Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Second Law: Every Reader His or Her Book


Ranganathan places special emphasis to the Second Law: Every reader his book.  He devotes three full chapters – first to its history and growth from “Books for the Chosen Few”, to its uneven spread throughout the world, and finally to the costs and implications of its fulfillment.  It is clear that he considers libraries closely linked with education, but for all people, not just for children.  When lamenting the resistance to universal education and the Second Law, he proudly states that “[t]he Second Law will not take a defeat. It must win ultimately” [section 2182].

In the first chapter on the Second Law, Ranganathan delves into the development of this idea through the expansion of education to formerly-deprived groups.  He focuses on disparities in education and in access to books based on class divisions, gender, locality (urban vs. rural), and “normal and abnormal”.  This last disparity is interesting, because he refers not only to those with physical disabilities, but also those who are illiterate (a terribly common problem in India at the time), incarcerated, or the infirm.  He emphasizes how all these individuals should have the opportunity for education through access to books, which could be made available physically (mobile carts in the hospital, prison libraries, books in Braille), or through other means (reading to the illiterate).

The second chapter about the Second Law was, at first, a bit difficult to slog through.  It is, essentially, a trip around the world providing examples of how the 2nd Law is (or is not) being implemented in different countries.  He starts, interestingly enough, in America, which he believes had made the most progress, primarily due to the work of Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Foundation.  He traverses to Canada and the UK next, linked not only by common language but also by the Carnegie Foundation, which included funds to support libraries in these lands.  I learned much about the development of librarianship and libraries in these countries, not only related to geography, but also history (between the wars) and politics (growth of fascism and communism).  He ends each section with applications in his own country of India – from the reading circles of the Soviet Union to help combat illiteracy, to the impressive Danish coordination of libraries to ensure appropriate distribution of books throughout the country.

The final chapter on the Second Law details what he believes are the obligations required to fully implement “its message”.  Dissecting the statement of the law, he stresses that the words “Every” and “His or Her” “keep the secret of the implications.”  For “varied is the taste of the world…[and] varied are the requirements of the readers.”  When discussing the obligations of the state (finance, legislation and coordination), he emphasizes the need for good statesmanship, for the knowledge of the value of education and libraries is “rarely realised by the general taxpayer…Few are the statesmen who possess this far-sightedness and courage of conviction.”  These truths are still evident today.  Ranganathan ends this chapter on the obligations of the reader – essentially justification for rules that are meant to ensure the equitable access of books within a library based on the Golden Rule.

But it is the obligations of the Library System and Library Staff that are particularly relevant to my post today.  As with the First Law, I have been trying to envision how these could be applied to various branches or areas of specialization within any library.  Instead of my ideas, here are some explicit instructions from the author himself:

  • Every reader his book:
    • Collection Development – Know your readers and know the books…”specialization with a local bias.”  If your library has branches or departments (like academic), limit the number of copies of standard references to a minimum and enable interlibrary or interdepartmental loans.  Provide the reference works that are too costly for individuals to own.  But above all, know the readers, “understanding and anticipating their needs.  This can only be done by actual contact with the readers.”
    • Cataloging & Technical Services – Stresses the importance of subject analysis in catalogs, given that “books are mostly of a composite nature…[and] very few of them are of a ‘monograph’ type.”  I also wanted to throw out my own ideas here – Make the catalog available to the readers where they “live” – such as search engines, making the catalog open for indexing.
    • Reference – Here Ranganathan shifts the emphasis from “every” to “his or her”, stating that the Reference Librarian has a duty not merely to “dole out across the counter the books that are asked for,” but “to know the reader, to know the books, and to actually help in finding…” by invoking the Second Law.  This may require special training not only in using the bibliographic aids, but also in the techniques of adult education and even psychology.
    • Library Administration – Provide for adequate number, quality, and training of staff to ensure that books are made available in a timely manner.  In addition, make wise decisions about location and hours of operation to ensure that people have the best opportunity to visit.  I would also add that making as many library services available online as possible would help bring the reader close to the books.
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This entry was posted on March 22, 2012 by in Collections, History, LIS Profession and tagged .
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