ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to find a book in the library!

Updated on February 1, 2017
KeemaWolf profile image

Fiona is based in SE Qld and is an enthusiast of all things art & crafty. She is currently studying her Diploma of Library/Info Services

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

view quiz statistics

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

view quiz statistics

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

view quiz statistics

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.

So, let the debate begin!

Do you prefer the Library of Congress Classification System, or the Dewey Decimal Classification System?

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      I only learned the LCCS in all my years of school. As an adult and college grad. I have had to learn the DDS for the public library in the area I have moved. I always liked the LCCS because I knew it. I'm glad I don't have to learn it now instead of DDC though because the DDS is easier to quickly learn and understand. THe biggest con to the DDS that I have discovered is that lots of libraries change the DDS to fit their local branch, so it is not completely uniform.

    • jenokson 6 years ago

      I work in a school library where we use DDC, but secretly I prefer LC (don't tell my boss!)

    • Fiona Findlay 7 years ago from Queensland, Australia

      Library of Congress (LC) is better! It has the ability to expand for new subject areas without becoming ridiculously long to read.

    Dewey Decimal

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • tfsherman lm 4 years ago

        Good things about both. Dewey really stinks for the 590s, and LC is great for literary criticism. But all those little numbers...

      • TeacherSerenia 4 years ago

        I'll take the DEWEY any day. The LOC is far to complicated for me.

      • anonymous 5 years ago

        dewey decimal

      • unstucktheory 7 years ago

        Good thing you asked which one I "prefer'! I find Dewey Decimal so much easier simply because it's what I got used to at school and the local library and could navigate to most subject areas i was interested in without having to look things up. Agree that the LOC is much more scalable though :)

      Sometimes library staff hold...

      Click thumbnail to view full-size

      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!

        0 of 8192 characters used
        Post Comment

        • profile image

          anonymous 9 years ago

          Nice page! Very informative. You go girl!

        • profile image

          bakerjay 8 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

          anonymous 8 years ago

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

        • profile image

          shevyres 7 years ago

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

        • GuyB LM profile image

          GuyB LM 7 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

        • FlynntheCat1 profile image

          FlynntheCat1 6 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.

        • KeemaWolf profile image

          Fiona Findlay 6 years ago from Queensland, Australia

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

        • PaulaMorgan profile image

          Paula Morgan 6 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

        • norma-holt profile image

          norma-holt 6 years ago

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

        • KeemaWolf profile image

          Fiona Findlay 6 years ago from Queensland, Australia

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

          Thank you again!!

        • Virginia Allain profile image

          Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

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

        • HealthfulMD profile image

          Kirsti A. Dyer 6 years ago from Northern California

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

        • KeemaWolf profile image

          Fiona Findlay 6 years ago from Queensland, Australia

          @HealthfulMD: Why thankyou, Comfortdoc! It's my pleasure :)

          I'm currently in the process of researching how some of the other cataloguing systems work, so I can help with more than just Dewey and LC :)

          Thanks again!

        • LizMac60 profile image

          Liz Mackay 6 years ago from United Kingdom

          Good information. Blessed by a squid angel.

        • jenokson profile image

          jenokson 6 years ago

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

        • profile image

          anonymous 6 years ago

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

        • profile image

          anonymous 5 years ago

          Great lens. Thanks for this.

        • HealthfulMD profile image

          Kirsti A. Dyer 5 years ago from Northern California

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

        • profile image

          Runnn 5 years ago

          Good idea. Thanks for sharing.

        • SusannaDuffy profile image

          Susanna Duffy 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia

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

        • KeemaWolf profile image

          Fiona Findlay 5 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 :)

        • profile image

          JoshK47 5 years ago

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

        • writergrey profile image

          writergrey 4 years ago

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

        • tfsherman lm profile image

          tfsherman lm 4 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.

        Click to Rate This Article