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How to find a book in the library!

Updated on August 23, 2017
KeemaWolf profile image

Fiona is based in SE Qld and is an enthusiast of all things art & crafty. She is a qualified Library Technician, amongst other things.

Feel like you're reading a foreign language? Confused by that scrap of paper with numbers and letters on it?

Believe it or not, you're not alone!! There are many people out there who, for a variety of reasons, can't seem to get their head around how to find a book on the shelf at their local library.

Generally speaking, when you need to find an item (libraries aren't just about books these days!) your friendly library staff are more than happy to help you locate a book, but sometimes one just wants to explore the options on their own, and that's what this lens is designed to do!

Below you will find described in basic terms how to interpret those numbers and letters into the 'shelf address' of that book you've been dying to read!

Or listen to, or watch, or....

Image: renjith krishnan /

What is a Library Classification System?

Why there are numbers and letters

A Library Classification System is essential to keeping a libary's items quick and easy to find. It is the method by which items in a library - such as books, videos, audio books, CDs, CD-Roms, etc - are allocated to keep them locatable. Could you imagine if the book you wanted was randomly put back on a shelf, but no-body knew where exactly it was? Chaos!

Throughout the world, there are many different types of classification system used to keep library collections organised. Each has it's own pros and cons for workability, and are best suited for different collection types.

Different types of Library Classification System

To name but a few:

Bliss bibliographic

Dewey Decimal

Library of Congress


Cutter Expansive

Universal Decimal


OPAC Terminals

An OPAC terminal is an "Online Public Access Catalogue" computer, available for people to use to search the library catalogue for items available to borrow, often across the all of the affiliated libraries (such as your local council, or university libraries).

Searches can be by title, author, and subject to name a few.

How to read a Dewey Decimal call number

Rule-of-thumb: '123 ABC'!

The call number should be read left to right, and sometimes, when the list of numbers is quite long, top to bottom: ANF 641.5 DELI

The 'ANF' indicates that the book/item you are looking for belongs in the Adult Non-Fiction collection. You may also find variations including 'JNF' or 'YNF', which indicate that the item can be found in the Junior Non-Fiction and Young Adult Non-Fiction collections respectively.

The numbers '641' indicate the broad subject area the item is catalogued under, in this case cooking. The '.5' indicats what subject area WITHIN cooking the item is about, such as curries or diabetic recipes. Often, there will be more than one number after the decimal point/period dot, which helps to narrow down the specific subject area of the book (if you think about it, just 'cooking' can encompass alot of things!).

Finally, the letters 'DELI' are taken from the surname of the author, or sometimes in the event that the book is a collaboration of several authors, the surname of the editor.

When you come to the actually physically looking at shelves part of your search, you should find that each of the aisles have labels on the ends indicating which collaction they are (ANF, AF, etc), and the number of letter sequence on those shelves. It should run in a progressive order, from one and 'A' onwards.

Dewey In Practice

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The National Library of Australia

The National Library of Australia
The National Library of Australia

Young Adult Collection Code Abbreviations

YANF: Young Adult Non-Fiction

YAF: Young Adult Fiction

YAB: Young Adult Audio Book

YCD: Young CD

YADVD: Young Adult DVD

YVC: Young Video Cassette

YMAG: Young Magazine

How to read a Library of Congress call number

Rule-of-thumb: '123 ABC'!

The call number should be read left to right, top to bottom:





The 'TX' should be read alphabetically i.e. TA, TB, TC and so-forth. The 'TX' indicates the broad subject area i.e. cooking.

The '644' is a specific subject area WITHIN the cooking subject, such as chocolate, or cake decorating.

The '.C33' helps to narrow down the search further, and is obtained by using the first letter of the author's surname, then using a special code called a 'cutter' to substitute numbers for the new two (2) letters of the author's surname.

There will sometimes be another line with letters and numbers below the inital one, which you read the same way.

Finally, the last number on the bottom, in this instance '2008', generally indicates the year the item was published.

(Image in the public domain)

Library of Congress In Practice

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Adult Collection Code Abbreviations

ANF: Adult Non-Fiction

AF: Adult Fiction

APB: Adult Paper Back

And generally speaking:

AB: Audio Book

VC: Video Cassette

REF: Reference

LT/LP: Large Type/Large Print

LPB: Large Paper Back (as in large print/type)

B: Biography

How to read a Fiction call number

Rule of thumb: know your ABC!

The call number will almost always be four letters long, like so:


This is usually the first four letters of the author's surname, in this example from BUJOLD, Lois McMaster.

Occasionally, when the book in question is an anthology from numerous authors, it will be cataloged under the first four letters of the title, like so:


for Kendermore, Dragon Lance Saga Preludes Volume Two.

The other thing a lot of people seemed to get tripped up on was determining which comes first: MAC or MC.

For the purpose of our example, we'll use the surnames McNamara, McDonald, McMaster and MacDonough.

As always, the rule of ABC applies, and you read "Mc" just as you would "Mac".


McDonald before MacDonough before McMaster before McNamara

because as you continue through the spelling of the surname, the 'a' in McDonald comes before the 'o' of MacDonough, and 'm' comes before 'n' for McMaster and McNamara.

A book written by McDonald could sit on the shelf between books written by MacDonald and technically be in the correct place

If you want to get particularly picky about how books by the same author should be shelved, again the rule of ABC comes into play, and you go by title.

(Image in the public domain)

Fiction Call Numbers In Practice

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Battle of the Cataloging Systems! - Library of Congress VS Dewey Decimal

While there are many forms of library classification system used throughout the world, generally speaking the two (2) classification systems most people will come into contact with are the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress Classification Systems.

I don't think there is a completely perfect classification system yet devised, but each has its pros and cons. I personally prefer LCC over DDC as it has greater ability to expand subject headings without the number becoming inconveniently long. On the flip side, moat people find DDC easier to read.

Have a preference? Drop in on the comment module at the end of this article.

Sometimes library staff hold...

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Junior Collection Code Abbreviations

JNF: Junior Non-Fiction

JF: Junior Fiction

JAB: Junior Audio Book

JCD: Junior CD

JVC: Junior Video Cassette

JDVD: Junior DVD

JMAG: Junior magazine


BEG: Begginer Readers

E: Easies (also known as picture books)

Library Related Links!

Here's just a couple of lenses and websites you can look at for more information on libraries! And always remember, your local library has a lovely librarian there who can help you find many, many more!

Remember the Rule of Thumb for reading call numbers:

'123 ABC'!!

This is YOUR CHANCE to tell me what you think of this site/lens!

Is there something you would like me to add? Is there a link you would like me to include? All constructive feedback welcomed!

Have Your Say! - Feedback welcomed & encouraged!

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    • tfsherman lm profile image

      tfsherman lm 

      6 years ago

      These is a very nice intro to the library. Libraries really are difficult to maneuver...people still don't know what YA stands for and are constantly astonished that we have stuff like DVDs in our collections.

    • writergrey profile image


      6 years ago

      Very useful information - thanks! I'm going to add this to my Lens on organizing an e-library.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Fantastic advice - navigating a library can be a tad difficult at times.

    • KeemaWolf profile imageAUTHOR

      Fiona Findlay 

      7 years ago from Queensland, Australia

      @SusannaDuffy: Oh, thankyou! I used to love working in the library, back in the day. I found the shelving soothing :)

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      What a fabulous resource for those of us who have trouble finding books in the library

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Good idea. Thanks for sharing.

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 

      7 years ago from Northern California

      More blessings for the lost art of using a library lens. :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens. Thanks for this.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks so much for the information. It has helped a lot.

    • jenokson profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens! I plan to direct some of my library volunteers here to garner some great information.

    • LizMac60 profile image

      Liz Mackay 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Good information. Blessed by a squid angel.

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 

      7 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you for sharing what seems to be a lost art. April 1 - Blessings

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      7 years ago from Central Florida

      This is great for anyone trying to figure out the mysteries of libraries.

    • KeemaWolf profile imageAUTHOR

      Fiona Findlay 

      8 years ago from Queensland, Australia

      @norma-holt: Thank you so much! I'm thrilled that people are finding my lens useful!

      Thank you again!!

    • norma-holt profile image


      8 years ago

      Great subject abd well presented. *-*Blessed*-* and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust and also on Complex Thought or Complexity of Thinking

    • PaulaMorgan profile image

      Paula Morgan 

      8 years ago from Sydney Australia

      also a former librarian.. what a great lense I am a Dewey girl myself but thats cause its all I know

    • KeemaWolf profile imageAUTHOR

      Fiona Findlay 

      8 years ago from Queensland, Australia

      @FlynntheCat1: Thank you, Flynn. I'm very pleased my lens is useful to someone! *curtsies*

    • FlynntheCat1 profile image


      8 years ago

      As a librarian who has to frequently hold people's hands and take them to the write shelf, because the signs with numbers on are too hard to understand, , I think this should be required reading for EVERYONE. And so I have blessed this lens, that it might go forth and educate more people.

    • GuyB LM profile image

      GuyB LM 

      8 years ago

      I was always a big fan of Dewey Decimal. He was a true pioneer in the cataloging world. Great pics and a cool lens. 5* cause I can't leave 6! Holla at your boy

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very interesting and informative lens. Thank You and well done.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Nice lens, check out my lens on a children's library at

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Hello... I've started a group for libraries, and this lens is just what I'm looking for to join it. If you'd be interested in joining, it is -



    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Nice page! Very informative. You go girl!


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