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How to Find Physical Resources in the Library: Call Numbers

What is a Call Number?

What is a Call Number?

A Call Number is a unique alpha-numeric code assigned to each book in the library, which is used for multiple purposes:

  • Labeling, identifying, and tracking books and other items
    • If you forgot the title and author of the book, but you wrote down the call number, we can still find it!
  • Locating the physical item on the shelf
    • Books are shelved in order by call number. For more information on how they are shelved, go to Item Shelving Order.
  • Organizing the items on the shelves by subject
    • If you found one good book on your topic, you might find more on the same shelf which could also be useful!

What Does a Call Number Look Like?

A call number has letters and numbers (or sometimes just numbers) and is located on the spine of the physical book.

In the Lightner Library Catalog, you will see that the call number is listed in the Description Box for the book (if you scroll down in the box), and it is also located in the Availability Box. In the image below, it is highlighted in yellow.

Using Call Numbers to Browse by Subject Area

Library of Congress Call Numbers

You may have noticed that all of the Call Numbers at Lightner Library start with a letter or 2 letters. That's because we use the Library of Congress Classification System to create our call numbers. In the Library of Congress system, these starting letters and numbers indicate a subject area for the book. This ensures that all of our books on one subject are all shelved in the same place.

Many academic libraries use the Library of Congress Classification System for their call numbers. You may have also heard of the Dewey Decimal Classification System. There are some exceptions, but mostly you will find that public libraries are using the Dewey Decimal System and academic libraries are using the Library of Congress system. 

To find out more about a call number, you can use the Library of Congress's Online Classification Guide.

Browsing by Subject Area

You can use the chart below to identify the letter code for your subject number, and then find the shelf or shelves in the library which houses the books with those call numbers. This would allow you to browse almost like you would in a book store!

However, keep in mind that you may miss some books which are interdisciplinary and may be located under a different Library of Congress classification. So, it's always good to search the Lightner Library Catalog for your topic to make sure you didn't miss any good books.

AOE Librarian

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April Higgins
(315) 279-5411

Library of Congress Classification Guide