Ranganathan's Monologue on Melvil Dewey

Recorded 1964

Transcribed from a cassette in the collection of the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto, retrieved by William Denton and posted on his Web site. Ellipses mean I could not make out the words.There are undoubtedly many errors in my transcription. Feel free to improve it. [Note: The links in the body of the text lead to the evidence Terrell Russell kindly supplied when he suggested corrections to this transcript.]

William Denton's site where the recording is posted.

And so, I am very delighted that you asked me to give my experiences with Melvil Dewey in chronological sequence.

My first contact with him was in London. It was not as person to person but as mind to mind. I was then in the University College. It was 1924. I hated to become a librarian. I just went into the college ___ library. By chance I found a classic great catalog of the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library by MacMillan. It thrilled me. I found it was all arranged by the DC numbers. .... That very day I decided I should like to be ...

After that my contact came in 1932. I had published my first book, The Five Laws of Library Science, in 1931. Naturally I sent a copy of it to Melvil Dewey, although I had not known him. He had not known me. We had not even corresponded. As a young aspirant publishing a book, I had sent it to him for an inscription. But to my great delight and surprise, it brought a letter from him. That letter was most interesting, according to the most characteristic [?]. He had found out a few lines in the book where I had reference to classification. And he wrote to me .... saying, "You say you write in your book that the DC has been mangled by the ....Let me know the addresses of the libraries. I am going to sue them in a court of law."

Then came the sentence, very good advice to me: "I find you are designing a new scheme of classification. Let me tell you how dangerous it is." I am talking from memory; I am not quoting . "It's very dangerous. I have suffered. People attribute all kinds of motives to you. Apart from that, if anything goes wrong, they will pounce upon you. It may cost your appointment. On the other hand, if you use a scheme which is established, which is used everywhere, which is not yours, if anything goes wrong, you will go scot free. Why do you think of doing another scheme of classification?"

Then there was another statement. "I know that DC is fully American, or at best Anglo-Saxon, and I know that I have not provided adequate placings in it for Indian thought and culture. Instead of doing a new scheme, why don't you write out a schedule in classics, Indian literature, Indian thought. I shall incorporate it in DC."

Well, this thrilled me very much but unfortunately my scheme, to use one of the modern terminologies, was not an enumerative scheme. It was an analytico-synthetic schedule. So it was difficult for me to send him a schedule unless I worked out ready made schedule for all possible Indian literature. That was too much of a task because my hands were then quite full with building up the university library, building up the colon classification, building the classificatory catalog code, building the administrative procedure. It's difficult for me to send you a schedule. My book on colon classification will be out next year, and if after producing it, if you think that I can of be any help in collaborating with you, I would be most happy. Well, next year my book did come out. But unfortunately, Dewey had died before my book came out. That was [one of?] the saddest experiences in my life.

I know then he had devoted so much thought to my five laws, he could have done much more to Colon Classification. Number one I would have benefited it would be to have included it with all his experiences [?]. Number two, we would have collaborated so as to enrich both the DC and the CC.

That is my second contact. And then comes the third contact. That was again, because he was dead, that happened in 1948. In that year, I was a member of the faculty of the UNESCO International School for Public Librarians. And the dean of that faculty was Mr Trudall [?], the inspector of libraries in Norway at that time. I met him first in Oslo and then I met him Manchester. Then I met him Oslo. He had not revealed he had been a student of Melvil Dewey. But we were thrown together for a month in Manchester. We had to spend a good deal of time together. Then slowly came the information that he was a student of Melvil Dewey. Well, we had several talks where he reviewed some of his reminiscences. I was extremely glad to get all that information. That was the third contact.

The fourth contact was in 1950 [1958?]. I was then in the United States and the American Library Association had its conference in Cleveland[1 2 3]. That was the jubilee year for the Classification and Cataloging division, and I was put down to give the jubilee address. As a result of it, I was invited to the jubilee dinner, and .... evening. At that time, the organizer had been very thoughtful in bringing to that dinner an old lady who was also a student of Melvil Dewey. We sat together at the dining table. We had many reminisces. And one of them is most amusing. That shows the courage and the determination and the enormous powerful strategy which Melvil Dewey should have had [?]. She said that when Dewey came to the Columbia University, he was insisting that he should have lady assistants. But the Columbia university in those days did not allow ladies into the university building. So the authorities would not allow it. But he would not have any other assistants. Then they found a compromise. The lady said that they agreed that the lady assistants of Melvil Dewey would be allowed to come into the building not through the main door but by the spiral service staircase in the back of the building. Well, that compromise was accepted. After some time, Melvil Dewey reported to the authorities that that spiral staircase was missing and that his students were unable to come into the building. Then they were in a great fix. Are they to put up another spiral and wait for a week or ten days without work in the library or what were they to do? Melvil Dewey I suppose did not even smile on that occasion for he was very very serious looking, and they said "Alright, I shall allow your lady assistants to come through the main door." That's a very remarkable experience I heard from that old student of Melvil Dewey.

And then Miss ___ said she's hear to make a survey of the DC position in the Asian countries. Im telling her now that the very first gentleman that thought about finding out the needs of the different countries in the adoption of DC was Melvil Dewey himself. As my contact with him ..a few weeks ago shows, his mind had already wandered into India and into Asia. And if he had lived a little longer, probably he would have already done something which Miss ___ is trying to do now. What is more important, as a result of my correspondence with him and as the result of the needs of correct education methods, I had been teaching classification using both CC and DC simultaneously and making a comparative study of them in almost every other, both in practical hours and theory hours Well, that has disclosed several points where the DC requires to be amplified to make it suitable for Asian culture and Asian literature. So I come second in line, next to Melvil Dewey.

And then there was the Indian Library Association's conference in 1944 in Jaipur when some of the friends wanted to work out a schedule for some of the Indian classics for the DC. They did work out something. They asked me whether it was tolerable. I said it was tolerable. And then they said they were going to adopt it. Then I remembered what Melvil Dewey had written to me about the libraries mangling his scheme. I said, "You don't know what you are in for! If you, although Melvil Dewey is not longer living, you don't know what kind of legal successors he has left and if you begin to mangle it again with your own numbers, you may have to face a court of law." So I advised them to write to Lake Placid club and then get their permission before they did anything. But I don't know what they did exactly, but I don't think anything has been done, no such scheme has been published, so far as I know,I did not know.

So the Indian Library Association was the third in succession. And then came the three representatives of the international relations office of the American Library Association, Jack Bolton [?], and then Swank [?] and Asheim [1] who had been passing through India several times. Well, at least Jack Bolton has done it several times. Asheim has done it once. Shanky [?] has done it once I suppose. They should have felt the need for doing something. Therefore, it will be a very thin link in the succession. So the fourth link is always a weak link in my scheme, and so it was a weak link. [Laughter]

And then comes the fifth link, in the form of Miss ___. And you know in my scheme five represents energy, five represents beauty [?] and five represents the ladies [??]. And it is a very wonderful coincidence that mnemonic should work so well. And if my mnemonic means anything at all, it means a lot to me, as a lot of my friends know. Her mission is going to be a great success. This is the fifth in the lineage to adapt DC to Indian conditions.

Well, after that, another contact which I had very recently when I was in Oslo. It was last month that I was there. They had united when I was at Elsinore, I went there, they had plainly arranged for a lunch in which both Dr. [Wilhelm] Munthe and ... joined us. And we were about 15 or 20 librarians and we had all kind of reminisces ranging from the days of Dewey down to that minute. In the course of the conversation I discovered -- rather ... told me, whispering into my ears really -- "Look here, Munthe once wrote a memorial on Dewey. He had never published it. Why not get it out of him?" Well, that whisper I magnified, said it loudly, and I said "Munthe you ought to give it to me." Munthe said, "I had left it somewhere. I shall have to search for it." Then I forget the lady sitting on my right, I charged her: "It is your duty to help that old gentleman [?] somehow to find that out that memoir and the memoir should reach me and I'm going to publish it." And then I turned to ... and said "You have prompted me to book Munthe and I've done it and you must pay your price for it." And he said, "What's the price?" "The price is that you must write out some reminisces of Melvil Dewey so I can back Munthe with these first-hand reminisces." I am expecting them any moment, and the only cause of delays is perhaps is ... I had to give him something in return, an article. And I hope to do that. I wanted to do it before....whether I do it or after I come back I don't know. But I'm sure to get back Munthe 's article. You know Munthe is a very respected man of our profession. He was a president of IFLA [International Federation of Library Associations] for several years and a very generous and fine gentleman. And what he says I have great respect for his words. He was not a student of Melvil Dewey but he was a great admirer of Melvil Dewey as I am. I hope something very useful will come out of the memoir which I hope to get.

Transcribed by David Weinberger, Dec. 25, 2005. I apologize for my many mistakes and mishearings...

Thanks to Anjali Arora for additions and corrections, Dec. 25, 2005
Thanks to Terrell Russell for additions, corrections, and footnotes. Jan. 8, 2006
Thanks to Alma Ramos-McDermott for adding "IFLA," Mar. 21, 2007