Birth Centenary Literature on Ranganathan: A Review

M.P. Satija

floral device Abstract

Discusses the books and articles written in observation of the centenary of S. R. Ranganathan’s birth. There were nine books published for the occasion, and six special issues of journals. In addition there were articles about Ranganathan in at least 10 other periodicals. Of all his writings and ideas, it seems that he lives on primarily through his classification studies and his scientific method. His efforts in cataloging, reference, and selection were not prominent in the centenary literature.

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S.R. Ranganathan’s contributions to Indian and world librarianship are of the highest order [1]. His intense dedication and his sheer originality of thought and work won him recognition in his own lifetime. He created a new paradigm, a school of thought. As a writer, he was amazingly prolific: he wrote 60 books and 1,500 papers on all aspects of our discipline. His range of research, writing, and practical work was all–encompassing. His approach was fundamentalist and he was an exponent of the use of the scientific method to solve library problems. Ranganathan as a person and as a library scientist always won serious attention from the profession. Library scientists everywhere reviewed, applied, propagated, and furthered his work. His influence grew stronger and continued after his death. It is reflected in books, papers, and Ph.D. theses on his life and work. At his death in September, 1972, many associations, organisations, schools, and individuals paid him rich tributes. Journals brought out special memorial volumes signalling the end of an era. In November, 1985, the Indian Library Association, in league with other professional bodies, organised an international conference on Ranganathan’s “philosophy and relevance.” In this conference the totality of library and information science was discussed in the context of a single person by the 300–odd participants from four continents.

Another inevitable occasion to witness a rush of activities focused on Ranganathan was his birth centenary year, 1992. The silhouette of the action programme was first dreamt of in 1985 at the conclusion of the International Conference on Ranganathan Philosophy (New Delhi, November 1985). The Sarada Ranganathan Endowment and DRTC had planned a year–long celebration from September 1991 to September 1992. They were joined by the whole Indian library profession. The profession all over the world reaffirmed its faith in him and his work and philosophy. It was manifested in new books and special issues of journals on him (subject of the paper), passing resolutions (for instance, by the American Library Association), and choosing India as a venue of international conferences (such as IFLA at New Delhi and ISKO at Madras) Meetings and seminars were entirely focussed on him, such as the Jubilee Meeting and Exhibition at Moscow in May 1992. The Classification Research Group (CRG) of London organised a symposium on 15 October 1992. Jack Mills, D.W. Langridge, and Nancy Williamson (chairperson FID/CR) read papers. In India, the government released a commemorative stamp of one rupee denomination. The Madras Library Association sponsored a bust of Ranganathan cast in plaster. The conferences and meetings ranged from Delhi University to the National Library, Calcutta. The in–house meetings and regional seminars and souvenirs seem so many that it would require a separate paper to identify and describe them.

Hardly any other library professional in the world has got as much honour and recognition as Ranganathan on his birth centenary. During this period a sizeable body of literature on Ranganathan and his works has been produced, heralded by his autobiography:

S.R. Ranganathan, A Librarian Looks Back: an Autobiography of Dr. S.R. Ranganathan; with an evaluation of his life and work by P.N. Kaula. (NewDelhi: ABC Publishing House, 1991). xi, 485 p. (Kaula Series in Library Science, 11)

It is a collated version of the serialised articles published from 1963 to 1972 in the Herald of Library Science. Unlike many life accounts the book nowhere describes the life and career of Ranganathan either fully or chronologically. These are fragmentary reminiscences and selected episodes jotted down from his life and career. One section offers an evaluation of his life and works by P.N. Kaula. There are 34 photographs. The book captures the interesting story of his entry into the profession and narrates with human interest his early days as head of the Madras University Library; his memories and impressions of the School of Librarianship, University College, London; and his mode of work with books and readers. In the second section, we see him as a public figure and a statesman of librarianship. Here with a bagful of facts and figures, he describes his work with library associations, especially the Madras Library Association and the Indian Library Association. The social, cultural, and library milieu are well portrayed. However, his personal and family life find no mention there. Its presentation and style is unusual, with various dialogues. The persons figuring in the autobiography have not been explicitly named but disguised in Colon Classification notation, e.g., Edward B. Ross is “BR“; “B” is mathematics in the CC and “R“ stands for Ross by alphabetical device. The biography is laced with abstract thought, drawing morals. Conclusions are candidly didactic. Appendices by Kaula fill in some of the gaps as he describes Ranganathan&rsquos work at Madras, Benares, and Delhi. In all, the autobiography is a document of cardinal value for Ranganathan scholars.

Many of Ranganathan’s colleagues and disciples had toyed with the idea of playing Boswell to him. At last, success came to the intransigent Girja Kumar. Before doing the actual biography, he wrote another book explicating the nature of genius. It is a very brilliant and specialised study which later ushers in the centenary literature:

Girja Kumar, Ranganathan, Dewey and C.V. Raman: a Study in Arrogance of Intellectual Power. (New Delhi: Vikas, 1991). 147 p.

Kumar makes a comparative study of Ranganathan with Melvil Dewey (1851–1931) and Indian Nobel laureate physicist C.V. Raman (1866–1970), as case studies in intellectual despotism. It is a social and psychological study of the phenomenon of genius. It concludes that all — the three were dominating, arrogant, and despotic. Girja Kumar had a long association with Ranganathan and is known for his intellectual insights and broader social perspectives. He finds vital parallels in the lives of three great men who were single–mindedly devoted to their work. They were double personalities and made others feel small in their presence. It is a work which freshly analyzes Ranganathan’s thought process as contrasted with the bulk of writing about him, which is eulogistic in tone. The book was a precursor to a full–length biography:

Girja Kumar, S.R. Ranganathan: An Intellectual Biography. (New Delhi: Har–Anand Publications, 1992). 327 p.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I, entitled “The Man,” is an account of Ranganathan’s life activities and achievements from childhood to his last days at DRTC Bangalore. The gaps are visible. Not much is known about his ancestry, childhood, and youth. The author has more successfully concentrated on an evaluation of Ranganathan’s work and personality, in the second part, entitled “The Intellect.” This is a psychoanalytical study of the man and his social environments. The analysis is incisive and the interpretations are deep and convincing. The topics covered are Ranganathan’s place in world library history, his personal value systems, the makeup of his mind, the working of his intellect, his holistic approach, and his creativity. The latter he viewed as a mystic experience. Lastly, the author discusses Ranganathan’s colonial background, academic politics in the Third World, and his relevance for today and tomorrow. It throws ample light on contemporary India’s social ethos and vitiated academic milieu. Kumar is an iconoclast and highly opinionated. Many may not agree with his interpretations and some may even feel offended. Many of Ranganathan’s colleagues find no place in this study. Nevertheless, the book is thought–provoking. The language is lucid and idiomatic. The author’s wide readings in sociology, psychology, history, and Marxism, and his intimate knowledge of Ranganathan shine through the book. Brilliance is its hallmark. It is an outstanding and unmatched contribution to Indian library science literature. It is an outstanding book of the occasion.

Another book devoted to the study of his works is:

P.S.G. Kumar, Ranganathan: A Multifaceted Personality: A Centenary Tribute. (Delhi: BR Publishing Corporation, 1992). xi, 240 p.

This author is not only Ranganathan’s admirer but has also imbibed some of his qualities. The book seems to have been produced on the spur of the moment: a pastiche of different opinions on Ranganathan organized to make a readable monograph. It covers many aspects of the man, his personality, his work, and his philosophy such as “Ranganathan as a man,” “Ranganathan as a scientist,” “Ranganathan as a teacher,” and “Ranganathan and mysticism.” The aspects of Ranganathan’s works studied are “Ranganathan as a librarian,” “Ranganathan as an author,” and “Ranganathan and the library profession.” An interesting chapter is on Ranganathan’s internationalism. In Chapter 3, “Ranganathan as a scientist,” his contributions to various branches of library science are skillfully summarized. Here many more aspects have been covered than in any other single non–composite book. There are some gaps, too, especially his contributions to library education and library legislation, and his work for library associations. Lastly, the author describes his own association with Ranganathan and the way he was influenced by him. The book is useful both to the novice and to the initiated.

P.A. Mohanrajan, who recently retired from the Madras University Library, used some archival documents to produce:

P.A. Mohanrajan, Library Science: Dr. S.R. Ranganathan’s Contribution 1924–1944; An Analysis. (Madras: Mohanavalli Publications, 1992). x, 112 p.

The book consists of 13 small chapters and a foreword by M.A. Gopinath. It centres on Ranganathan’s career and the Madras University procedures and system of those days. Mohanrajan documents Ranganathan’s appointment as librarian, citing the resolutions of the Madras University syndicate, and also describes Ranganathan’s early work for library education. Chapter 13 is a useful bibliography of 13 books and 127 papers on library science authored by Ranganathan between 1924 and 1944. Its emphasis is more on sources than on their analysis.

The only specialised study on Ranganathan is:

M.P. Satija, S.R. Ranganathan and the Method of Science. (New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan, 1992). ix, 181 p.

This is my own published doctoral thesis. It studies Ranganathan’s research methodology including his communication skills and techniques. Divided into 13 chapters besides a select bibliography and an appendix, it addresses the following questions: Ranganathan’s thoughts on the research process; his own method of research; how ideas occurred to him; the way he collected requisite information and processed raw ideas; the status of the “Five Laws” and the “spiral of scientific method”; and lastly his effectiveness in communication. The appendix lists chronologically a comprehensive list of Ranganathan’s books and pamphlets from 1931 to 1992. V.K. Rangra reviewing the book in the daily The Patriot (November 22, 1992) commented, “The chapters are exhaustive and well documented. The language and style are user friendly.”

R.N. Sharma, an Indian settled in the U.S. as director of the University of Evansville (Indiana) Libraries, who had earlier written his Ph.D. thesis on Ranganathan’s influence on academic libraries in India, has compiled and edited a very interesting book by roping in important persons to contribute papers:

R.N. Sharma, ed., S.R. Ranganathan and the West. (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1992). xvii, 177 p.

The contributors, all Westerners, are from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Most of them have intimate knowledge of Ranganathan. The topics covered are interesting and original. These include: Ranganathan’s influence in the West; his influence on classification and information science; his language; Ranganathan’s days at the University College, London; and his influence on different types of libraries. An interesting chapter is by Nasser Sharify, about Ranganathan’s stay in his house in the U.S. in 1964. Indeed some of the information is genuinely fresh. At the end are appended facsimiles of two resolutions passed by the American Library Association in 1992 reaffirming relevance of his work.

Another important publication from the West has now been reissued with a new introduction:

Edward Dudley, S.R. Ranganathan, 1892–1972; introduction by M.P. Satija. (New Delhi: Ess Ess, 1992). 39 p.

Since its first publication in 1974 by the Library Association, London, this book has remained an important and oft–quoted publication. The essays by leading librarians are valuable and substantial. In the present edition, the boot has been given a new introduction by myself, bringing out Ranganathan’; relations with the U.K. library profession. The chronology has been updated to 1992 and an index has been added for the first time.

The centennial literature spilled over into 1993, with a Festschrift:

K. Navalani and M.P. Satija, eds., Petit Petals: A Tribute to Ranganathan. (New Delhi: ABC, 1993).

There are 16 essays by experts in the U.S., Europe, and India evaluating his worl and relevance. The more important among them include I.C. Mcllwaine and Derek Langridge giving recollections on Ranganathan; C.D. Batty writing on Ranganathan’s influence on indexing language; K.G.B. Bakewell on Ranganathan’s management principles; and the late John Comaromi on his influence on classification, especially the later editions of the DDC. K. Navalani writes on Ranganathan’s work on library legislation in India. I write on Ranganathan’s place in library science research. P. Dhyani writes on the influence of the CC on the DDC. Gian Singh and Kuldip Chand write on the Five Laws; Jens B. Friis–Hansen on the present value of Ranganathan’ classification and techniques for current work in Denmark; and, M.B. Konni on Ranganathan’s U.S. relations in the perspective of transnational library relations. The essays are marked for their originality and insights. It makes for a fresh look on Ranganathan and his colossal work.

Another such edited volume is to be brought out under the auspices of the P.N. Kaula Endowment.

To mark the occasion many journals, both Indian and foreign, planned and brought out special issues ranging from tribute papers to whole issues devoted to Ranganathan. The lot was heralded by:

International Classification, v. 19, no. 1 (1992), pp. 1–60.

Following an editorial by I. Dahlberg there are four papers. I draw a minute chronology of Ranganathan’s work in classification; Edward Sukiasyan writes on the influence of Ranganathan in Russia for the last 45 years, notably on the use of facet analysis techniques in the BBK (the Russian classification); Yan Xiao (China) writes on the influence of the Colon Classification on practice and research in China; and, lastly Hemlata Iyer (US) discusses some of Ranganathan’s postulates in classification.

Libri, v. 42 (July–September 1992): 169–281.

The issue, edited by A. Neelmeghan, was released during the 1992 IFLA General Conference in New Delhi. There are eight papers from experts from different countries. Elaine Svenonius evaluates Ranganathan’s methods in designing classification schemes. This theme is continued by Peter Ingwersen and Irene Wormell who explicate the use of facet analysis in designing subject indexing languages. A. Neelameghan studies the use of Ranganathan’s classificatory principles in designing databases. D.J. Foskett dwells on Ranganathan’s emphasis on user–friendliness in all his library work and services. At his best, he was a humanist. Pauline A. Cochrane asserts that Ranganathan’s Five Laws serve as useful guidelines and criteria for assessing the value of information technology in library and information services. I.K. Ravichandra Rao and A. Neelameghan trace the implicit use of quantitative techniques made by Ranganathan to various types of library work. R.N. Sharma discusses the impact of Ranganathan’s contributions on international librarianship. Lastly, F.W. Lancaster, Mary Jo Zeter, and Laura Metzler make bibliometric analysis of the citations to Ranganathan’s writings over the period 1956–1990 to affirm his continued influence. The paper concludes: “It seems that Ranganathan’ s name is now frequently used by writers to give their papers some academic responsibility.“ The issue is of value for its emphasis is on the present–day relevance of Ranganathan.

Library Science with a Slant to Documentation and Information, v. 29, no. 2 (1992).

This issue was devoted to Ranganathan. The paper by M.A. Gopinath, “Summary of the work and achievements of Dr. S.R. Ranganathan,” presents chronologically the work of Ranganathan manifested in books, development plans, and committee work. An earlier paper of the late Bernard Palmer, “Ranganathan: the man and his works: view through a bibliography,” studies Ranganathan’s development as an author. Derek Langridge describes Ranganathan’s art, his humanism, his method of teaching, and his application of the scientific method to librarianship. The focus is on wholeness in the life and work of Ranganathan stemming from the spiritual foundations and Indian tradition. W.A. Weerasoorya discusses the integral nature of Ranganathan’s Five Laws and their wider applications. G. Bhattacharyya compares Ranganathan’s scientific method to Thomas Kuhn’s approach. Eduard R. Sukiasyan presents the various events which made Ranganathan admired in the former Soviet Union.

Annals of Library Science and Documentation, v. 39, no. 2 (June 1992): 31–71.

This journal was founded by Ranganathan in 1954. In this volume, dedicated to Ranganathan studies, there are eight papers. T. Viswanathan writes on the fifth law of library science. T.N. Rajan reaffirms the relevance of Ranganathan’s work in the information environment; and A.P. Srivastava comments on the lasting impact of Ranganathan. Gurcharan Singh writes on Ranganathan’s work as chairman of the Documentation Section Committee of the Bureau of Indian Standards. Girja Kumar explores Ranganathan’s approach to knowledge organisation. V. Rajalakshmi and R. Pal study Ranganathan’s contribution to this journal and list 88 papers (1954–1970) published in this journal, and S. Mishra, M.K. Joshi, and M.K. Misra write on Ranganathan’s relevance in today’s information environment. The editorial traces Ranganathan’s relations with INSDOC and this journal.

Journal of Library and Information Science, v. 17, no. 1 (June 1992).

Under the editorship of Krishna Kumar, Delhi University’s journal brought out a special and detailed volume on varied aspects of Ranganathan. Most of the papers are highly original. Girja Kumar discusses the influence of the Hindu religion on the thoughts and work of Ranganathan. P.N. Kaula traces in detail the work and activities of Ranganathan during his stay in Delhi from 1947 to 1955. S. Parthasarathy describes in detail Ranganathan’s work with the Bureau of Indian Standards and his active role in the formulation of standards for documentation. D.J. Foskett writes further on the nature and importance of the category of personality and correlates it with general systems theory. Emilia Curras of Spain examines the principles, canons, and postulates underlying the CC and affirms that Ranganathan’s classification ideas conform to the concept of “unity of science.” M.A. Gopinath summarises Ranganathan’s contributions to classification, and Krishan Kumar traces the history of the first edition (1924–1933) of the Colon Classification. J.C. Binwal discusses Ranganathan’s theory of the formation of subjects, describes empirical tests carried out to test Ranganathan’s model, and concludes that the model is still a powerful tool in knowledge representation. A.R. Sethi comments on Ranganathan’s literary style and examines aesthetics in Ranganathan’s works, literary style, and personality. Lastly, C.P. Vashisth delineates the state of the art of libraries and library services in India today.

Desidoc Bulletin, v. 12, no. 5 (September 1992).

This periodical, published since 1981 by the Defence Scientific Information and Documentation Centre, New Delhi, also brought out a special issue released during the IFLA General Conference in New Delhi. There are five papers. I give an account of the achievements and the milestones he set at the national and international level. V.K. Rangra focuses on the human aspects of Ranganathan’s personality. Harjit Singh reminisces about his own experience with Ranganathan as a teacher and brings out his qualities as an educationist. M.A. Gopinath presents a case for the use of facet analysis in knowledge analysis and representation. Lastly, P. Jayarajan affirms that the Five Laws are the ultimate in Ranganathan’s work and theories.

The following issues of other journals included articles to mark the occasion:

On the occasion of the IFLA General Conference, the Hindu (Madras daily) brought out a special supplement on libraries and Ranganathan. During the IFLA sessions from 30 August to 5 September, many Delhi dailies brought out features on libraries, Ranganathan, and IFLA Conference proceedings. It was an apt occasion for the laymen to have an introduction to libraries and library services in India.

That is not all. The promised DRTC database on Ranganathan is still to come. The colossal task of collection, collation, and publication of Ranganathan’s letters has to be accomplished someday. A film on Ranganathan was displayed during the ISKO and IFLA Conferences. These non–print media on Ranganathan seem a visible area for ILA and the DRTC to fruitfully join hands. At present, the foremost need is to create a bibliographic and textual database on Ranganathan.

Birth centenary literature on Ranganathan has been varied and large — larger than on any other librarian. Professionals from different countries and environments came forward to remember, pay tribute, and evaluate the man and his works. Media vary from books, journals, conferences, lectures, and non–print such as photographs, a statue, and a film. A gem of the birth centenary literature is the keynote address at the 58th IFLA General Conference (1992) by Eric de Grolier, “Library and Information Policy Perspectives and Ranganathan’s Heritage.” The speaker related Ranganathan’s work to the theme of the Conference. Most of the literature is on classification, the Five Laws, and their relevance in the information technology environment. But his other areas of work such as cataloguing, reference service, book selection, and related aspects remained mostly ignored. It simply means that he lives through classification and the normative principles and his scientific method. But for Indians, he sired the Indian library profession and nourished it to a stage of maturity and a respected place in world library and information science.

floral device Reference

1. This paper updates M.P. Satija, “Sources of Research on Ranganathan,” International Library Review 19 (1987): 311–320.

floral device About the Author

M. P. Satija has been a Lecturer since 1984 in the Department of Library and Information Science, Guru Nanak Deve University, Amritsar, India. For 12 years before going into teaching, he was a librarian in various professional capacities. He is a prolific author, with 14 books; plus 50 articles and 60 book reviews in European, Indian, and American journals. Dr. Satija has presented papers at 15 international conferences. His fields of interest include cataloging and classification, bibliography, and management.

© 1993 M.P. Satija.


Satija, M. P., “Birth Centenary Literature on Ranganathan: A Review,” Third World Libraries, Volume 4, Number 1 (Spring 1993).