Ranganathan’s Fourth Law: “Save the time of the reader”

As noted in an earlier entry, this blog will aim to look at Ranganathan’s (1931) five laws of library science through a Christian lens. We already looked at the first law: books are for use, the second: books are for all, every reader his or her book, and the third: books are for all, or, every book its reader.  This entry will look at Ranganathan’s fourth law: save the time of the reader/user.

While it may have been revolutionary in the time when Ranganathan developed his five laws, there is nothing novel about the critical nature of saving the time of a user and/or a reader in the 21st century.  It is a critical component to many facets of 21st century businesses and service industries.  As noted in an earlier entry, users rapidly become bored with web pages, articles, books, and dare I say, libraries.  If people do not find what they want or need in a timely manner, they will move on.  While I am not necessarily aiming to justify this facet of 21st century culture, it is a reality which must be addressed.  How should a faithful librarian apply Ranganathan’s fourth law?  I think many facets of librarianship have been designed to save time for the user.  In addition, the desire to serve patrons efficiently and effectively is on the forefront of many in the profession (Noruzi, 2004).

With Ranganathan’s fourth law being amply applied to many facets of librarianship, perhaps there is a call for faithful librarians to look at Ranganathan’s fourth law from a different angle.  I do not think any librarian would advocate serving patrons sluggishly (to counter Ranganathan’s fourth law).  But perhaps the much-needed place for solitude and reflection have been set aside in our advocacy to serve patrons effectively and efficiently.  Particularly as solitude and reflection can play critical roles in transformational journeys (of which education is a critical piece).  In this context, perhaps serving patrons with Ranganathan’s fourth law taking precedence may not be the best solution. 

It is difficult to swallow in a rapid-paced culture, but it is true: learning is a process which takes time and (in many contexts) dedication.  Language learning is a classic example.  While one can spend much time learning a new language, it is learned through a process which takes time, dedication, and a lot of effort.  As libraries are critically connected to student learning, perhaps libraries can utilize Ranganathan’s fourth law by creating spaces designated to foster this kind of learning and making them easily accessible to students. 

Perhaps a faithful librarian might take Ranganathan’s fourth law to another level: provide resources to help patrons use their time wisely.  After all, it is pointless to save fifteen minutes of a patron’s time when it will be wasted later in the day.  Using time wisely is often not an inherent skill learned through coursework or rigorous academic pursuits.  It is often learned through experiences where time has been wasted and one has seen the repercussions of it.  The resources to use time wisely may not be exactly what one would expect, like a planner or a bibliographic organizer (although they can be nice).  Perhaps something like lectio divina may be a good venue through which time could be used wisely.

Lectio divina has four components: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation.  Each of these involves more than just a simple act, but it entails reflection, pondering, and internalizing Scripture.  It is almost counter to the idea of saving time because it does not involve getting a task done, responding to an email, or a constructive meeting.  It entails learning to listen to God, which, I would like to suggest, is a critical skill for faithful librarians.  Perhaps as faithful librarians consider how to best utilize Ranganathan’s fourth law of saving the user time, we might consider how prioritizing our time by putting the practice of lectio divina, learning to listen to God, first might play a critical role in helping to serve patrons.


Works Cited

Noruzi, A. (2004). Application of Ranganathan’s laws to the Web. Webology, 1(2). http://eprints.rclis.org/7252/

Ranganathan, S. R. (1931). The Five Laws of Library Science. Edward Goldston, Ltd.

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