When books travelled in bullock carts

August 14, 2011 03:41 pm | Updated 03:41 pm IST

BOOKS ON WHEELS The mobile library service; S.R.Ranganathan is seen in the left

BOOKS ON WHEELS The mobile library service; S.R.Ranganathan is seen in the left

Booklovers who came to Vijaya Pathipagam on Friday were in for a pleasant surprise. They were offered coffee, tea and sweets and were greeted by an upbeat M.Velayutham, the founder. In a crisp white shirt and dhoti, the 70-year-old walked about with a spring in his step. “Today is S.R.Ranganathan's birthday,” he explained to curious customers. “He is the father of library science.”

“I don't celebrate even my birthday,” smiled Velayutham. For people like him who live and breathe literature, August 12 was a day to commemorate the contribution made by mathematician Ranganathan to literature. “Ranganathan took books to the common man. He made villagers read. Given that he did so at a time when there were fewer educational institutions and little ability to spend, this is no ordinary feat,” said Velayutham.

“Like U. V. Swaminatha Iyer who travelled in a bullock cart across Tamil Nadu to gather palm-leaf manuscripts of Sangam literature, Ranganathan travelled in a bullock cart from village to village to circulate books,” he said. Tamil Nadu has seen several great men and institutions that championed the cause of reading, said Velayutham.

“Today, I recall the contributions of Dina Thanthi's Adithanar who made villagers read newspapers, of Shakthi Y. Govindan who was the first to bring out Bharathiyar's work in print and of New Century Book House that ushered in the habit of reading.”

Back at the district Central Library, librarians from across the district had gathered to pay their respects to S.R.Ranganathan. “The Central Government announced August 12 as ‘National Library Day,' last year,” said District Library Officer S.P. Manoharan. “Though a professor in mathematics, he took up the post of librarian at the University of Madras in 1924. He spent a year abroad, studying various libraries and their methods of classification. Once in India, he came up with a new system of classification of books in a library — the colon classification. Other countries followed the Dewey Decimal Classification. Ranganathan's method was simpler than that,” he explained.

“Ranganathan wrote books on the various aspects of a library. For instance, he described how a library should function, what the ethics of a librarian should be, and so on,” he added. “He was responsible for the constitution of the Public Libraries Act and established the five laws of library science.”

Manoharan said that all the libraries in Tamil Nadu followed Ranganathan's colon classification system. “It's like an artificial language to categorise books. At the Central Library, we have a card cabinet bearing cards with codes arranged in the same order as that of the respective books in the shelves. This is based on Ranganathan's technique,” said Manoharan.

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