Friday, August 19, 2011

Centennial Post: Keep Calm and Ranganathan On

One Hundred. 100. Centennial.

I find it appropriate that I made this milestone as I wrap up my MLS education. I am entering my final semester, and have just finished my Capstone requirements. For the Capstone course, I created an online portfolio highlighting my academic and professional requirements and presented the portfolio to my cohort members, professor, adviser and Dean.
To celebrate my one hundredth post, I thought I would share my capstone presentation. I related my favorite assignments with Ranganathan's Five laws of Library Science. With each law, I have provided a link to the corresponding page on my portfolio. I hope you enjoy reading this post as much as I enjoyed putting it together:

Keep calm and Ranganathan On

Ranganathan was one of the first theorists I learned about in library school. Throughout this journey he has very much been both an anchor and a trail blazer for me. As a student, whenever I could not wrap my mind around a situation or a concept, I would think “What would Ranganathan do?” And one of his five laws would provide me with an answer.

First law: Books are for Use

His first law is the basis of the foundation of our profession: use. As a librarian, Ranganathan saw that the majority of books were literally chained to the shelves to prevent theft. He recognized this as detrimental, and new that librarians needed to promote access and use of the materials in their library.

This is still true today.

Librarians have always been about connecting people with information, building relationships. As Brenda Dervin would say, we help individuals add meaning to their experiences. When Ranganthan was a librarian, the most common format for information was books. Today there is no common format, but we still help build relationships.

For the course Information Services for Academic Libraries, I created an annotated bibliography based on Megan Oakleaf’s report: The Value of Academic Libraries, focusing on how librarians can assist their institution;s efforts in building high levels of student retention. While this may not seem like a typical role of a librarian, it is actually the focus of what a librarian is.

Where Libraries have been going through a shift from systems to services, so have educational paradigms. Before, it was seen that if students were using library systems they were more likely to graduate. Now, it is sent that if a student has a meaningful relationship with a member of the university staff, they are more likely to graduate. Since Librarians are already in the role of connecting students to information, we are in a strategic place to help foster relationships between students, researchers, faculty and most importantly, librarians.

Second Law: Every reader his or her book

This law suggests that every member of the community should be able to obtain materials needed, which implies a thorough understanding of you community and communities needs. This law was most relevant to me, again, during the course Information Services for Academic Libraries.

An ongoing conversation of that class was the need to understand your users, but in the context of their discipline. We discussed the three different disciplines – Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities, and how their information needs and searches would be different.

This lesson culminated with an exercise in Academic Reference. We were given a list of typical reference questions and were asked to find 2 reference sources that contained the answer – both in print and electronically. We had to think about the user and what would be the best source for them.

Third Law: Every book its reader
This principle is closely related to the second law but it focuses on the item itself, suggesting that each item in a library has an individual or individuals who would find that item useful.

This law was constantly in the back of my mind as I was working on OHSU’s digital collection of campus photographs.

I was given the task to generate the Metadata for 160 images, mostly of the Portland Aerial Tram. At first I wondered: why do we need so many images? Looking at the collection, if search for pictures of the tram you will come up to close to 1000 images.

Working with our Metadata librarian and working with the collection, I realized to look at the collection as a whole, and I learned that you never know what a person’s need may be. There might be a day when a patron will need an image of the half constructed tram, or the tram's first run, or the tram at sunset or the tram at sunrise or looking up at the tram or looking down at the tram. We will have their needs covered as best as possible.

Fourth Law: Save the time of the reader

This law is the recognition that part of the excellence of library service is its ability to meet the needs of the library user efficiently.

While Ranganathan original wrote the law in relation to the ease of accessing materials, and thus collection and library management, with the shift from systems to services, I think that instruction of information literacy now plays a huge role in saving the time of the reader, teaching patrons how to efficiently search for and select the best sources for their needs.

For teaching in the Information setting, I developed a curriculum that would teach upper level college students how to incorporate 21st century technology into their research projects. Specifically I chose to teach efficient ways to incorporate RSS feeds into their research, selecting both news sources and blogs and appropriate database searches that would deliver potential sources to them, allowing them easy access to a spectrum of information specific to their topic.

By teaching them to make the internet work for them, they will be able to shift their focus from constant searching to analyzing and thinking critically about the information that is delivered to them.

Fifth Law: The library is a growing organism

This law focused more on the need for internal change than on changes in the environment itself. I think it is pretty apparent that librarianship is changing, as this is conversation we have all had since day one.

For the group project in the Management and Administration class, I worked with an amazing group in developing a strategic plan for a community college library. We wanted to confront these changes head on. We looked at the trends affecting this specific field of education – the massive growth in student populations and the popularity of distance education. We knew that students weren’t searching for information at the library, so we wanted to bring our services to them through embedded librarianship, which would not only meet students changing needs but also highlight that librarians can partner with administration and instructors to help overcome these challenges.

Tomorrows libraries are going to look much different than today’s libraries, which already look radically different than the libraries of Ranganathan. I am fairly certain that he would approve.

So now, here I am, looking back. And true enough, Ranganathan and his laws have been the way for me to sum up the lessons of the past two years: Building relationships, knowing your users, providing access to what individuals and communities need, providing efficient services and quality instruction, and being able to adapt and change.

But there is one lesson that I learned not through him, but through the members of my cohort: the importance of community. These lessons and ideas would be lost of me if it wasn’t for my classmates to bounce them off of and work on together. I can not thank them enough for such an amazing journey. I could not imagine where I would be today if I had to do this on my own.

Image Credit:
AtliaTheHun on Flickr
Image Credit: Marta Murvosh