Free Association Around Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science

Picking up briefly on Peter Murray Rust’s exhortation to the keynote attendees at ILI2009 that libraries must rediscover Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science to their heart if they are to survive:

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I thought I post some free association thoughts on what the five laws say to me. Note that I’m not a librarian, have never studied library science and don’t normally work for the library, though I currently am on an Arcadia Fellowship with the Cambridge University Library. Which is to say, my interpretation may not be the conventional, or accepted one…

So here we go:

Books are for use.
Hmmm… Books are for use… they are they to be used… they exist to be read… they exist to impart knowledge, information, emotion. They exist to communicate. As such, maybe they are social objects? But maybe also, they contain information or knowledge that enables things to be done, ideas to be understood? Maybe they are the next step in helping us do something, achieve something?

In a 2003 blog post outlining ideas for what was to become The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, John Battelle describes Google’ssearch operation as a database of intentions:

The Database of Intentions is simply this: The aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result. It lives in many places, but three or four places in particular hold a massive amount of this data (ie MSN, Google, and Yahoo). This information represents, in aggregate form, a place holder for the intentions of humankind – a massive database of desires, needs, wants, and likes that can be discovered, supoenaed, archived, tracked, and exploited to all sorts of ends. Such a beast has never before existed in the history of culture, but is almost guaranteed to grow exponentially from this day forward. This artifact can tell us extraordinary things about who we are and what we want as a culture.

That is, every search we make is an expression of some sort of intention. There is a point to every search.

So maybe in the same way, a book might be able to satisfy some intention? Or maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, because second up we have:

Every reader his [or her] book.
So at any point in time, there is a book that I need, that will somehow “help”? This ties back to a book that can satisfy an intention I have, perhaps? My current problem, or situation, is unlikely to be one that has never been met before, never been addressed by someone, somewhere, in some particular book?

Every book its reader.
And conversely, at any point in time, for every book there is someone who would benefit from reading that book? The book is a satisfaction of some intention? There is someone who would benefit from being recommended that book, maybe? (The ideal search engine would be an answer engine, would return only the single answer you need for a particular query, maybe?)

Save the time of the User.
Which means what? Give them the book that they need, in a timely fashion? Make it easy for them to discover the right book, or the right part of the book, that they need, with the minimum of fuss, or noise in the recommendations? Give them full text search, extended indexes in the form of semantic tags and on-demand access, maybe?!;-)

The library is a growing organism.
The library is a living thing. As a living thing, it must adapt to survive. As a living thing, it inhabits an ecosystem, a network, a network characterised by the making and breaking of new and old connections, by the flow of resources across those connections.

Hmmm… so how are these laws actually interpreted by the Library Science community, I wonder? And to what extent do they apply in the context of search engine queries, results and the resources pointed to by those results? Would it be fair to say that it is Google, rather than Library, that has taken these laws to its heart? Would it be fair to say that several of the laws at least hint at making effective recommendations to users, as Lorcan Dempsey suggests in Recommendation and Ranganathan?

My ILI2009 Presentation…

Not a lot of use without speaker notes, but anyway… I may try to record a slidecast of this… or maybe not…

For anyon looking for Arcadia Project details, check the Arcadia Project blog and/or or my Arcadia Mashups blog.

Once upon a time, there was a simple answer to the question “where is the Library?”. But as library services move online, and the archival role of the library moves towards maintaining digital, rather than physical, artefacts, pointing to a particular building in answer to that question is no longer the best answer.
In this presentation, I will explore the notion of various ‘invisible library’ functions, identifying a role for “Library Inside” services that may go unrecognised by patrons in the same way that the manufacturer of the processor inside your computer is hidden away from you unless it is explicitly revaled through a marketing logo.
In particular, I will explore several different takes on the idea of ‘invisibility’ – invisibility that arises from the increasingly commoditised nature of information (do you want a coffee, or a Starbucks?); through a proxy (the Elves and the Shoemaker); or through an unacknowledged or misdirected presence in an unexpected place (invisible theatre).
Through the development of appropriate tools, it is possible to allow patrons to leverage library servics without having to access Library websites directly. One example of this is “invisible authentication” via the “libezproxy” bookmarklet. It works as follows: if a user has discovered the title page of a subscription article the user’s institution subscribs to, the click of a button will rewrite the URL so that the page is presented to the user via their institution’s subscription proxy. The user gets the full text of the article without going anywhere.
Othr invisible e-library services can be delivered through university VLEs – does the student need to know that the library has provided that list of resources?
One of the problems faced by many lending libraries on university campuses is the tendency of academics to hoard books. The distributed library shelf (the ‘inventoryless library’) removes the need for centralised holdings by allowing borrowers to keep books on their own shelves, and declare their location to a distributed catalogue. “The Fall and Rise of the Roman Empire”? Ah yes, Prof G. has a copy in their office, as does Dr W. As the price of books falls through resellers such as Amazon, rethinking a collections policy that allows individual users to buy books direct, and then loaning them on becomes thinkable…
Proactive invisible Library support can increasingly be offered through social networks – comments on blog posts, answers to tweeted questions (whether or not they are posted by “your own” patrons) helps keep knowledge moving around the distributed academy, and may lead to an unforeseen payback further down the line.
As far as the archival role goes, many university libraries are now responsible for maintaining online repositorys that collect together copies of the university’s research outputs. But you don’t really expect anyone to really go there, do you? That’s what Google’s for… So if your users are trying to access your content via Google, you need to work on your SEO… And to know that it’s working effectively, you need to keep an eye on your web analytics…

See also: The Invisible Library, For Real… (but check the date stamp…;-)