S. R. Ranganathan

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S.R. Ranganathan
Born Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan
9 August 1892(1892-08-09)
Sirkali, Tamil Nadu
Died 27 September 1972 (aged 81)
Bangalore, India
Occupation Author, Academic, Mathematician, Librarian
Nationality Indian
Genres Library Science, Documentation, Information Science
Notable work(s) Prolegomena to Library Classification
The Five Laws of Library Science
Colon Classification

Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan Media_S._R._Ranganathan_pronunciation.ogg‎ Listen (Tamilசீகாழி/சீர்காழி ராமாமிருத ரங்கநாதன், ciyali rāmāmiruta raṅkanātaṉ [?]) (August 9, 1892, Sirkali, Tamil Nadu - September 27, 1972, Bangalore) was a mathematician and librarian from India. His most notable contributions to the field were his five laws of library science and the development of the first major analytico-synthetic classification system, the Colon classification. He is considered to be the father of library science, documentation, and information science in India and is widely known throughout the rest of the world for his fundamental thinking in the field.


[edit] Education

Ranganathan, born on 9 August 1892, came from a moderate background in British-ruled India. He was born in the small town of Shiyali (also known as Sirkazhi/சீர்காழி), in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India.

Ranganathan began his professional life as a mathematician; he earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in mathematics from Madras Christian College in his home province, and then went on to earn a teaching license. His lifelong goal was to teach mathematics, and he was successively a member of the mathematics faculties at universities in Mangalore, Coimbatore and Madras (all within the span of five years). As a mathematics professor, he published a handful of papers, mostly on the history of mathematics and his career as an educator was somewhat hindered by a handicap of stammering (a difficulty Ranganathan gradually overcame in his professional life). The Government of India awarded Padmashri to Dr. S.R. Ranganathan for valuable contributions to Library Science.

[edit] Early career

In 1923, the University of Madras created the post of University Librarian to oversee their poorly organized collection. Among the 900 applicants for the position, none had any formal training in librarianship, and Ranganathan's handful of papers satisfied the search committee's requirement that the candidate should have a research background. His sole knowledge of librarianship came from an Encyclopædia Britannica article he read days before the interview.

Ranganathan was initially reluctant to pursue the position (he had forgotten about his application by the time he was called for an interview there). To his own surprise, he received the appointment and accepted the position in January 1924.

At first, Ranganathan found the solitude of the position was intolerable. After a matter of weeks, complaining of total boredom, he went back to the university administration to beg for his teaching position back. A deal was struck that Ranganthan would travel to London, to study contemporary Western practices in librarianship, and that, if he returned and still rejected librarianship as a career, the mathematics lectureship would be his again.

Ranganathan travelled to University College London, which at that time housed the only graduate degree program in library science in Britain. At University College, he earned marks only slightly above average, but his mathematical mind latched onto the problem of classification, a subject typically taught by rote in library programs of the time. As an outsider, he focused on what he perceived to be flaws with the popular decimal classification, and began to explore new possibilities on his own.

One of his most powerful insights at this time was what was later referred to as the Acknowledgment of Duplication, which states that any system of classification of information necessarily implies at least two different classifications for any given datum. He anecdotally proved this with the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) by taking several books and showing how each might be classified with two totally different resultant DDC numbers. (Simply put, for example, a book on "warfare in India" could be classified under "warfare" or "India". Even a book on warfare in general could be classified under "warfare," "history," "social organisation," "Indian essays," or many other headings, depending upon the viewpoint, needs, and prejudices of the classifier.) To a mind such as Ranganathan's, a structured, step-by-step system acknowledging each facet of the topic of the work was immensely preferable to the anarchy and "intellectual laziness" (as he termed it) of the DDC. The importance of this concept, given the poor technology for information retrieval available at that time, cannot be underestimated. Even in modern terms the concept is attractive for its simplicity, predictability, and depth in comparison to classification on a linguistic level, such as is used by search engines such as Google.

He began drafting the system that was ultimately to become the Colon Classification while in England, and refined it as he returned home, even going so far as to reorder the ship's library on the voyage back to India. He initially got the idea for the system from seeing a set of Meccano in a toy store in London. Ranganathan returned with a powerful passion for libraries and librarianship and a vision of its importance for the Indian nation. He returned to and held the position of University Librarian at the University of Madras for twenty years. During that time, he helped to found the Madras Library Association, and lobbied actively for the establishment of free public libraries throughout India and for the creation of a comprehensive national library.

Ranganathan was considered by many to be a workaholic. During his two decades in Madras, he consistently worked 13-hour days, seven days a week, without taking a vacation for the entire time. Although he married in November 1928, he returned to work the afternoon following the marriage ceremony. He and his wife Sarada had one son, a few years later, but they stayed married until Ranganathan's death.

The first few years of Ranganathan's tenure at Madras were years of deliberation and analysis as he tackled the problems of library administration and classification. It was during this period that he produced what have come to be known as his two greatest legacies: his five laws of library science (1931) and the colon classification system (1933).

Regarding the political climate at the time, Ranganathan took his position at the University of Madras in 1924. Gandhi had been imprisoned in 1922 and was released around the time that Ranganathan was taking that job. Ranganathan sought to institute massive changes to the library system and to write about such things as open access and education for all which essentially had the potential to enable the masses and encourage civil discourse (and disobedience). Although there's no evidence that Ranganthan did any of this for political reasons, his changes to the library had the result of educating more people, making information available to all, and even aiding women and minorities in the information-seeking process.

[edit] Later career

After two decades of serving as librarian at Madras -- a post he had intended to keep until his retirement, Ranganathan retired from his position after conflicts with a new university vice-chancellor became intolerable. At the age of 54, he submitted his resignation and, after a brief bout with depression, accepted a professorship in library science at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, his last formal academic position, in August 1945. There, he cataloged the university's collection; by the time he left four years later, he had classified over 100,000 items personally.

Ranganathan headed the Indian Library Association from 1944 to 1953, but was never a particularly adept administrator, and left amid controversy when the Delhi Public Library chose to use the Dewey Decimal Classification system instead of his own Colon Classification. He held an honorary professorship at Delhi University from 1949 to 1955 and helped build that institution's library science programs with S. Das Gupta, a former student of his. In 1951, Ranganathan released an album on Folkways Records entitled, Readings from the Ramayana: In Sanskrit Bhagavad Gita.

Ranganathan briefly moved to Zurich, Switzerland, from 1955 to 1957, when his son married a European girl; the unorthodox relationship did not sit well with Ranganathan, although his time in Zurich allowed him to expand his contacts within the European library community, where he gained a significant following. However, he soon returned to India and settled in the city of Bangalore, where he would spend the rest of his life. While in Zurich, though, he endowed a professorship at Madras University in honor of his wife of thirty years, largely as an ironic gesture in retaliation for the persecution he suffered for many years at the hands of that university's administration.

Ranganathan's final major achievement was the establishment of the Documentation Research and Training Centre as a department and research center in the Indian Statistical Institute in Bangalore in 1962, where he served as honorary director for five years. In 1965, he was honored by the Indian government for his contributions to the field with a rare title of "National Research Professor."

In the final years of his life, Ranganathan finally succumbed to ill health, and was largely confined to his bed. On September 27, 1972, he died of complications from bronchitis.

Upon the centenary of his birth in 1992, several biographical volumes and collections of essays on Ranganathan's influence were published in his honor. Ranganathan's autobiography, published serially during his life, is titled A Librarian Looks Back.

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