Reader’s Question Answered

Recently, Vishma Bhattarai submitted the following question to Librarian to Librarian:

“How do you think about the significance/value/importance or anything else of SR Ranganathan’s five laws of library science during these days?”

Source: Pinterest.com

Brodart’s Scott Piepenburg, who wrote an article about the five laws, responded: “As a cataloger, I still use these principles when I teach. As of late, there have been many efforts to ‘update’ the five laws to say ‘resource’ rather than ‘book’ and reflect other more modern trends, but when it comes to access and the philosophy of collection development, they are still good, solid, valid, relevant rules. They speak to the very basic, important things that we do as librarians; the technology and resources may have changed, but the goals are the same.”

As for whether the pandemic and extended library closures have impacted his view of Ranganathan’s laws, Scott said, “In my opinion, no. In fact, I think the laws have become more relevant and even more notable in the light of the pandemic. The library still strives to get every reader their book and every book their reader, but more important, libraries have had to change their delivery and resource model, highlighting the fact that ‘the library is a growing organism’ so it can adapt and change with the needs of its users.”

Brodart Selector Suzanne Hawley added, “Isn’t it fascinating and remarkable that the five laws were formulated in 1924 — almost 100 years ago — and they are still invaluable for the library of today? I think the creative ways librarians have been able to serve their patrons and care for their resources during the pandemic shows that, indeed, the library has proven to be a growing organism.”

Brodart Selector Stephanie Campbell concurs that while the laws are still valid, changing circumstances, such as demographics and the rise of social media, are forcing libraries to adapt and develop creative strategies to serve patrons. She says:

“Top of mind thoughts for me regarding the first three laws (Books are for use; Every reader his or her book; Every book its reader) revolve around diversity in collections. Yes, books are for use and we hope that people will read them, but materials are often acquired simply because of their value as works of literature or their importance to society. Now more than ever, you can’t let demographics dictate what you select and you can’t take circulation figures at face value. Marginalized populations NEED to be represented. In a more frivolous example, I’ve often heard, ‘nobody here reads science fiction.’ OK, is that because there aren’t any people here who like that genre or because our collection is awful? Sometimes it’s not obvious who the audience will be or if there will be an audience at all, but you need those materials, anyway.

Laws four and five (Save the time of the reader; A library is a growing organism) make me think about how crucial convenience services are now, how much more our mission has transcended physical walls. This is all wonderful, but will create even more marketing challenges as people have gotten out of the habit of spending time in our buildings. We often relied on ‘preaching to the choir,’ with flyers and posters that catered to in-house customers, or we hoped that regular DVD borrowers might someday venture into the book section. Websites and social media presence are going to be more important than ever to maintain existing users and attract new ones.”

Thank you, Vishma, for submitting your question! We’d love to hear from other readers who have additional questions or comments related to libraries or librarianship.

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