Reordering Ranganathan: the evolution of a research project

In early 2012, I started on the report that became Reordering Ranganathan: Shifting User Behaviors, Shifting Priorities with Lynn Silipigni Connaway.  Back then we called it the User Behavior Report.  Not a catchy title, but it broadly reflected what we both studied.  Our intention was to learn about each others’ research and bring our experiences, perspectives, and research together under one umbrella.

You may be wondering why we had to learn about each others’ research given we worked for the same organization.  I actually started at OCLC Research just 6 months prior in 2011.  Lynn and I had very disparate experiences, perspectives, and paths to OCLC. I earned a Ph.D. in Business Administration – Information Systems; Lynn earned her Ph.D. in Library and Information Science with a minor in Public Policy.  Before beginning a research career, I worked in tech companies and Lynn worked in school, academic, and public libraries.

As colleagues, we wanted to explore how our research interests overlapped and begin to think about collaborative user behavior projects.  We wanted to develop a common set of ideas we could collectively contribute to through our research.  We also wanted to describe the ideas in ways that would be relevant to our intended audiences– librarians, library researchers, information scientists.

In studying user behavior, we both are interested in how people discover, access, and use/reuse content.  In an early outline for our report we wrote “We want to know how people are getting their information, why they are making these choices, and what information or sources are meeting their needs.”

At one of our meetings, Lynn suggested using Ranganathan’s five laws as a framework for our report.  I was intrigued.  Given my background, I never had heard of them.  But as we began reviewing the laws and literature about them, it was interesting for me to think about them in the context of my research interests.

Over the course of several meetings we discussed our understanding of each law and thought about how our research areas applied. In doing so we began to stretch, adapt, and change each law’s wording to help us more clearly articulate to each other why we thought our research fit.

Take the first law, “books are for use.”  Like many researchers, our interests extend beyond books to other physical and digital materials in the library and more generally on the Web.  Moreover, we are interested in “how people are getting their information.”  Our interpretation of the law reflects these overlapping interests – develop the physical and technical infrastructure needed to deliver physical and digital materials.  Our interpretations of the other laws developed in similar ways.

Discussions with a colleague, Andy Havens, prompted us to reorder the laws as well.  When we thought about it, we agreed that scarcity of time not content is the challenge for people these days.  Inundated with information, we want not only quick, but also convenient ways to find, get, and use what we need. And with that the reordering began.table_c1

We organized the report so that each chapter could stand on its own.  In each chapter, we examine the law in today’s environment given scholars’ interpretations and research in our areas of interest. We also discuss some ideas about how to apply our interpretations of the law given findings from the research.

Although the project began as a means to help us think about the purpose and scope of our research and how our interests overlapped, we also were interested to see what libraries were doing in practice when it came to our interpretation of Ranganathan’s five laws.  Could we find examples of what we described?

We found a number of exciting, interesting ways the laws are currently unfolding in practice.  We only could include a small fraction, but our hope is that reading the report or listening to the webinar will not only spark new initiatives, but also encourage you to share your current ones.

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2 Comments

  1. I recently presented a workshop at ASIST that used Ranganathan’s laws as a framework for choosing which UX method to use for improving access to collections. It was lovely and surprising how robust they are after even all these years. Nice to see others are thinking along the same lines.

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