SR Ranganathan, father of library science and a workaholic

He was instrumental in the library movement in the Madras Presidency. The results of this are still visible in the form of the public library network in the region..

ByM Krishnamurthy | Sneha Bharti

Published Sep 27, 2022 | 1:16 PMUpdatedSep 28, 2022 | 9:20 PM

SR Ranganathan studied in the SMH Higher Secondary School in Sirkazhi, Tamil Nadu, from 1897 to 1909

Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan or SR Ranganathan was a renowned mathematician and library science scholar from Tamil Nadu. He is also known as the “Father of Library Science” in India.

Today is the 50th death anniversary of the man whose contributions to library and information science have had a global impact.

He was born in Shiyali (present-day Sirkazhi) on 9 August 1892. His father was Ramamrita Ayyer, a knowledgeable man who delivered Ramayana discourses to the local people, was popular and held in great regard by locals and visiting authorities.

Seethalakshmi, his mother, was a religious woman. The parents had three boys and a daughter, but one of the sons passed away at a young age.

At the age of 15, Ranganathan was married to Rukmani in 1907. In 1928, however, Rukmani died in an accident. In 1929, he married Sarada. She was very much devoted to Ranganathan and assisted him in his tireless efforts to advance the library movement. Ranganathan had just one son, born in 1932, named R Yogeswar.

First librarian of University of Madras

SR Ranganathan, father of library science in India

SR Ranganathan, father of library science in India (M Krishnamurthy)

Ranganathan completed his early education in 1909 from SM Hindu Higher Secondary School in Shiyali. After that, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics in 1913 and 1916 from the Madras Christian College.

After completion of his education, he joined as a mathematics faculty at Government College, Mangalore, in 1917 and subsequently taught at Government College, Coimbatore, in 1920, and Presidency College, University of Madras, from 1921 to 1923. Students referred to him as a “born teacher” and he was very popular.

In January 1924, Ranganathan left Presidency College to become the first librarian at the University of Madras. To prepare for the position, he went to England to attend University College, London. He took over the job in Madras in 1925 and was in the post till 1944.

At this time, Ranganathan developed the Principles of Library Management, the Colon Classification, the Five Laws of Library Science, and the Classified Catalogue Code. Active reference service flourished.

SR Ranganathan & the five laws of library science

His five famous laws of library science are:

1) Books are for use

2) Every reader, his book

3) Every book, its reader

4) Save the time of the reader

5) A library is a growing organism

Encouraging more visits to libraries

Ranganathan implemented an open shelving system and provided unrestricted access. This encouraged readers to visit the library frequently.

The atmosphere faintly glowed with intellectual activity and human activity. Near the beach in Madras, Ranganathan designed a functional library building. Using his Five Laws of Library Science as inspiration, these modifications were not implemented piecemeal, but rather in a comprehensive manner.

Outside of the library, Ranganathan commenced an everlasting mission. He united the region’s educated citizens and founded the Madras Library Association, which became the emblem of the library movement. He served as the founder secretary from 1928 till his departure from Madras in 1945.

He was instrumental in the library movement in the Madras Presidency. The results of this are still visible in the form of the public library network in South India.

SR Ranganathan, a workaholic

After 21 years of active library service, in 1945, Ranganathan took voluntary retirement in order to pursue research work.

SR Ranganathan stamp

Ranganathan was a famous workaholic and used to spend long hours in the library (M Krishnamurthy)

He served as a librarian and professor of library science at the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi from the period of 1945 to 1947 and after that, taught at the University of Delhi from 1947 to 1954.

In 1954, he left India and went to Zurich for his research and writing and stayed there till 1957. He then headed to India and worked as a visiting professor at Vikram University, Ujjain, till 1959.

In 1962, he established the Documentation Research and Training Centre in Bangalore and became the head of DRTC, a position he held for the rest of his life.

Ranganathan was a famous workaholic and used to spend long hours in the library.

He had difficulty in speaking and used to stammer, which he conquered through the course of his professional career. In 1948, he started the first graduate programme in library science at Delhi University.

From intuition

Ranganathan has produced a vast amount of literature on librarianship. The classification and indexing theories were his most important contributions to library science.

He developed a classification system known as Colon Classification in 1933, which is now widely used in libraries for classifying their collection. It also affected the previously used classification systems such as the Dewey Decimal Classification.

Later, for deriving the subject-index entries, he developed “chain indexing” in 1938.

SR Ranganathan Padma Shri

SR Ranganathan was awarded the Padma Shri in 1957 (M Krishnamurthy)

Some of his works include Classified Catalogue Code (1934), Prolegomena to Library Classification (1937), Theory of the Library Catalogue (1938), Elements of Library Classification (1945), Classification and International Documentation (1948), and Classification and Communication (1951).

It was generally accepted that his Five Laws of Library Science, developed in 1931, were the ultimate expression of library service standards. Additionally, he devised proposals for a national and many state library systems, established and published a number of periodicals, and was a member of several professional organisations.

On 29 October 1957 in Delhi, Rajendra Prasad, President of India, awarded him the “Padma Shri” honour.

In 1965, the Indian government bestowed upon him the position of national research professor in library science.

Ranganathan’s theory developed from intuition, and his intellect sought to clarify it for the logical mind of the scholar.

(M Krishnamurthy is Head and Associate Professor at DRTC, Indian Statistical Institute Bangalore. Sneha Bharti is Junior Research Fellow, DRTC, Indian Statistical Institute Bangalore)