Could you condense your organization's entire purpose into five basic statements? Could you do it in 26 words? And could you insure that those 26 words would stand for 75 years and show no signs of age? S.R. Ranganathan could.
Ranganathan was a preeminent Indian mathematician and librarian who died in 1972 at the age of 80. In 1924 he was appointed the first university librarian of the University of Madras, a position he held for the next 20 years (during which time he supposedly never took a vacation.) Among Ranganathan's many contributions to the field, his Five Laws of Library Science (written in 1931) stand out for their brilliance and their brevity:
- Books are for use.
- Every person, his or her book.
- Every book, its reader.
- Save the time of the reader.
- The library is a growing organism.
I love so many things about these 26 words, starting with the ethic of service and utility that runs through them, and ending with the metaphor of organization as organism, surely an unusual concept in the '30s. And although I'm no S.R. Ranganathan, his example makes me want to think up "Five Laws" for everything.
At the very least, this list is worth revisiting every time I'm working on a mission statement or a team charter or a set of ground rules. Maybe some of Ranganathan's wisdom will rub off.