The Laws of Public Librarianship
I have seventeen; Ranganathan had only five
Each law, principle, or rule appears with its name, its formulation, and a brief example – or expansion – of the concept:
1. The Law of Managerial Visitation
The likelihood that a library manager will visit your branch is inversely proportional to your traffic.
No matter how busy your branch normally is, your director will appear during the least busiest hour, of the least busiest afternoon, of the least busiest day, of the least busiest week, of the least busiest month, of the year. When your director does finally appear, she will find you engaged in a decidedly non-MLS activity such as cutting out turtle-shaped nametags for storytime.
2. The Law of Inverse Appreciation
Gratitude is inversely proportional to effort.
The patrons for whom you do the least are the most grateful; the patrons for whom you do the most are the least appreciative. You will be profusely thanked for looking up the location of a book; you will be only grudgingly acknowledged, if at all, for identifying the birth mother and birthdate of the patron’s great-great-grandmother, in Reykjavik, in 1839, after having located the pertinent records, arranged for their transmittal, and translated them from Icelandic.
3. The Law of Reaction
For every action, there is an equal and opposite complaint.
The law can be alternatively stated as “no good deed goes unpunished.” The first person who arrives at your long-demanded, highly anticipated drive-up bookdrop will berate you because the slot is too low for her immense SUV. If you planned carefully beforehand and built both high and low slots, you will be berated for not having a middle slot.
4. The Principle of Aggregated Disaster
One disaster provokes additional disasters.
The toilet in the public restroom will overflow, a child will be lost, the OPAC will crash, a drunk will throw up on the Sunday New York Times, and the fire alarm will go off, in that order, all within 30 seconds of one another. As soon as you deal with and resolve these, the power will go off and a ceiling panel will come loose and fall on the head of your most difficult patron.
5. The Rule of Universal Dysfunction
All libraries are dysfunctional, but in different ways.
Your colleagues are insufferable idiots but your building and systems work pretty good. Your best friend in another system works among princes and princesses whose intelligence, wit, and graciousness are your envy. His library’s roof, however, leaks like a sieve and his ILS is user-hostile, balky, and unreliable.
6. The Law of Attraction
The age of library furnishings is inversely proportional to their attractiveness as targets.
New carpet attracts sick children.
7. The Law of Mission Inflation
Library programs expand to fill whatever space, time, and money are available.
One day it will hit you that you don’t know exactly why you are providing free automotive lube, oil, and filter service at the library, though certainly there must have been a good reason, somewhere, sometime.
8. The Law of Expectation
The size of a library is inversely proportional to what is
expected of it.
The patron is shocked . . . shocked . . . that your 8000-square-foot neighborhood branch doesn’t carry the complete run, in paper, of the Annals of the Canadian Society for Feline Ophthalmology.
9. The Principle of Staff Fungibility
Everyone who works in a library is a librarian.
Just like everyone who works in a hospital is a surgeon.
10. The Law of Perverse Funding
Funding is inversely proportional to need.
You have the greatest demand for service at precisely the moment your funding authority has the least money to give you.
11. The Principle of Remote Policy Implementation
The closer you are to the action, the smaller the amount of control you have over it.
You will be lectured on how to render customer service by people who last rendered customer service in the Pleistocene Epoch.
12. The Principle of the Titanic Deck Chairs
The greater your dysfunction, the greater your focus on design.
Your collection is as deep as a rain puddle and as broad as a rivulet, and your staff is snoozing, sour, and surly. Your color scheme, signage, and furniture, however, are state of the art.
13. The Rule of Selective Volunteerism
The work you need done the most has the least appeal.
Volunteers want to read stories to rapt, adorable children. Volunteers do not want to dust shelves.
14. The Law of Equipment Failure
The probability of equipment failure is directly proportional to the desperation of its user.
On the evening of April 15, the motherboard goes up in smoke precisely one minute before closing and exactly one second before the patron decides to click “submit” on the H&R Block website.
15. The Principle of Obfuscation of Metadata
Library labels and barcodes cover the most useful information on the book jacket.
A variation of this principle states that the smaller the item, the more library labels, barcodes, branch identifiers, cautions, and warnings-off it will require.
16. The Principle of Selective Credibility, or Cassandra's Rule
If it comes from staff, it isn't believed.
When staff reports that the public printer is on its last legs, nothing happens. When a citizen tells a council member that the printer over at the library is on its last legs, it gets promptly replaced.
17. The Law of Contrary Workloads
Traffic is directly proportional to workload.
The more projects you need to bring to the desk to work on, the busier you are with patrons. Alternatively: The one day you could use some time to work on a pressing deadline is the one day that 90 percent of the population of your service area decides it needs the library.
Lessons Learned from the First Semester
1 month ago