Ranganathan’s Laws

S. R. Ranganathan is considered to be one of the greatest thinkers in the field of library science.  He made numerous contributions of fundamental ideas and philosophies that are still being referred to by information professionals today.  Perhaps the greatest contribution of Ranganathan was The Five Laws of Library Science he presented in 1931.  The five laws include:

  • Books are for use.
  • Every reader his (or her) book.
  • Every book its reader.
  • Save the time of the reader.
  • The library is a growing organism.

These laws can still be applied today and have continued to capture the essence of what a library is truly intended for.  No matter the library setting (school, public, academic, special), Ranganathan’s theory is relevant and useful when considering the purpose and future of modern-day libraries.

Since the original five laws were created in 1931, there have been many variations and forms published since then by individuals in the field of information science and outside of the field.  Below is the Five Laws of the Web.

  • Web resources are for use.
  • Every user his or her web resource.
  • Every web resource its user.
  • Save the time of the user.
  • The Web is a growing organism.

These laws form the foundation of the Web and relay the same concept and forethought brought forth by Ranganathan’s original laws.  The ‘Web’ variation of the original five laws reflects the changes that have occurred in the field of library science and gives us the foundation for information professionals just as the 1931 original did.  Substituting the terminology “web” and “user” for “book” and “reader” is more encompassing when discussing the role of modern-day libraries.

1. Web resources are for use

The Web was designed to meet the need of humans to search, retrieve, and share information resources, experience, and knowledge.  This law infers that Web is for using and learning new or existing information.  This law is important because information serves absolutely no purpose if it is not utilized and shared by people.  The Web provides individuals the ability to maximize social utility in the information retrieval and communication process.  The Web must contain and preserve all records of all communities/societies and allow all users access to these records.  The emphasis is on free access to information.  The Web of the future must retain the best of the past and a sense of the history of the Web and scholarly communication.  The Web has grown at a much faster rate than books did when they were first in print.  Because of this it is difficult to archive, organize, and manage web content because there is so much of it!  Millions of datasets, records, websites/webpages are being created and utilized every day.  It is important for information professionals to understand the differences and challenges technology has posed to users regarding an overload of information when searching the Web.  Because the Web exists for users, communities, and societies; the interests of users must be the foundation of the Web measures and processes.

2. Every user his or her web resource

This law reveals the fundamental need for balance between creating web resources and the fundamental right of all users to have access to the web resources they need.  This makes dissemination very important; each web resource should call to mind a prospective user.

A web site must articulate access policies that ensure that the content it is building and maintaining is appropriate and adequate to fulfill the expectations of its community of users.  This directly relates to information architecture when it comes to the overall structure, design, and scope of a website.  The content must be appropriate to the website’s mission and purpose.  A website must contain resources suitable to the needs of all its users.  Any website that limits access in any way must warrant that this restriction does not prevent adequate access to the content by the users that website was created to serve.

However, there is a more feasible aspect to this law.  Webmasters must know their users well if they are to provide them with the content they need.  A responsibility of information architects and webmasters is to instruct and guide users in the process of search for web documents they are looking for.  Clearly, it is the business of information professionals to know the user, the web resources, and to actively help in the web searching process.  Information professionals must also consider:

  • Who might want to access information resources?
  • Who will or won’t have access?
  • What are the issues surrounding access to printing, passwords, etc. ?

Webmasters must acknowledge that users of websites value different methods of communication in the quest for knowledge and information.  This law orders that the Web serves all users, regardless of social class, age, sex, ethnic, religion, etc.  Every ‘cyber’ citizen has a right to information and information professionals should do their best to meet the users’ needs.

3. Every web resource its user

When a user searches the Web there are certain web resources that will meet his or her needs.  It is the information professional’s  job to make sure the connection between the user and web resources is made and that it is practical, straightforward, and relatively quick.  Appropriate arrangement of content on a website is also an important means of achieving this objective of the third law.

How can an information professional find a user for every web resource?  There are many ways in which a website can actively work to connect its resources to its users:

  • Distribution of new content through listservs, discussion groups, RSS feeds, and social media;
  • Making a new resource list on the home page of the site;
  • Submitting resources to popular directories and search engines

The use of a well-organized, structured, and categorized site map is a necessity, as it ensures consistency of different web resources on similar topics.  It should be simple and easy to use.  Web designers should add content with specific user needs in mind, and should make sure that users can find the content in relatively simple way.

This third law is the most sensible, and is constantly broken by web designers.  This law stipulates that a web resource exists for every user, and that resource should be well defined and indexed, displayed in a uniform and consistent manner on the site, and made readily available to users.  This law points to practices such as open access rather than closed files, a logical site arrangement, and a sufficient site map.  Again, information architecture plays a key role in ensuring that “every web resource its user.”

4. Save the time of the user

This law presents the biggest challenge to web designers and information architects because no matter if the overall design of the website is user-friendly and well laid-out, depending on the user and their needs, it is hard to gauge what is considered ‘time-efficient.’  Website content must be designed and arranged in an inviting, straightforward, concise way to avoid wasting the time of users as they navigate the site.

This law has a front-end component (ensure people quickly find what they are looking for) and a back-end component (make sure data is structured so information can be retrieved quickly by administrators of the site).  Usability and findability are key when looking at saving the user valuable time.  This law has been responsible for many reforms in website design and architecture.  A website must consider the policies and systems in place with the one simple criterion: saving the time of the user is vital to the website’s mission and overall success.

A well-planned and implemented site map saves the time of the user.  Saving time for the user means providing resourceful, thorough access to web content.  And unfortunately what some designers/architects fail to realize is that this law is the prime measurement of the website’s success.  If a website is clunky or confusing, the user will become frustrated and seek another means to find what they need, even if the content of the website is relevant and useful for the user.  This law could also be thought of as: serve the user well.

5. The Web is a growing organism

The Web reflects the changes in the world and will continue to grow as we contribute to its riches.  It is indeed a growing organism.  Information professionals need to plan and adapt with the expectation that the Web and its users will grow and change over time.  Similarly, as professionals in the field of information/library science, we need to keep advancing our own skill levels.

The Web presents an interesting quandary for information professionals.  With hundreds of thousands of books, journals, magazines being published in the U.S. each year, the indexed Web contains at least 2 billion pages as of 2014.  When a book is published, it goes through a more stringent process including authors, editors, publishers, etc.  There are no guidelines for the Web.  Anyone can publish anything at any time.  Information professionals play an important role in sifting through the ‘junk’ and finding relevant websites and resources that are valuable to users.  The endless number of resources found on the Web are beneficial when indexed, cataloged, and searched correctly.  There will be an increased need for advanced search techniques as users require more value from web searches they conduct.

In the last decade, innovative technologies have created a shift/change in the role of librarians.  With the explosion of the Internet, Google, social media, and mobile technologies; users are changing the way they seek out their information needs, which in turn is affecting how libraries are being utilized.  The digital revolution shows no indications of slowing down, and with this libraries are having to incorporate new technologies and philosophies to meet the users’ needs.  The library is indeed a growing/changing organism and will continue to evolve with the changes in technology.  The field of information/library science has undergone a huge transformation in recent years and these changes go beyond integrating technological advances, and involve rethinking the core of what defines a library.

Conradi, E. (2011). to_be_classified. Journal of Information Architecture, 2(2), 5-23.

Ranganathan, S.R. (1931). The five laws of library science. Madras: Madras Library Association.

Sen, B.K. (June 2008). Ranganathan’s five laws. Annals of Library and Information Studies, 55, 87-90.

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