A Centennial Salute to Ranganathan

By Finks, Lee W. | American Libraries, July-August 1992 | Go to article overview

A Centennial Salute to Ranganathan


Finks, Lee W., American Libraries


On the 100th anniversary of his birth, a tribute to the lasting worldwide influence of the Father of Indian Librarianship.

What is it about Ranganathan? What makes so many of us love and admire him? The great Indian librarian will be honored around the world this year as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth on August 9. But while we may have a vague awareness of the famous "Five Laws" (and perhaps even his theories about classification systems), most Americans would have to admit that his direct impact on our libraries has been limited.

Yet love and admire him we do. 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."(1) K. G. B. Bakewell in his article in the ALA World Encyclopedia called him "one of the immortals of library science."(2) And Michael Gorman, editor of AACR2 and presently dean of library services at California State University/Fresno, referred to him as "the unquestioned giant of 20th-century library science."(3)

Intellectual high spots

In 1981, I paid tribute to the Five Laws on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of their first publication,(4) calling them, among other things, one of the few intellectual high spots I had encountered in library school. Ranganathan inspired me at a time when I was searching for some philosophical underpinning for all of the practical, mundane details that my teachers were trying to cram into my head.

I am a teacher now myself, and I still appreciate the power of idealism in our efforts to professionalize our students. Ranganathan's Five Laws can fill an otherwise empty spot as a foundation for reflecting on our mission. As I said in that earlier article, they are just right for such a purpose: simply stated, obviously wise, somehow romantic and charming in an exotic sort of way, and with the intellectual strength to stand alone.

Possessed by librarianship

The stature and character of the author himself also contribute to the appeal of Ranganathan's ideas. Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan (1892-1972) was originally a professor of mathematics who was pressed into library service at Madras University in the 1920s. He went abroad to study librarianship at the University College of London, working under the renowned W. C. Berwick-Sayers, and returned to India as a man possessed. He lived and breathed librarianship for the rest of his long and remarkable career.(5)

He was known as the Father of Indian Librarianship for his work in organizing professional associations, developing his country's regional and national library plans, and organizing schools of library science at three major In-writer, turning out an impressive stream of books and articles on all aspects of the field. And he developed what is almost certainly the most elegant and ingenious library classification, system to date: the Colon Classification, an "analytico-synthetic" scheme of facets, isolates, and fundamental categories that is still the delight of classification students.

He was also a devout Hindu and a mystic, and his writings are filled with a sense of dharma, the cosmic law that binds together all things in their mutual destiny. …

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