The Indian mathematician and library scientist Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan stands tall among the founding fathers of modern library science, along with Charles Ammi Cutter, Melvil Dewey, James Duff Brown, Henry Evelyn Bliss and a few others. Ranganathan was a profound connoisseur of Hindu doctrines and texts, even if nowadays he is famous first and foremost for his The Five Laws of Library Science, and his analytic-synthetic classification, known as Colon Classification. In recognition of these outstanding achievements and other notable contributions to the field of library science, Eugene Garfield — father of bibliometrics — said that «Ranganthan is to library science what Einstein is to physics».
Biographical accounts and profiles of Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan have already been provided by a number of authors: Sharma (1979), Gopinath (1994), Yogeshwar (2001) and Raghavan (2019) just to mention but a few of the most prominent ones. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to recall here some of the most significant events in his life as well as some key point moments in his career, in order to offer a further perspective on the librarian and library scientist. For the sake of convenience, we can divide Ranganathan’s biography into the following parts.
Early life and education. Ranganathan was born on 9 August 1892 in Shiyali (now Sirkazhi, Tamil Nadu) in a family of orthodox brahmans. His early education was shaped by R. Anantharama Ayyar and Thiruvenkatachariar, who introduced him to the knowledge of Sanskrit and the sacred Hindu texts. He received his B.A. in mathematics from the Madras Christian College in 1913. Under the mentorship of Edward Burns Ross, a close friend of the British mathematician Godfrey Harold Hardy, Ranganathan achieved his M.A. in mathematics in 1916 at the Madras Christian College. In 1917 he received a professional teaching certificate from the Teachers’ College in Saidapet, Madras.
Professional career. His career as a teacher began in 1917, when he served as assistant lecturer in mathematics at Government College in Mangalore. Later he taught at Government College in Coimbatore (1920-21) and from 1921 to 1923 he worked as an assistant professor in mathematics at Madras Presidency College. In January 1924, he was appointed chief librarian at University of Madras, where he spent the next 20/21 years of his life. As regards his university teaching, Ranganathan became professor in library science at Banaras Hindu University in August 1945, on the invitation of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. From 1947 to 1955, he was professor at Delhi University. His last assignment was at Documentation Research and Training Center in Bangalore — from its onset in 1962 as a research center within the Indian Statistical Institute — as honorary director (1962-67).
Contribution to library science. Ranganathan was a very prolific author who wrote over 50 books as well as 1000 papers on all aspects of library science. Two works from his early scholarly production are still considered as fundamental contributions to library science: The Five Laws of Library Science with an introduction by W.C. Berwick Sayers (1931), and Colon Classification (1933), dedicated to his professor Edward B. Ross. Among his other most notable works are Classified Catalogue Code (1934), Prolegomena to Library Classification (1937; 1957: with a foreword by W.C. Berwick Sayers; 1967), Theory of the Library Catalogue (1938), Elements of Library Classification (1945), Classification and International Documentation (1948), Classification and Communication (1951), Philosophy of Library Classification (1951), Headings and Canons (1955) and Reference Service (1961).
Turning points in his life and career. Doubtless there are some clear turning points in Ranganathan’s professional and scholarly career, that suggest a transition towards a more complex perspective and holistic approach, and indicate the need to conduct further research. The first issue which needs further consideration is how Ranganathan was influenced by his early education in Sanskrit and the sacred Hindu texts. The second one concerns the library training he received in London at the School of Librarianship of the University College (Sept. 1924-Juin 1925). During his stay, he had the great opportunity to study under the influential scholar William Charles Berwick Sayers, who played a fundamental role in the field of library classification and exerted a great influence not only on his Indian pupil, but also on a few other students who would become members of the Classification Research Group. It is also worth mentioning that, in the same period, he was in contact in Oxford Godfrey Harold Hardy, mentor of the brilliant mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. The last topic of research requiring further investigation is represented by the cultural and intellectual relationships Ranganathan developed with Kuppaswami Sastri. It was in Madras that he came in very close contact with this prominent scholar and profound connoisseur of Vedic literature, particularly in the fields of logic, grammar and exegesis.