The Library: A Growing Organism

Have you ever browsed a library and its collections and asked yourself any of the following questions:


Why are certain books always missing from the shelves?


How did they know that I would I love these particular books and how did they decide to buy them?


Why are there so many signs and notifications in the library?


Every time I come here they have something new, why is that?


If you have asked yourself these questions, after reading this article you will have the answers.


The rules or laws which guide libraries and library services in the Western hemisphere, were developed by an Indian born librarian and mathematician, Dr. Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan, or S.R. Ranganathan, as he was called. He was born in India in 1892, completed his formal University studies in Mathematics and Library Science in India, and later migrated to England.  While working as a librarian in London, he was nominated as Vice President of the Library Association of Great Britain.


Dr. Ranganathan was a scientist at heart and believed that all human activities could be analyzed scientifically. Using scientific methodology, Ranganathan invented the term library science and subsequently created five laws which could be applied to library operations. Ranganathan’s Five Laws are:

  1. Books are for use Libraries acquire materials and make them accessible so that they can be used;
  2. Every book its reader – Every book purchased and acquired should be done so with specific readers in mind;
  3. Every reader his book – Library books and materials should be acquired to meet the needs of its reader;
  4. Save the time of the reader – Library policies, rules, procedures, and systems should be developed to save the time of the readers;
  5. The library is a growing organism – Libraries will continue to grow andchange throughout their lifespan.


Ranganathan was largely influenced by experiences at the British Library in London when he established his Five Laws. When planning the public library system in the United States, founder Melvil Dewey was certainly aware of Dr. Raganathan’s Five Laws.


In today’s modern library systems, some steps have been taken to modify and adapt Dr. Ranganathan’s Five Laws to meet the times. Public, academic, government, and private libraries for the most part, are still guided by the Five Laws. In almost every aspect of their administration, planning, and most certainly in acquisitions, we can see evidence that the Five Laws are very much alive.


Typically, popular books will be missing from the shelves in most libraries. As books are for use, that is certainly the intended purposes of the library. Part of a librarian’s job is to ascertain the needs of patrons. Any public librarian will tell you the importance of getting to know your public. The time spent at the reference desk should guide librarians in acquiring materials which match the interests of the patrons.


Librarians must stay aware of trends and changes which are occurring in the society where they serve. Books and materials which reflect societal changes should always be prioritized and made accessible quickly. A good library should be organized in a way that patrons can find what they seek with or without the assistance of the staff. Directional signs, catalogs, subjects matter indicators, classifications, and identifying intended users for materials are an integral part of a well-planned, library system.

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Part of the original appeal of the Public Library as an institution can be attributed to the availability of technology to the general public. The public telephone was a big draw for 19th century library users. Audio recordings, typewriters, microfilm, 16mm film reels, VHS tapes, computers/internet, DVDs, and now, 3D printers, have all been made available to the public via libraries. Most recently, I was notified that my library had just begun a free streaming service for library card holders. The library is indeed a growing organism. Dr. Ranganathan would be proud to know that his Five Laws established in 1931, are very much in use today.


*Information for this article was sourced from Gorman, M. (1998). The Five Laws of Library Science Then & Now. School Library Journal. July, 20-23.