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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > May/June 2010

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Ranganathan’s Philosophy and Marketing
by Dinesh K. Gupta

A note from the editor: As we announced in the Jan./Feb. issue, we are inviting marketing experts from around the world to write installments of this Customer-Based Marketing column. CBM’s original columnist, Christie Koontz, asked Dinesh Gupta to be the first guest author. Koontz explains: “Dinesh Gupta has been my friend and colleague since 2003 when we began serving as members of the IFLA Standing Committee of the Management and Marketing Section and on the jury of IFLA’s International Marketing Award. Dinesh and I call one another brother and sister, not just out of friendship but out of regard for our shared devotion to marketing education. As professors in universities that are half a world away, we both teach tomorrow’s 21st-century library and information professionals the value of ‘true marketing.’”

I was overwhelmed when I received an invitation from Kathy Dempsey, the editor of the MLS newsletter, for writing a column for the publication that has brought marketing and library services out into the spotlight during the 23 years of its existence. Such expectations set me thinking I should choose a topic that would give a fresh air to our way of service with the marketing mindset. I had no subject better than “Ranganathan’s philosophy and library marketing.” S.R. Ranganathan is known for his classic work Five Laws of Library Science, which have been recognized widely as the profound principles of librarianship. When I suggested this theme to Kathy, she expressed: “Since we’ll be asking experts to write about real customer-based lessons that they teach, we may as well begin with the first lessons taught. And Ranganathan is certainly at the beginning of everything!”

Discussing marketing in the context of libraries during Ranganathan’s lifetime (1892–1972) was uncommon since “marketing” and “libraries” belonged to different worlds. The situation has not changed much even to the present day, although it is acknowledged that marketing can do good for libraries. Today, much of the debate surrounds just how marketing fits into library and information services. To talk of “marketing library and information services” might seem strange or even iconoclastic. Many in the field still express that it is not a natural activity for library and information professionals. If marketing is not seen as a natural consequence of what we do every day, all the time, then marketing is misunderstood and misplaced. Most librarians make decisions about the location of the library, opening hours, planning a new facility or service, offering services according to users/user groups, making free or priced services, and so on. Every such decision is part and parcel of marketing in library and information centers.

Ranganathan’s Philosophy and Indian Ethos

Ranganathan’s philosophy was much influenced with Indian classics. Taking light from the Vedas (the Vedas, based on the Sanskrit word for “knowledge,” a large body of texts originating in ancient India), he considered that a user should be treated by the library as if he or she were God visiting the library as a guest. Ranganathan said this:

The reader-guest is supreme to you: [emphasis mine]

• Give service with all attention and in all sincerity.

• Give him service to the entire capacity at your command.

• Give him service in all modesty and in full freedom from any touch of prestige or ego.

• Give him service in full measure lest there should be any offence to the laws of library science.

• Acquire the best knowledge and information for giving him your best service.” 1

No marketing text categorically has put customers at such a high place even after putting much emphasis on customer-based marketing in the present time.

Ranganathan also considers that “every reader should feel the presence of the radiant personality of the librarian. Krishna-like, the librarian should now and again be by the side of every reader. He should never settle down to his seat; nor should escape into the retiring room. He should move among readers; he should be accessible to them... and he must respond to every query of the user to satisfy the quest for knowledge and information.” 2 Such an approach asks information professionals to be in touch with users and calls for eagerness to serve the users.

The Shop Analogy

Libraries are affected by the changes in the internal and external environments. Their operation, organization, services, and networks must be fine-tuned to meet the rising needs of the users. Such thinking started taking place in the minds of librarians during the last quarter of the 19th century, as British author John Macfarlane mentions in his book Library Administration: “This ideal presupposes in him the zeal and sympathy which incite to study and research, with which must be combined the care for detail and the firmness of character that belongs to the efficient man of business.” 3

Ranganathan used shop analogy to sensitize the service with a business approach and calls for libraries and information centers to accept that they are businesses, not just causes. According to him, “As the popularity of a shop rests very much on the resourcefulness, intimate knowledge of the wares in the shop and a sense of eagerness to be of service to the patrons of the shop on the part of shop assistants, the success of the library service very much depends on the head and heart of the library staff.”4 He says that a reader expects the same service as that of customer. To him: “[T]he library has now to develop the methods of a modern shop. It is true that, in a great many libraries, it may not be possible to have enough assistants just waiting around for someone to come in. We must keep a cheerful outlook and on no account show discourtesy. It is an excellent thing to remember that the customer loveth a cheerful assistant.”5

The Five Laws as Guiding Principles

There are always questions about the purpose, mission, and objectives of libraries. It is imperative to have clarity of mission, strategies, etc., in order to achieve them and to justify our existence. If we take Ranganathan’s Laws as guiding principles, we find many of the answers therein. These are the laws:

• Books are for use

• Every reader his/her book

• Every book its reader

• Save the time of the reader

• A library is a growing organism

The first law, “Books are for use,” is the most important and principal among all laws, and the next support or extend the first law. The first law gives us an insight to understand the mission or purpose of every library’s existence. In a library, books are available for active use and not for preservation. If books are not for use, what are libraries meant for? And what should the librarian do with these books? Obviously, answers to these questions make the reason for the existence of every library very clear.

The second law, “Every reader his/her book,” gives priority to the user over the books, meaning thereby that meeting our users’ needs is more important than any other activity of the library. Ranganathan considers that the “library is a place where the reader [user], the document [information] and the librarian [service provider] meet, and the user is the paramount. Information and service provider are there for the service of the user.” 6 He further considered that “the first thing every librarian should perform is to get first hand knowledge of the people whom he has to serve. It would be unwise and fatal to start with standardised notions about the requirements.” 7 Not only that but also: “the staff on reference service [front line services] has exceptional opportunities to mingle with the passing through the readers. This direct contact with the readers brings with it opportunities to observe their tastes and wants, their actions and reactions and their likes and dislikes.” 8 The success or failure of any library or information service is gauged from the extent of the users’ delight from person, process, or product. Users’ delight is the success mantra for modern marketing.

The third law, “Every book its reader,” is an attempt toward making books or information accessible to users. No product or service sells on its own. Every effort must be made to enhance use of books, facilities, and services of the library. Ranganathan considered that “library staff should be given full responsibility to promote the use of books, there should be no soul-killing interference, either in a formal or informal way.” 9 He emphasised this: “The book pleads with the librarian as follows: I am inert. Of my own accord, I am unable to leap into my reader’s hands. My voice is not audible to him. I depend on you for my being taken to my reader to be taken to me. Every book left for long on the shelf pining away for its reader, covered with dust, and untouched by readers, would leave a curse on the librarian. It will leave a curse on library authorities too, if it does not provide librarians, adequate in quality and sufficient in number, to find readers for every book.” 10 Information sources in print, CD, online, or digital are meant to be used. Effective acquisition policies, signage strategies, stock management, inspiring displays, new book strategies, and departmental policies must be helpful in utilizing library resources optimally. Digitization must also be considered as part of the marketing process in libraries, since storage and transportation are two important marketing functions.

The fourth law, “Save the time of the reader,” indicates toward processing the services within the minimum possible time. Information has a value only in the context of time, form, and place. Libraries are charged with four functions: acquisition, organization, dissemination, and use of information. Ranganathan puts it like this: “[T]he collection of the library should have copies of all documents created. It should be able to give any information or knowledge sought. Its organization should be perfect. Its potency for service should be supreme. It should be easy to select whatever is of highest value. The instance a reader calls, all that can satisfy his specific wants should be given to him expeditiously and in plenty.” 11

Ranganathan deeply studied the workflow of the processes and advocated to save the time taken in routine activities and other processes. According to him: “[W]e don’t think of various items of work we should do and how much time is involved and then arrive at an approximate duration of time required to complete the work. If you don’t want to take care in estimating time, on the basis of standards evolved for the purpose, you will be making a blunder. Your estimate of the staff requirement suffers, your estimate of finance suffers and you would never be able to complete the work... I consider this estimation as organized commonsense.” 12

The fifth law, “A library is a growing organism,” gives a vision of achieving goals through strategies to meet the customers’ need—present and potential—on a sustainable basis. The trinity of the library (books, readers, and staff) is bound to grow in three directions, namely user, staff, and resources, with the times. This law articulates the dynamics of the service, and it ensures the continuing development of libraries. The organic growth of libraries produces new services for new needs. Such solutions provide information professionals an opportunity to offer value-added services to users, both the actual and potential ones. But, neither the “value” nor “user need” is static in nature, rather, they migrate upward. Hence, library and information centers need to strive to provide some value in the service or product to meet the users’ needs satisfactorily on a continual basis. A library that is unable to adapt resources, procedures, policies, services, and products according to “user value” is far from being a growing organism. If a user does not get value from the library’s facilities, services, products, or interaction, then he is not interested in the offers his library is making and he will need to reconsider his strategies.

Marketing Is a Central Philosophy

At its center, library service is service to a person, an individual. 13 An individual user is the guest of highest order in the library. He is at the top of the trinity of user, staff, and resources. Library and information service providers must pay attention to understand the customers (both internal and external), to anticipate their needs, and to meet such needs satisfactorily. Such approaches are central to both the philosophies of S.R. Ranganathan and to marketing. Ranganathan’s user-centric approach, which is humanistic, has a strong emphasis on marketing. Realize, the library service is only as competent, helpful, accessible, knowledgeable, courteous, friendly, and reliable as the person who represents it. Such attributes in a librarian are in no matter different from the attributes of a successful marketer.


1. Ranganathan, S.R., Reference Service, second edition, Bombay, India: Asia Publishing House, 1961, p. 177

2. Ranganathan, S.R., Five Laws of Library Science, second edition, Bombay, India: Asia Publishing House, 1957, p. 71

3. Macfarlane, John, Library Administration, London: George Allen, 1898, p. 5

4. Ibid 2, p. 56

5. Ibid 2, p. 70

6. Ranganathan, S.R., “Specialist Library vs Generalist Library: Reference Service,” Library Science with a Slant to Documentation, 7, 1970, p. 96

7. Ibid 6, p. 86

8. Ibid 2, p. 259

9. Ranganathan, S.R., Library Manual, third edition, Bombay, India: Asia Publishing House, 1960, p. 26

10. Ibid, p. 31

11. Ibid 1, p. 178

12. Lib. Sc, 7, 1970, p. 86

13. Ranganathan, S.R., “Emergence of Library Science,” Library Science with a Slant to Documentation, 3 (1), 1966, p. 3

Dinesh K. Gupta is associate professor and head of the Department of Library and Information Science at Vardhaman Mahaveer Open University in Kota, India. He holds a Ph.D. in library and information science from the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur, India. Gupta is a member of the Standing Committee of IFLA’s Management and Marketing Section for a second term (2007–2011). He is also the chair of the jury for the IFLA International Marketing Award. He has edited three books, including the IFLA book Marketing Library and Information Services: International Perspectives, published by K.G. Saur in Munich, Germany. He has a blog called Marketing-Mantra-For-Librarians ( His email address is
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