Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

The Third Law: Every Book Its Reader


There is a subtle, but key difference between Ranganathan’s Second and Third Laws.  While the Second Law is also expresssed as, “Every Reader Should Be Served His or Her Book”, the Third Law (“Every Book Its Reader”) is similarly expressed as “Every Book Should Be Helped To Find Its Reader”.  These laws form a complementary association, much like the yin and the yang of Chinese philosophy.

This Third Law is also complementary with the First Law (“Books are for Use”):

The First Law revolutionised the outlook of libraries; the Third Law would make that revolution as thorough as possible.

Ranganthan demonstrates the Third Law by the “most prominent means” at that time, the Open Access System.  For those unfamiliar with library history, this refers to the opening of shelves or stacks to the readers, and not to some pre-digital publishing environment.  Most libraries through the 19th century, particularly academic libraries, kept their stacks closed to the users.  Readers would refer to catalogs (mostly cut-and-paste style, only later were cards used), record their selections on request slips and wait their turn before being able to view the books.  The Open Access system provided readers “the opportunity to see and examine the book collection with as much freedom as in one’s own private library.”

In addition to this innovation, Ranganathan also mentions the value of subject-oriented arrangement of books on the shelves, combined with the subject cross-references in the catalog.   These he goes into more detail when discussing the Fourth Law, but he holds these methods as prime examples of the implementation of the Third Law.  Here are some others that either he mentioned or that I considered relevant:

  • Every book its reader:
    • Collection Development – Use the selection tools wisely, being aware of the source, the intended audience, the frequency of updating.  Infer suggestions for selection from readers’ tastes, including those directly made, reference encounters, vocations and occupations of the community, prospective events, and interviews with community leaders.  But Ranganathan also considers there to be some room for the more “haphazard” or serendipitous selections. 
    • Cataloging & Technical Services –  Ensure that the books are fully analyzed to include the appropriate subject headings, as well as plenty of associated keywords that enable the reader to find her book. Ensure that the processes for making works available flow smoothly and swiftly.  When making changes, consider carefully the necessity of removing the item from circulation, even for a limited period.
    • Reference – Do not simply state: “Provide the books and keep out of the way of the reader.”  He asserts that “average analytical card catalogue will always be in need of an interpreter.”  Familiarize yourself well with the reference sources, the catalog system, the online databases, and especially the underutilized books and resources that enable you to easily match them to the individuals.  Finally, observe readers’ “tastes and wants, their actions and reactions, and their likes and dislikes.”
    • Programming & Marketing –  Take advantage of all avenues of publicity, particularly targeted to potential readers in the community.  Provide an environment that enables all (librarians, staff and members) to share their experiences with their materials (books, CDs, DVDs, databases, etc.).  Nothing promotes better than word of mouth. Evaluate the library’s programs and determine what improves circulation and usage and what is underused.  
    • User Training & Education – Be aware of the most common misconceptions and mis-perceptions of libraries, books, and resources, and be prepared with proven ways of overcoming these.
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This entry was posted on March 27, 2012 by in History, LIS Profession and tagged .
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