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Finding a Book on the Shelf

Understanding Call Numbers

Books in the library are arranged on the shelf by call number. Each book has a unique call number that tells you its subject and its place on the library shelf.

You will find the call number of a book when you look up the book in the library catalogue. The catalogue record will also include the campus location, and whether the book is available or signed out to someone else. If you need help using the library catalogue, click on Using the Library Catalogue for detailed instructions.

In the library catalogue record, the call number looks like this:

TK2851.H3 1997

On the spine of the book, the call number looks like this:


The library uses the Library of Congress Classification System. This system is used by most universities and colleges and is completely different from the Dewey Decimal System used in public and school libraries.

The Library of Congress Classification System uses a combination of letters and numbers to create call numbers for books.

The first group of letters and numbers always represents the subject area. It is made up of one, two or three letters for the broad subject area followed by numbers that represent a narrow subdivision of that subject area.

The second set of letters and numbers generally refers to the author's last name.

There is sometimes a third set of letters and numbers. If there are more letters and numbers, they indicate the volume, edition or copy number of the book. The last part of a call number is often the publication date of the book.

Here is our example and what it means:

TK = electrical engineering
2851 = motors, generators
.H3 = Harwood (author)
1997 = publication date

This call number is for the book called Control of Electrical Motors written by Harwood and published in 1997.

Using the Call Number to Find the Book on the Shelf

It might help to think of the call number as the address of the book like this:

TK is the city
2851 is the street name
.H3 is the house number on the street

You need the complete call number to find the book on the shelf but your search will be easier if you break the call number down into its parts.
Let's find Harwood's book with call number TK2851.H3 1997 on the shelf.

  1. Find the library shelves that have books with call numbers starting with T. (The book shelves in the libraries have signs posted on the end of each stack of shelves that tell you the first book on that stack of shelves and the last book on that stack of shelves.)
  2. Within the T section, find the books that start with TK. The first books in the T section will have call numbers that start with just T. After that come books with call numbers TA, then TB, TC and so on. Keep going until you reach the books that start with call number TK.
  3. Within the TK section, look for TK2851. The TK section of books will start with TK1, then TK2, TK3 and so on. Keep going until you find TK2851.
  4. Within the TK2851 section, look for books with call numbers TK2851.H. This section will start with TK2851.A, then TK2851.B and so on.
  5. The last part of the call number necessary to find your book is read as a decimal number. This means that TK2851.H3 will be shelved after TK2851.H2 and TK2851.H276 and before TK2851.H35 and TK2851.H4. On the shelf, these books would look like this:
    TK2851.H2     TK2851.H276     TK2851.H3     TK2851.H35     TK2851.H4
  6. If there is a third group of letters and numbers to your call number, treat it as a decimal number also.

There may be more parts to your call number indicating volume number, copy number, publication date, etc. but these six steps will be enough to find the book you're looking for on the library shelves.

Reference Books:

Some of the books in the library have call numbers that start with REF and will look like this: REF PE1628.G65 1999. REF indicates that this book is a Reference book and can be used only in the library. REF is not really part of the call number so look for this book in the P section not the R section of the library shelves. The Progress, HP STC, and Ashtonbee Libraries shelve their Reference books separately from the other books. CCC Library shelves its Reference books in with their circulating books.

Main Library of Congress Classification Subject Areas

A - General Works (Encyclopedias, Almanacs, Directories)

B - Philosophy, Psychology, Religion

C - History (Auxiliary Sciences-Archaeology, Genealogy)

D - History (General and all except North and South America)

E - History (General U.S.)

F - History (Local U.S., Canada, Mexico, South America)

G - Geography, Anthropology, Folklore, Dance, Sports

H - Social Sciences

J - Political Science

K - Law

L - Education

M - Music

N - Fine Arts

P - Language and Literature

Q - Science

R - Medicine

S - Agriculture

T - Technology

U - Military Science

V - Naval Science

Z - Bibliography, Library Science, Publishing Industry


Frequently Used Subject Areas and Call Numbers

GV - Sports and Recreation

HB, HC - Economics

HE - Transportation and Communication

HV - Social Work

PE1628 - Dictionaries

PN - Film and Journalism

PR- English Literature

PS - North American Literature

QA - Computers

QR - Microbiology

RT - Nursing

TL - Automobiles, Motorcycles and Airplanes

TS - Manufacturing


Always remember, if you need help finding a book on the shelf or using any of the Libraries' resources, ask the staff. We're here to help you!