S.R. Ranganathan was "the father of library science in India," but his name is known to librarians around the world. He was born August 9, 1892, in Shiyali, Madras, India,, brought up by his schoolteacher grandfather, and studied mathematics for B.A. and M.A. degrees at Madras Christian College. He taught at several colleges before being chosen First Librarian of the University of Madras in 1924; on this appointment, he went to England to study at London's University College and came back the next year to actually become the librarian. At first he did not enjoy librarianship as much as teaching, but after a while he found many ways to improve library access and service.

His Five Laws of Library Science (1931) are one of the things still taught to library students. No one has really come up with a better way to update them:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

In 1933 he published his Colon Classification system as an attempt to deal with the rapidly growing world of knowledge and new subjects that hadn't been thought of when older systems were devised. This system in its complete form is used only in some libraries in India, but it's been a major influence on modifications to the Dewey Decimal System and other systems used in Western libraries since its publication. He continued all his life to work in classification and indexing theory, and his influence is felt even in computer information retrieval systems. (One of my source articles compares the Colon Classification to Yahoo!'s hierarchical category system.) His work influenced such standard library references as the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules.

In 1944 he became a librarian and a professor of library science at Hindu University for two years, and then at the University of Delhi for seven years. During India's work toward independence from England, he took books to imprisoned leaders, and was repaid by having their ear when the country became independent; his plans for public library systems, published in 1950, were very influential.

In 1954 he went to Zurich, Switzerland for three years of research and writing, then returned to India to be a visiting professor at Vikram University. In 1962 he founded Bangalore's Documentation and Research Training Centre, and worked with it until his death. He also founded several advanced degree programs in library science and library professional associations.

Rangananthan was truly dedicated to libraries. He came to work on his own wedding day shortly after the ceremony. His home life was generally spartan; despite being well-known and well-paid, he gave his money for scholarships rather than living expensively. His home did not even have electricity. He generally went barefoot, even in the libraries he staffed, and was quoted as saying that the library was his home and no one wears shoe]s in their own home. Even in 1970, when he was ill, Indian librarians would travel hundreds of miles to speak to him and he would see ten or more each Sunday. He died September 27, 1972.


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