Autobiography of Dr S R Rangananthan

(Father of Library Science)

Early Life of Rangananthan:

Dr. Ranganathan was born in a poor Brahmin family at Shiyali village in Tanjore district in Tamil Nadu on August 9, 1892. He was the eldest child of N. Ramamrita Ayyar, a petty landlord, and his wife Sitalakshmi. His father died in 1898 at the early age of thirty, due to illness. He suffered from more than the usual quota of childhood diseases and was handicapped by a severe stammer that he finally over came by forcing himself to give speeches in public.” He attended the local S. Mudaliar Hindu High School in Shiyali and passed his high school examination in 1908, obtaining a first division. Ranganathan passed his Intermediate and B.A. examinations in first class as well, thus proving that he was a bright student through out his school years. He received his B.A. degree in Mathematics and Physics in 1913 from the University of Madras. Ranganathan decided not to attend graduate school because his mother’s financial position was not very sound. Professor Edward B. Ross, one of his professors at Christian College, knew that Ranganathan was a hard working and brilliant student and he therefore decided to pay Ranganathan’s tuition for his graduate studies. Thus Ranganathan joined the Master’s program in June 1913 as the only graduate student of Professor Edward B. Ross; he graduated in 1916.” He was much interested in teaching and joined the Teachers College at Saidapat for his Professional Education Degree and received his degree in 1917.

In 1917 Ranganathan was appointed assistant lecturer in Mathematics at the Government College in Mangalore. In 1920-21, he taught at Government College, Coimbatore, and in 1921 he was appointed Assistant Professor at the Presidency College. Madras, where he taught for two years, during his teaching years in these institutions, he taught mathematics and physics and encouraged his students to use library books. Thus he avoided “the prevalent highly teacher-centered and notes/ dictation classroom methods. Later he called his approach library centered teaching his students called him a born teacher.”

1924 was a very crucial year in Ranganathan’s life. He applied for the position of University Librarian at the University of Madras and was offered the position. “One of the conditions of his appointment was that he goes to Great Britain to be trained in librarianship and to study modern library methods.” Therefore, he had to decide between librarianship and the teaching of mathematics. In his own words, “I had never dreamt in my life that I would ever become a librarian; nor had I used a library either at school or at college when I was a student, for the simple reason that there was no library worth mentioning and for the additional reason that no teacher ever mentioned any book other than the prescribed text book. But it seems that he saw some challenge in librarianship and it “struck him as a virgin land pregnant with many possibilities” of improvement and introduction of new ideas. It was a field “where methods needed to be systematized and made exact.” With this in mind he accepted the position and became a librarian on January 4, 1924. In this way “India lost one of her most enthusiastic mathematics teachers and librarianship acquired a man whose mental approach was of a strictly scientific and mathematically exact nature.”

Ranganathan as a Librarian, 1924-1972

In the beginning, Ranganathan did not enjoy his new administrative position at the University of Madras and the change of his profession from leaching to librarianship. In his own words, “I felt shocked by the absence of anything worth-while to do in the library [and was] almost tempted to go back to my teaching work.” He in fact did return to Presidency College within a week and told the principal that “I can’t bear that solitary imprisonment day after day. No human being, except the staff. How different from the life in the college” Mr. H.S. Duncan, Principal of the college, pacified Ranganathan by saying, “You have not seen much of librarianship yet, you may find something in it after you have studied the subject in London if you feel bored even after you return from England, I shall certainly take you. I shall see that your place in the college is not permanently filled up “till you come back from your travel and training abroad.” Somehow, Ranganathan decided to postpone his decision and try librarianship for some time.

In September 1924 Ranganathan was sent to England by the University of Madras for professional training in librarianship. He graduated with honors from the School of Librarianship University of London, in 1925. While in London, he visited many academic and public libraries and was impressed with the development of libraries in England. During his student days, he became; close to Professor W.C. Berwick Sayers, Chief Librarian of Croydon Public Library and a lecturer in the School of Librarianship. His wisdom and kindness put Ranganathan in debt to British librarianship for the rest of his life. At that time, Ranganathan probably would never have dreamed that some day he would become an international figure in librarianship. Ranganathan “had intended to visit libraries in the United States before returning to India in 1925 but a call from the University of Madras induced him to go back home.”

Ranganathan became a professional librarian and returned to India, full of enthusiasm and new ideas with the mission of introducing reforms and bringing about improvement in his own library at the University of Madras. But unfortunately the profession of librarianship was still “not too well understood in India at that time. He also encountered torpor, frustration, and a Jack of understanding on the part of the university adminis¬tration.”A highly placed education officer with the State Government of Madras once sent a note of recommendation to Ranganathan which said, “The bearer, you will find, is very aged. He appeared for the S.S.L.C. examination more than a dozen times. There is no prospect of his passing it in this life. How can he get even a clerk’s post? But I am interest¬ed in him.” So these were the conditions and atmosphere in the University of Madras Library in 1925. But Ranganathan devoted himself fully to bringing much needed reforms to the university library. He was “bubbling with new thought, throb¬bing with new energy, fluttering with new concepts, full of enthusiasm and singleness of purpose. He was, therefore, able to turn a new leaf to librarianship.

Ranganathan reorganized the Madras University Library using new devices and techniques which he had learnt in England during his school days in the library school and by visiting many libraries in England. “He realised that librarianship was more than an art, it should be a science, depending on scientific method for its approach to its problems and for their solution.” One of Ranganathan’s first actions upon his return from England was to introduce the open access system in the library in 1929. “The rules were progressively liberalized until any scholar, living anywhere in the state, could use the library and borrow from it. He successfully introduced the inter-library loan system in the city of Madras and all libraries partici¬pated in this cooperative program.” His main concern was to attract more users to the university library and provide them proper facilities. “He used mass media and personal acquaintances to make the library hum with activity, and the University Library soon acquired a niche, in the world of the enlightened public of Madras.

The annual budget of the library was very low when Ranganathan took its administrative responsibility. But he demonstrated the need for more funds and succeeded in getting an annual grant of £5,000 on a statutory basis from the Government of Madras and a lump sum of £20,000 to improve the collection. Under Ranganathan’s administration, the University of Madras Library had “the largest budget of all the university libraries in the country.” It helped to improve the collection from 30,000 volumes in 1925 to 120,000 in 1944, the year Ranganathan resigned from his position. “The library hours were progressively extended until the library was kept open for thirteen hours a day, all the days of the year, include¬ing Sundays and other public holidays.” Ranganathan introduced a new service for graduate students, “Delivery of books in the homes of readers,” at a very nominal charge. Many students liked this and helped Ranganathan to make many new friends and library users. The library was also thrown open to the public and the public loved it.

Ranganathan also introduced a reference service at Madras. Five reference librarians served the faculty and students for all the hours the library was open. He was instru¬mental in founding the Madras Library Association in 1928 and helped the state library association to grow and become a leader in its own right. He was the Secretary of the state library association from 1928-1953, Vice-President from 1953-1957, and President from 1958-1967. He wanted to improve librarian ship and libraries in India and was of the opinion that library training be given in India, rather than sending everyone to England. In 1929 he succeeded in introducing a training course for librarians at Madras, with the help of the Madras Library Association. In 1930, Ranganathan was made a fellow of the British Library Association.
Ranganathan was rapidly becoming very popular and successful in library circles. In 1931 he published his world famous Five Laws of Library Science. In 1933 he introduced his new Colon Classification System to the rest of the world, and in 1934 he drafted a new ‘Classified Catalogue Code’. In 1933 he helped to found the Indian Library Association, an organization which became the true representative of Indian librarianship. He was the first professional librarian to become President of the Association in 1944. Ranganathan “also designed the very functional University (of Madras) Library building, constructed in a picturesque place; and the provisions made for the growth of the library proved adequate for nearly 40 years. The British Indian Government recognized and appreciated the contributions of Ranganathan to the field of librarianship and conferred the title of Rao Sahib on him in January 1935.”

Ranganathan was the University Librarian and Head of the Department of Library Science from 1924 to 1944. During these twenty years he “made the Madras University Library his laboratory and per se the most modern library in India of which evens the foreigners felt envious.” He resigned from his position in 1944 due to some internal problems with a few staff members in the library. But Professor Isaac is of the view that “Dr. Ranganathan voluntarily retired from the University of Madras after the minimum period of service of 20 years qualifying for a pension in order to take up the post of librarian in the Banaras Hindu University, on invitation. K. Nagaraja Rao, former librarian of the Annamalai University, is however of the view that “Dr. Ranganathan was asked to leave the Madras University Library. Because of these conflicting statements, it has been difficult to determine the real cause of his departure from Madras. The records of the University simply say that Dr. S.R. Ranganathan resigned from his position in 1944. But had he been fired from Madras University, I do not think he would have given Rs. 100,000 to the University in 1957 for the development of library science. It has been said by a few Indian library educators and librarians, including Girja Kumar in his letter of November 22, 1982, that during the 1940s, “Ranganathan became the victim of the anti-Brahmin movement that spread far and wide in Tamil Nadu.” Therefore he resigned from his position at Madras University.

According to personally request of Dr. Radhakrishnan, the Vice-Chancellor of the Banaras Hindu University he decided to come to Banaras University. He remained at Varanasi in 1945 to 1947 as the Head of the Department of Library Science and University Librarian. In this time Ranganthan drafted the syllabus and taught the Diploma Course in Library Science. Dr. Rangananthan resigned from Banaras Hindu University in 1947 and joined the University of Delhi with request of Sri Maurice Gwyer, Vice- Chancellor of the Delhi University. In the period of the Ranganthan the Master’s and Ph.D. programs in Library Science were started at the University of Delhi.

On March 7, 1948, in the present of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India and many other officers, Sri Maurice Gwyer honored to the Dr. Ranganthan “Father of Indian Library Science” and presented him to Governor General, Lord Mountbatten, Chancellor of the University of Delhi. In 1953 he organized Madras Library Associations, C.Rajagopalachari a former Governor-General of India compared to Pandit Nehru because Nehru had secured for India in the international political world and Dr.Ranganthan had secured for India in the international library world. In 1955 Dr.Ranganthan resigned from the University of Delhi. In 1957, Dr.Ranganthan was a visiting Professor of Library Science at Vikram University in Ujjain. He has awarded “Padma Shri” in 1957 by the president of India, late Dr. Ranjendra Prasad in Delhi. In this year he was made an Honorary Vice-President for life of the British Library Association and an Honorary Fellow of the International Federation for Documentation.

Ranganthan contributed his carrier in Indian Library Science from 1924 to 1972. When he was in age of 80, he was pass away form the earth, on September 27, 1972. We loose a great person, Father of Library Science, the innovator of the Indian Library, the creator of Colon Classification and no one can fulfill this place.

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