both libraries/librarians and library patrons. Librarians should have excellent first-hand knowledge of the people to be served. Collections should meet the special interests of the community, and libraries should promote and advertise their services extensively to attract a wide range of users (Rubin, 2004).

Third Law: Every book its reader

This principle is closely related to the second law but it focuses on the item itself, suggesting that each item in a library has an individual or individuals who would find that item useful. Ranganathan argued that the library could devise many methods to ensure that each item finds it appropriate reader. One method involved the basic rules for access to the collection, most notably the need for open shelving (Rubin, 2004).

Fourth Law: Save the time of the reader

This law is a recognition that part of the excellence of library service is its ability to meet the needs of the library user efficiently. To this end, Ranganathan recommended the use of appropriate business methods to improve library management. He observed that centralizing the library collection in one location provided distinct advantages. He also noted that excellent staff would not only include those who possess strong reference skills, but also strong technical skills in cataloging, cross-referencing, ordering, accessioning, and the circulation of materials (Rubin, 2004).

 Fifth Law: The library is a growing organism

This law focused more on the need for internal change than on changes in the environment itself. He argued that library organizations must accommodate growth in staff, the physical collection, and patron use. This involved allowing for growth in the physical building, reading areas, shelving, and in space for the catalog (Rubin, 2004).

Notable praises

Ranganathan made a great contribution to the library profession. His legacy was a message to the profession on a global plane (Kabir, 2003). Many professionals have made notable praises about him. Below are a few:

Eugene Garfield, founder of the Institute for Scientific Information, wrote that Ranganathan is “without question one of the luminaries of library science” and has had a “revolutionary impact on international classification theory”.(Garfield, 1985).

K.G.B. Bakewell in his article in the ALA World Encyclopedia called him “one of the immortals of library science.”(Bakewell, 1986)

Michael Gorman referred to him as “the unquestioned giant of 20th-century library science”.(Gorman, 1980)


In 1998, librarian Michael Gorman (past president of the American Library Association, 2005–2006), recommended the following laws in addition to Ranganathan’s five in his small book, “Our Singular Strengths”:

  1. Libraries serve humanity.
  2. Respect all forms by which knowledge is communicated.
  3. Use technology intelligently to enhance service.
  4. Protect free access to knowledge.
  5. Honor the past and create the future.

In 2008, librarian Carol Simpson recommended that editing be done to Ranganathan’s law due to media richness. The following were:

  1. Media are for use.
  2. Every patron his information.
  3. Every medium its user.
  4. Save the time of the patron.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

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