Rule 5. The library is a growing organism
Again, this is another rule that applies first and foremost to libraries in and of themselves. As a librarian, let me first shed some insight on this. The library is a growing, evolving, changing organization. We adapt to technology, to the times, to community needs. We do have parameters for this evolvement. Libraries have mission statements and strategic plans. They have core tenets and beliefs. I doubt that the library will ever evolve into something completely unrecognizable. As long as there is information that needs to be housed, organized, and made accessible, so will libraries, as an organization, need to exist.
That’s the thing, however, the forms of information does change. Information -- whether literature or factual -- is no longer just housed in the heads of scholars who have memorized. It’s not on stone tablets or on scrolls. We have it in codex books, but also through ebooks, audiobooks, and the internet. Periodicals are not saved as microfiche predominantly anymore. Newer periodicals are saved as scanned digital files.
Here are we full circle, back to my first post, about how books are made to be used. We need to be open and supportive of the way books change. I do love the form of a physical codex book, but I can acknowledge the wonders ebooks and audiobooks are doing for others. They can make books so much more accessible for some people.
We all get to choose what’s best for us. Which is one reason I can’t stand too much preaching about how awful ebooks are or how audiobooks are not real reading. No one is forcing you to use them, people! Again, I prefer physical books, but I do occasionally use ebooks and audiobooks, and they have their positive qualities.
Books don’t just change in physical form, but in content as well. The styles of writing, the trends, on who is pushing the genre forward in new and interesting directions. Literature is an artform. It should change and evolve, rather than be stagnant.
This is a good lesson (about libraries, about publishing, about books forms, about technology) that we shouldn’t cling so desperately to what things were and what we’re comfortable with. Things change, technology change, the way information and literature is transferred to the reader changes, but what has staying power the profound power of books, of art, of story.
This part of Ranganathan’s rules is really about the physical arrangement and organization of the library space. Books (and other library materials) should be organization in a useable, time-saving way.
Most libraries use a classification system for their nonfiction books in which books on similar subjects are places together, and organize fiction in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Age-appropriate materials are organized in different sections (children, teen, adult) and some certain genres are put into their own collection. Libraries also have librarians who facilitate this organization and help readers find the books and information they are looking for.
But this is not a post about how Ranganathan’s Laws of Library Science apply to libraries, but how Ranganathan’s Laws of Library Science apply to readers and writers. I could borrow a page from Elmore Leonard, who said in his Ten Rules of Writing, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
There is something to be said in the conciseness of writing, both in prose and storytelling. However, that is the writing advice of our era. Other eras were quite grandiose and detailed in their writing styles, but that was the trend as opposed to now. Readers of then had less alternate entertainments than we do now, they wanted to have lots of words to read.
So how can a writer save the time of the reader, when we writers inherently want to take their time to have them read what we wrote. And what can I say other than banging the gavel with ‘concise writing’ talk you’ve all certainly heard before.
Save the time of your reader, but not by purely trying to carve a few second off their reading time by whittling away a few extra words in your manuscript. Save their time by making what you wrote, when read, not time wasted. Make it worth it.
Rule 2: Every Reader His / Her Book & Rule 3: Every book it’s reader
Click here for the full list of Ranganathan's Rules
This is reminiscent of the J.K. Rowling quote:”If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”
There is a book for every reader. A book for me may not be the same as a book for you. A genre I may hate, you may love. A writer that inspires me may fall flat to you. Reading is not a universal experience, but isn’t it wonderful that we don’t have to all like the same things?
So when you read a book everyone else seems to be crazy about and you just don’t get the appeal, it’s not that you are wrong or that everyone else is wrong. Not every book appeals to every reader. When you hype a book you love to your book club and none of them think it’s that great, neither them nor you are wrong. Isn’t that the point of book clubs, to discuss your varying opinions and perspectives on the book you all read?
As a writer, this would should be a relief to think about. It is not possible for your book to appeal to everyone. Stop trying. Let it appeal to the people it appeals to. Writer it as you the writer wants to.
As librarian, we try to match the the reader with a book that is right for them. It’s not about our personal preferences as a reader, but helping the reader connect with the type of book they are looking for. I work as a children’s librarian, so that means I have to consider reading level, interests, and genre when connecting readers with the correct book.
Try to add this perspective to your reading. When you read a book you don’t care for (and are in a case where you have to finish it, like book club), try to think about who this book would appeal to. A younger reader? An older one? Someone with a different cultural experience than you? Or just someone with a different taste than you?
A book can be a good book and just not to your taste. Amazing, right?
Rule 1: Books are for use.
Click here for all five of Ranganathan's Rules
This is pretty self explanatory, like all Ranganathan’s rules, but there is still something to be explored here.
Books are for use. To be read. To be perused. To be used for entertainment, edification, and research. Books are for use. And use means broken bindings and wrinkled pages. Books are meant to used and used so much they are worn out.
Certainly, us book nerds appreciate the aesthetics of the codex book as a form. Many of us buy different editions of the same book or series of book because of cover art changes or to collect special editions. I would never shame that wholeheartedly, but that is not the purpose of the book. When we have those pretty, leather bound books up on our shelves for ourselves and our nerdy friends to admire, we are treating the book as piece of visual art, instead of a book.
I guess that is to say that we use books for different things than their most primary intent. We use them as art pieces and decoration. We use them as a way to show off intelligence or wealth. But I gather that’s not what Ranganathan meant, especially in regards to a library, where the books are not personal possessions, but shared possessions, community possessions.
While in different days of the ancient past, books took a lot longer to produce and had many less copies and were much more expensive, there was bigger need to impress this ideas. Books are for use. By people no less! People who might damage them, but the same people who will benefit from reading them.
While ebooks are not my preferred way of reading, this reason (Book! Are! For! Use!) is why I find the hate towards the ebook form silly. If the books are being read, what is the issue? You know what’s more important than books being printed on paper, being bound, being designed aesthetically… The stories, the artistry, and the information inside of them.
So say it with me everyone. Chant it aloud. Books Are For Use!
Insights from the life of an aspiring, struggling writer; a passionate reader, and a working librarian.
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