Never Forget: DEI as a Charge in the Epistemological Framework of Ranganathan’s Five Laws/
August 31, 2021
Given the past couple of years and my pride in being named an Atla diversity scholar, I thought it fitting to write about diversity. A topic coded within DEI discourse, it is one that is close to my being.
As an MLIS student in 2020, I had the bizarre opportunity to forge the path to my degree during the uncanny concurrence of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and the international galvanizing of the Black Lives Matter movement. I could not help but process these events through the lens of my studies and experiences with professors, librarians, fellow students, and professionals in the field. And vice versa.
Though I studied them at different times, two topics forged an indelible connection in my mind. The first, that bulwark of the budding librarian, Ranganathan’s Five Laws, I picked up in an introductory course. I was challenged to not only learn the Five Laws but to find out what they actually meant, in modern terms, besides being gentle exhortations about my chosen career path. These laws can be applied much more broadly to education and knowledge sharing. After coming across a certain article[i], I had an “aha” moment of yes, these simple laws CAN indeed govern the kind of librarian/educator I hope to be/see.
Ranganathan’s Five Laws: 1. Books are for use. 2. Every reader his or her book. 3. Every book its reader. 4. Save the time of the reader. 5. A library is a growing organism.Read Ranganathan's Relevant Rules
The next lightbulb came on when I picked up the idea of epistemological positions from my (Atla-inspired) Theological Librarianship class. This idea posits that a person’s history creates a sort of bias-in-erudition, wherein, a person in the role of imparting knowledge comes with their own baggage (epistemological position) about what it is to learn and to teach, and foists said baggage unto their learners (usually unconsciously).
I kept thinking about how the inequities that were being highlighted not only by the horrors laid bare by the killing of George Floyd, but those that were being exacerbated by the raging coronavirus. And I kept thinking about how the systems we live within made these evils possible. And I vacillated between despair and a need to know that I could do something. Between the maelstrom of injustices coming to the fore and due in part to the rigour of my studies, I took a leap and made the connection between the Five Laws and the notion of epistemological positions.
And I vacillated between despair and a need to know that I could do something.
What we need is a broader framework from which creators and sharers of knowledge can create their epistemological positions. Ranganathan’s Five Laws actually embrace all the modern tenets of DEI, providing an expansive epistemological framework. One that is robust in its timelessness and salient in conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion. One that is flexible due to its patron/learner-first focus, which allows it to react to the needs of any given community/cohort.
A modern rethinking of the Laws was undertaken by Emily Rimland in her “Ranganathan’s Relevant Rules (2007).” In it, she maps modern-day concerns unto each law, enfolding issues of accessibility, collection development in the age of Google, information literacy and ramped up technology, timeliness in a fast-paced world, and the growing recognition of meeting the needs of diverse/diversifying communities.
I see a direct parallel between Rimland’s modern rethinking of Ranganathan and what Archie Dick calls “holistic perspectivism.”[ii] In the former, there is a set of statements that taken as a whole, allow all types of learners to access and benefit from the holdings and services of the library. The epistemological position at work here is that every type of library material (information and services) should be available to every library user, allowing for “alternative ways of knowing (Dick).” In the latter, there is an understanding that libraries have developed, from antiquity to now, with the goal of amassing and studying the totality of recorded knowledge. And as that knowledge and its forms change, it should necessarily engender different ways of learning, seeing, and knowing. Both modes encompass a broad understanding of knowing that may allow the LIS to continue as a robust community engagement.
Both modes encompass a broad understanding of knowing that may allow the LIS to continue as a robust community engagement.
In light of the events of last year and the (hopefully sustainable) push for diversity, equity, and inclusion, I believe that taking on the underpinnings of learning and teaching will be essential to driving actionable, positive (sustainable) results. Teach the teachers to teach from a place of total immersion in DEI values, and they can teach that forward. Their epistemological frameworks become the incubators for learners to truly embrace all things DEI.
[ii] Archie L. Dick. “Epistemological Positions and Library and Information Science.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 69, no. 3 (1999): 305-23. Accessed July 6, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4309336.
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