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Dr. Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan

Born: 1892 AD
Died: 1972 AD


Ranganathan’s education was initiated on Vijayadasami day in October, 1897 with

Aksharabyasam at Ubhayavedanthapuram near Shiyali. After this, Ranganathan was

admitted to a school in Shiyali, and was handed to the care of Subba Ayyar, a brother

of his maternal grandfather and a primary school teacher. During his school days,

Ranganathan came under the influence of two of his teachers who shaped his mind -R.

Antharama Ayyar and Thiruvenkatachariar, the Sanskrit teacher. From them

Ranganathan learnt about the life teachings of nayanars (Shaivaite Bhaktas) and

Alwars (Vaishnavaite Bhaktas). Depth of scholarship and essence of life were

ingrained in Ranganathan which kept in good stead in his later life to make decisions

at crucial junctures.Ranganathan attended the S.M. Hindu High School at Shiyali and passed

Matriculation examination in 1908/1909. Ranganathan passed the examination in First

Class, inspite of sickness like anaemia, piles, and stammering. In his high school

career he came under the influence of P.A. Subramanya Ayyar, a scholar on Sri

Aurobindo.Ranganathan joined the junior intermediate class at the Madras Christian College in

March 1909. Even in those days, there were paucity of college seats. Ranganathan was

picked up for his excellent marks in all the subjects and the principal. Prof. Skinner

spotted him in a crowd of students and admitted him into the course. Ranganathan

passed B.A. with a first class in March/April 1913. In June, same year, he joined the

M.A. class in Mathematics with Professor Edward B. Ross as his teacher. Being a

favourite student of Prof. Ross, Ranganathan had an excellent Guru-Shishya

relationship. More than class room discussions, corridor and staircase discussions

were taken recourse to. Ranganathan ingrained this trait into his own discipline later

on. Ranganathan did his Master’s degree in 1916 and he wanted to be a teacher in

Mathematics. He also took a course in teaching technique and gained L T degree from

a teachers’ college.

During his college days, Ranganathan cultivated intimacy with his teachers, Professors

Moffat and J.P. Manickam of Physics, Prof. Sabhesan of Botany, Prof. Chinnathambi

Pillai and L.N. Subramanyam of Mathematics. But Prof. Ross remained his favourite

Guru throughout his life.4 Teaching Career

In 1917 Ranganathan was appointed to the Subordinate Education Service and worked

as Assistant Lecturer in the Government College in Mangalore and Coimbatore

between 1917 and 1921. In July 1921, he joined the Presidency College, Madras as

Assistant Professor of Mathematics. At Mangalore and Coimbatore, Ranganathan

taught Physics and Mathematics and at the Presidency College, he taught Algebra,

Trigonometry and Statistics. He was a follower of the individual method of teaching

putting discussion method into active use. The classes used to be lively, learning –

active, and teaching – purposive. Ranganathan earned an epithet born teacher. He

would interpose his teaching with many anecdotes and examples from life which

would keep his students engaged and attentive. Each hour of his class used to be

punctuated by applauses. He also adopted the technique of assigning students with

new topics, to gather data from books, and learning from discussions among

themselves and amidst teachers. He organised several seminars and colloquia for

students. He continued the same methods with greater vigour while teaching Library

Science to students.

Ranganathan was also active in extracurricular activities. From 1921 to 1923, he was

Secretary of the Mathematics and Science Section of the Madras Teacher’s Guild. He

roused public awareness by lectures. He introduced some uniformity and

standardization in compiling the question papers for various examinations.

He obtained pension facilities for private school teachers through his writings in

papers and association journals. He augmented the finances of the Indian

Mathematical Society. He was a popular figure in the mathematical circles and was

regarded as an efficient organiser of meetings. His friends have quoted Ranganathan’s

attitude to work, thus:

Our right is only to do the work falling to our share, never to the fruits of our work.

Flirt not with fruits.

Activities at Madras

After returning to Madras, Ranganathan began a mission for librarianship. He began to

reorganise the University Library. His first concern was to attract more readers to the

library and provide facilities for them. He took it upon himself to educate the public

on the benefits of reading to one’s society and to oneself. He charged the library with a

mission of self-education for every one. He used mass media to make the library hub

of activity. The University Library soon acquired a niche in the world of the

enlightened public of Madras. The Government of Madras took a keen interest in this

and offered a handsome annual grant on a statutory basis.

Within the library, Ranganathan initiated behind the scene work in several aspects of

ab initio. Here emerged the Five Laws of Library Science, the Colon Classification,

the Classified Catalogue Code. and the Principles of Library Management. Active

reference service began to blossom. He introduced open shelved system and provided

open access. This gave impetus for readers to come quite often. The atmosphere

throbbed with human activity and intellectual atmosphere. Ranganathan designed a

functional library building near Madras Beach. All these changes did not happen in a

piecemeal but were developed in a holistic manner, inspired by his Five Laws of

Library Science:

Books are for use;

Every reader, his book-,

Every book, its reader,

Save the time of the reader; and

A library is a growing organism.

Outside the library, Ranganathan, launched an endless and eternal mission. He

gathered the enlightened persons of the area and formed the Madras Library

Association, which became the living symbol of the library movement. Ranganathan

worked as the Founder Secretary from 1928 until he left Madras in 1945. He pushed

the library movement to all the comers of the Madras Presidency, which at that time

covered almost two-thirds of South India. Looking at his efforts today, after nearly 60

years, we see that the public library network is quite widespread in South India. The

seed sown by Ranganathan has been cultivated for nearly 60 years, and it is currently

yielding fruits.

A school of library science was also initiated by Ranganathan in 1929, first under the

auspices of the Madras Library Association and later taken over by Madras

University. Ranganathan was the director of the school for nearly 15 years. Later in

1957, during centenary celebrations of the University, he donated his life’s savings of

one lakh rupees to the University to endow a chair known as Sarada Ranganathan

Professorship in Library Science. The students of this school have taken leading parts

at all levels of activity – local, national, and international.

Activities at Banaras

Having performed active library service for 21 years, Ranganathan sought voluntary

retirement in 1945 and wanted to engage himself in active research. But he received

an invitation to develop the library system of the Banaras Hindu University, by the

then Vice-Chancellor Sir. S. Radhakrishnan. At Banaras, Ranganathan found the

library in a chaotic condition. He reorganized the entire collection single-handedly,

classified and catalogued about 100,000 books with a missionary zeal during 1945-47.

He also conducted the Diploma Course in Library Science during the same period.

Activities at Delhi

Ranganathan moved over to Delhi University in 1947 on an invitation from Sir.

Maurice Gwyer. He did not take the responsibility of organising the library. He

confined himself to teaching and research in library science. Prof. S. Das Gupta, one

of Ranganathan’s brilliant students, became the librarian of Delhi University. Delhi

began courses in Bachelor of Library Science and Master of Library Science between

1947 and 1950. It was probably for the first time in the whole of the Commonwealth,

Study Circle and Research Circle meetings were organized. The Research Circle met

every Sunday at his residence. Many new ideas and innovations began to emerge.

Team research began to develop. Ranganathan was also elected the President of the

Indian Library Association (ILA) and Shri S. Das Gupta was elected as its Secretary.

The Association was activated and as part of its programme a confluence of three

journals, viz.. Annals, Bulletin, and Granthalaya were founded. An acronym ABGILA

was given to this composite, three-in-one periodical. The Annals contained research

papers of the Delhi Research Circle and soon gained international acclaim.

While Ranganathan was in Delhi, his international contacts began to grow. He had a

close liaison with Donker-Duyvis, the then dynamic Secretary-General of FID.

Ranganathan was the Chairman of the Classification Research Group of the

International Federation for Documentation (FID) between 1950-62, when he

produced 12 research reports for FID and from 1962 he was the Honorary Chairman

of FID/CR till his death in 1972.

While he was in Delhi, Ranganathan drafted a comprehensive 30 year plan for the

development of library system for India as a whole. He was intimately involved in the

founding of the Documentation Committee of the Indian Standards Institution of

which he was the Chairman till 1967. In 1950, the Indian National Scientific

Documentation Centre (INSDOC, Delhi) was founded. During this period, he also

promoted the Madras Public Library Act. He also initiated the Classification Research

Group at London. He visited USA in 1950 under Rockfeller Foundation and wrote the

book Classification and Communication.

Towards Zurich

In order to gain first hand knowledge of Industrial documentation and to meet his

international commitments Ranganathan moved over to Zurich. He wrote the second

edition of Prolegomena to Library Classification (Published by the Library

Association, London). He also regularly contributed to the Annals of Library Science

published by the INSDOC.

Activities at Bangalore

In 1957, Ranganathan moved over to Bangalore. He did not plan for any institutional

organization of documentation activities. But it happened that Bangalore began to be

industrialized and was in its ascendancy towards metropolis. Ranganathan was helping

as an adviser, the INSDOC, the Planning Commission, and the University Grants

Commission. However, soon Ranganathan’s solitude ended. Many young librarians of

Bangalore began to gather around him. Informal discussions and research

investigations were carried out to publish books and other research papers. The

crowning point of Ranganathan’s activity was in the founding of the Documentation

Research and Training Centre, Bangalore under the auspices of the Indian Statistical

Institute in 1962. The main functions of this Centre are centred around research and

teaching activities in library and information science.

Ranganathan was the Honorary Professor of this Centre during 1962-72. He directe”

the institutional activities with great efficiency and created an atmosphere of academic

excellence and simplicity. It was like a Gurukula. Around Ranganathan were his

young students eager to learn from him and Ranganathan was equally eager to get the

new ideas from them. In 1965, Ranganathan was recognised by the Government of

India and made him the National Research Professor in Library Science. This was also

an honour to library science and librarianship. At that time, only four other National

Research Professors were there. They were Dr. C.V. Raman (Physics), S.N. Bose

(Physics), P.V. Kane (Law), S.K. Chatterjee (Literature and Linguistics). Ranganathan

was honoured by Delhi University and Pittsburgh University by awarding Doctor of

Letters degrees in 1948 and 1964. Ranganathan received these awards and honours in

simple and humble stride and advised his students to do hard work saying that reward

would come in appropriate time. He used to say God has chosen me as an instrument,

the honour done to me should act as an incentive to the younger generation to devote

their lives wholeheartedly to library science and service. Most of his salary as

National Research Professor and the royalties on his books were donated to the Sarada

Ranganathan Endowment for Library Science (1961). During the last five years,

Ranganathan abstained from travelling and did deep thinking and intensive writing.

He wrote many books and articles. He postulated Absolute Syntax for indexing

language. He kept on working on Colon Classification and proved that the design and

development a scheme for classification is a life time activity. Until the end of his life,

to the very last day, Ranganathan kept on working. He died on 27 September 1972

after a fruitful 80 years of his life. While he himself contributed to the field of library

service, science and profession, he catalysed a human movement whose manifestation

is witnessed even today. He wrote sixty books and 2000 articles.

His life was a symbol of immortality. The integral nature of Ranganathan’s theory

emerged from occasional intuition; and his intellect strove to make it more explicit to

the rational mind of the scientific worker. His contributions sometimes bordered on a

poetic beauty and sometimes on uncouth prose – but his life and work in the field of

library science modelled an ever-inquiring mind, well-entrenched in the philosophy of

Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 18, Verse 20).

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