Ranganathan on shyness: Get over it!


Advice from the father of library science

In 1931, S.R. Ranganathan, a mathematician and librarian who is widely regarded as a founder of modern library science, published his seminal work, The Five Laws of Library Science. His five principles about managing the library get most of the publicity, but tucked away on page 65 is a gem of a quote sometimes overlooked but extremely important in our fast-changing world.

“If you want to be a reference librarian, you must learn to overcome not only your shyness but also the shyness of others.”

Ranganathan used this quote to describe behavioral change librarians needed to make in his day, when they were transitioning to serving readers from preserving books. No longer were readers considered a nuisance—they became the focus of the library. Librarians had to lose their shyness and come out from behind the desk to serve users, as well as overcome any reader shyness.

As we in the library community wrestle with change management, Ranganathan’s words ring as clearly today as they did 85 years ago. You can’t be shy when tackling change. Change requires a boldness that leaves reticence behind in order to embrace something new.

Change requires a boldness that leaves reticence behind. Click To Tweet

Getting a formula for change

Last month, I had the honor of hosting the 12th annual OCLC Contact Day in the Netherlands. More than 300 members from across the country came together in Utrecht for one day to discuss change—what it means to us as both professionals and individuals.

Ben Tiggelaar, well-known Dutch publicist, trainer and researcher on behavioral sciences, was our keynote speaker that day. He shared his insights on the psychology of change and led us through the process of change as well as how to deal with the continuum of change in our day-to-day lives.


Appropriately, Ben used Ranganathan’s quote on shyness to introduce his five steps for adapting to change:

  • Formulate goals as ‘learning goals’ and not as ‘performance goals.’ Behavioral change starts with a succinct, easy to repeat, emotionally compelling message framed as a learning objective.
  • Define the desired behavior. Successful change requires clear steps anyone can take—simple, actionable steps without elaborate new processes.
  • Start with the ‘bright spots.’ In most cases our brain exaggerates the negative. List the advantages on a whiteboard and place reminders at the point of action to help make the jump to a new behavior.
  • Organize support and a ‘safe’ environment. Successful change requires many people working together—a community designed to partner with individuals and inspire each other.
  • Realize that you’re never finished! Changing behavior is not a one-time decision. It’s an ongoing campaign that requires enlisting your heart and mind every day.

Coming together to support one another

Ben’s presentation hit home with attendees, who had identified transparency, listening and warmth as the behaviors they would like to see more of in their libraries. Here’s what a few of them said:

  • From a public library staff member: I feel the need for change, but how can I change when I’m the only staff member in this little library and my other colleagues work at different locations?
  • From an academic librarian: I love to change, but I do not want ‘to be changed.’
  • One of our members said that implementing a new library system is often a key driver for changing workflows.
  • And a public library director asked how OCLC can help public libraries change from the traditional lending library—a perception that’s still in the minds of many users—to a community library where people get support for their personal development.


Well, that’s where our library cooperative shines. And why we come together every year at Contact Day. This annual gathering has grown into one of the biggest events for the Dutch library community because of the desire to support one another in our quest to lead the library profession forward. We are a community that shares knowledge and knows that, collectively, it’s easier to change together.

Change can be intimidating even when you know it’s needed. It means uncertainty, especially in times like today, when it seems unending and unrelenting. But with the support of colleagues and the strength of a community, this very difficult task becomes doable.

S.R. Ranganathan knew it. And our members know it as well.

Question…What is the biggest change your library has achieved? Let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #OCLCnext.