Library science is an interdisciplinary field that applies the practices, perspectives, tools of management, information technology, and education to libraries. This also includes the preservation, organization, dissemination and collection of information resources, and the political economy of information.
The first school of library science was founded by Melvil Dewey at Columbia University in 1887, but library science as we know it found its origins in India through the work of Dr. Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan. Often considered to be the father of library science, Ranganathan's work has made important contributions to the library and information profession through his five laws of library science. Published in 1932, Ranganathan's five laws have remained a centerpiece of professional librarian values, and continue to directly influence the evolution and day-to-day practice of libraries throughout the world.
Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science are :
First law: Books are for Use.
The first law represents the foundation for all library services. Ranganathan realized that books were often chained to bookshelves in order to prevent their removal. Ranganathan stressed that there is little value in the ownership of materials if they are not allowed to be used. This brought attention to access-related issues such as the library's location, hours of operation, furniture and staffing.
Second Law: Every reader his or her book
Ranganathan felt that everyone should be entitled to library service in order to allow education for all parties. Ranganathan felt that librarians should always be capable of providing excellent first-hand knowledge, that collections should meet the interests of the local community, and that libraries should advertise their services in order to attract a wide range of users.
Third Law: Every book its reader
Although closely related to the second law, this point focuses on the book itself, suggesting that each item in a library has an individual or individuals who would find that item useful.
Fourth Law: Save the time of the reader
A significant role of library service is its ability to meet the needs of the library user. Ranganathan recommended the use of appropriate business methods to improve library management. An example of this is library centralization. He also understood the need for staff with skills in ordering, cataloging, cross-referencing, and the circulation of materials.
Fifth Law: The library is a growing organism
This focused on the need for internal change. Ranganathan argued that library organizations must accommodate growth in staff, the physical collection, and customer use. This involved allowing for growth in the physical building, shelving and catalog space, and reading areas.
Ranganathan's Five Laws have been expanded upon in recent years in order to meet the challenges of the modern library. A notable example of this is the work of librarian and former president of the American Library Association, Michael Gorman. Gorman adapted and reinterpreted Ranganathan's five laws of librarianship in order to make them relevant to the digital age.
Known as Gorman's Eight Central Values of Librarianship, the key principles are:
- Stewardship: Librarians play a key role in preserving human records for future generations and must pass on their best values to future professionals.
- Service: Gorman stresses the duty of librarians to serve individuals, communities and societies through a combination of empathy, professional skills, and personal dedication.
- Intellectual freedom: Librarians must fight to protect free expression of thought, even if the ideas concerned contradict the librarian's own personal convictions.
- Privacy: The freedom to access whatever materials an individual wishes, without the knowledge or interference of others.
- Rationalism: This principle is a key foundation of library procedures, and should encourage the logical classification and organization of stock.
- Commitment to literacy and learning: Reading is of central importance to literacy and lifelong learning.
- Equity of access: Gorman argues that the digital divide is only one manifestation of social inequality and that all library services have a role to play in providing equity of access.
- Democracy: Gorman describes libraries as democratic institutions. If people are to exercise good judgment when electing their leaders and representatives, then they need to be highly informed and have regular access to written records.
Gorman later expanded on these theories with his Five New Laws of Librarianship:
- Libraries serve humanity: This law covers the assistance of individuals and implies a desire to provide a quality service which exceeds the user's expectations.
- Respect all forms by which knowledge is communicated: Gorman advocates the use of various forms of knowledge and information.
- Use technology intelligently to enhance service librarians: Gorman suggests that librarians embrace technological advances, although print-on-paper remains the primary medium for the communication of knowledge. Technology should be utilized to improve services, solve problems, and achieve cost-effectiveness.
- Protect free access to knowledge: Allowing the records of the past to disappear is a form of censorship, which goes against a librarian's belief and job description.
- Honor the past and create the future: Gorman advocates the need to balance nostalgia for a pre-digital past with the need to embrace new technologies if they greatly enhance the library service.
Education in library science varies from country to country. In the United States and Canada, a librarian is expected to complete an undergraduate degree followed by a Masters program in library science. In the United Kingdom a librarian can complete a three or four-year bachelor's degree in library and information studies or information science, and a separate master's degree in librarianship, and archive and records management. In Germany and Europe, the first step for an academic librarian is a Ph.D., followed by additional training in librarianship.
Library and information science is currently considered a popular and fulfilling career. Although its workers tend to be older than employees in other industries, there has been an increase in recent years in the numbers of graduates gaining employment in the field of library science, helping to make it a competitive and growing occupation.