Ranganathan, Shiyali Ramamrita (1892-1972)
Indian mathematician and library scientist. Founder of  "Colon Classification System" and influential thinker within library classification (in the facet analytic approach).


According to Moss (1964) Ranganathan based his system of five categories (PMEST: Personality, Matter, Energy, Space and Time) on that of Aristotle without recognizing this.


Henning Spang-Hanssen found that Ranganathan's distinction between idea-plane and verbal-plane is problematic because the description of the two planes will lead to one and the same structure. Of this reason there can be no motivation to speak about the two planes. (Quote in Danish:)


”I diskussionen efter min fremlæggelse af disse synspunkter på seminaret 3.-8. december 1973 nævnte Tor Henriksen, at der kan være en værdi i at skelne mellem indholdssubstans og indholdsform for dermed at kunne parallelisere med Ranganathans 3 planer: Idéplan (indholdssubstans) Verbalplan (indholdsform), Notationsplan (udtryks-form). Jeg finder selve sammenligningen værdifuld, men for mig er spørgsmålet netop, om Idéplanet i klassifikationssystemer er anderledes end Verbalplanet, dvs. om man kan opstille en struktur i idéplanet, som er forskellig fra Verbalplanets. Hvis beskrivelsen af de to planer fører til en og samme struktur, finder jeg det umotiveret at tale om to planer (men man vil til visse formål kunne tale om to sider af planet) .” (Spang-Hanssen, 1974, p. 39)



Lancaster et al.  (1992) write about the way Ranganathan is quoted in the literature:


"Nevertheless, it is also necessary to point out that many of the references are very superficial ones, acknowledging some intellectual debt to Ranganathan without actually explicating Ranganathan's work or even explaining in detail the nature of the debt. A few authors seem to make such non‑substantive references to Ranganathan in more or less every article they write"... (Lancaster et al. 1992, p. 276).


Francis Miksa writes:


 "I for one am also tempted to conclude that Ranganathan's faceted universe of subjects has been adopted as much for what appears to be some sort of intuitive correctness as for any other reason, but a claim of this sort is little more than unsupported speculation. Still, one cannot easily miss how nicely his formulation of the facet idea seems to fit certain subject areas, and this may be reason enough to adopt it as a standard approach, regardless of whether it has any sound scientific basis or whether it always serves well. " (Miksa, 1998, p. 75)



Ranganathan is not very much cited in Library and Information Science (LIS) today. A search performed 26-12-2005 made a set of 329  CR=RANGANATHAN SR,? (to compare, the same date in Social SciSearch: 567  CR=INGWERSEN P,?). This low rate of citation of a leading figure may be interpreted in different ways. His influence would probably be larger if measured by citations in textbooks used in schools of LIS. It may also be interpreted as a relatively poor performance of facet analysis compared to other approaches to knowledge organization and information retrieval.  Finally it may be interpreted as a relatively weak representation of library classification compared to retrieval techniques developed in other fields such as computer science.



"Ranganthan in his unique style of design research firmly postulated the categories (in a way rationalist), and claimed they existed until proven otherwise – linking the ontological status of his PMEST to a more pragmatic concept of usefulness. The epistemology, theory, and methodology of this design discourse starts from the assumption of utility based on purpose, not on a rational realism of constantly existing things called categories. When we read Ranganathan, we can see that knowledge of facets is not permanent or fixed. We are told (Ranganathan 1967, 398): One may ask “Why should the Fundamental Ideas [Categories] postulated be five? Why not 3? Why not 6?” It is possible. There is absolute freedom for everybody to try it out. A person may be fond of six. He must classify on the basis of some thousands of assorted articles. If they produce satisfactory results in arranging the subjects of the articles along a line, that postulate may be accepted. This is not a strict rationalist stance, but more of a pragmatic, if not neo-pragmatic epistemic stance and method (cf. Rorty 1982, 1999). Try it, and if it works, if it is useful, don’t worry about real or true. For Ranganathan utility was the final judge. His fundamental categories were used to classify in order to save time for the reader. This interpretation differs from others’, but is an attempt to align an implicit epistemic stance with the technique of writing in order to design a system." (Tennis, 2008, p. 108).


Tennis point out an important contradiction in Ranganathan (or in the interpretation of Ranganathan by Hjørland, 1992). No doubt Ranganathan in the quote above states a pragmatic standpoint. But is there any indication in the methodology of facet analysis that he (or his followers) actually practiced a pragmatic approach. Did he (they) examine the fruitfulness of different systems of categories? (if so: did they argue for the best approach in the literature, or did they just follow their intuitions?). In other terms: Are there scholarly or scientific evidence of a pragmatic approach in the tradition of facet analysis?




Afzal, R. K. & Cathrine Pedersen, C. (1993). En analyse af Ranganathans emne- og klassifikationsteori - og dens indflydelse på vidensklassifikation indenfor biblioteks- og informationsvidenskaben. Specialeopgave. Kandidatuddannelsen i Biblioteks- og Informationsvidenskab.


Ellis, D. &  Vasconcelos, A. (1999). Ranganathan and the Net: Using Facet Analysis to Search and Organise World Wide Web. Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives 51(1), 3-10.


Foskett, D. J. (1992). Ranganathan and 'User-Friendliness'. Libri 42(3), 235-241.


Garfield, E. (1984). A tribute to S. R. Ranganathan, the farther of Indian library science. Current Contents, February 6 http://www.garfield.library.upenn.edu/essays/v7p037y1984.pdf


Glassel, A. (1998). Was Ranganathan a Yahoo!? End User's Cornerhttp://www.scout.wisc.edu/Projects/PastProjects/toolkit/enduser/archive/1998/euc-9803.html


Hjørland, B. (1992). The Concept of "Subject" in Information Science". Journal of Documentation, 48(2), 172-200.

Hjørland, B. (1993). Emnerepræsentation og informationssøgning. Et bidrag til en teori på kundskabsteoretisk grundlag. Göteborg: Valfrid.


Ingwersen, P. & Wormell, I. (1992). Ranganathan in the perspective of advanced information retrieval. Libri, 42, 184-201.


Lancaster, F. W., Zeter, M. J., & Metzler, L. (1992). Ranganathan's influence examined bibliometrically. Libri, 42(3), 268­281.

Metcalfe, J. (19739. When is a Subject not a Subject? IN: Towards a theory of Librarianship. Ed. by Conrad H. Rawski. New York: Scarecrow Press.


Miksa, F. (1997). Influence of Mathematics on Classification Theory of S.R. Ranganathan. In Knowledge Organization for Information Retrieval. Proceedings of the Sixth International Study Conference on Classification Research Held at University College London, 16-18 June 1997, pp. 167-179. FID 716. Hague: International Federation for Information and Documentation.


Miksa, F. (1998). The DDC, the Universe of Knowledge, and the Post-Modern Library. Albany, NY: Forest Press.


Moss, R. (1964). Categories and Relations: Origins of Two Classification Theories. American Documentation, 296-301.


Ranganathan, S. R. (1931) The Five Laws of Library Science. Madras Library Association (Madras, India) and Edward Goldston (London, UK).


Ranganathan, S. R. (1933). Colon Classification. Madras: Madras Library Association. (1st edition).  


Ranganathan, S. R. (1937). Prolegomena to Library Classification. The Madras Library Association. 2nd Ed, The Madras Library Association, 1957. 3rd edition. London: Asia Publishing House, 1967. Digital version available at:



Ranganathan, S. R. (1944). Library Classification: Fundamental and Procedure with 1008 Graded Examples and Exercises. Madras: The Madras Library Association.


Ranganathan, S. R. (1945). Elements of Library Classification. Poona: N. K. Publishing House. (2nd Ed., Asia Publishing House, 1960; 3rd Ed. Asia Publishing House, 1962).

Ranganathan, S. R. (1948). Preface to Library Science. Delhi: University of Delhi.

Ranganathan, S. R. (1951a) Classification and Communication. University of Delhi (Delhi, India).


Ranganathan, S. R. (1951b) Documentation Genesis and Development. Vikas Publishing House (Delhi, India).


Ranganathan, S. R. (1951c). Philosophy of Library Classification. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.


Ranganathan S. R. (1953). Depth Classification and Reference Services and Reference Material, Indian Library Association.


Ranganathan, S. R. (1957). The Five Laws of Library Science. 1st edition: Madras Library Association, 1931. 2ed. edition. London: Blunt & Sons.

Ranganathan, S. R. (1965). Classified Catalogue Code with additional rules for dictionary catalogue code. 5th edition. Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1965.  (Ranganathan series in Library Science, 12).

Ranganathan, S. R. (1960). Colon Classification. 6th edition. London: Asia Publishing House. [7.ed. ed. by M. P. Satija, 1989]


Ranganathan, S. R. (1967) Prolegomena to Library Classification. Asia Publishing House (New York).


Ranganathan, S. R. (1989) Philosophy of Library Classification. Sarada Ranganathan Endowment for Library Science (Bangalore, India).


Samurin, E. I. (1967). Geschichte der bibliotekarisch-bibliographischen Klassifikation. Band I-II. München: Verlag Dokumentation.

Sharma, P. S. K. (1978). Treatment of Indian philosophy and religions in Colon Classification. International Library Review, 10, 283-300.


Spang-Hanssen, H. (1974). Kunnskapsorganisasjon, informasjonsgjenfinning, automatisering og språk. In: Kunnskapsorganisasjon og informasjonsgjenfinning. Oslo: Riksbibliotektjenesten, pp. 11–61. Spang_Hanssen_1974.pdf


Tennis, Joseph T. (2008). Epistemology, Theory, and Methodology in Knowledge Organization: Toward a Classification, Metatheory, and Research Framework. Knowledge Organization, 35(2/3), 102-112.



See also: Chain indexing (Lifeboat for KO); Colon Classification (Lifeboat for KO);  Facet and facet analysis (Lifeboat for KO).


Generic group: Information science, biography


Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 29-07-2008