How to Read a Call Number

Shippensburg University uses the Library of Congress classification system. Most public libraries and K-12 school libraries use the Dewey Decimal system. These are different ways of organizing library materials, but they both oganize items by subject and use call numbers.

We will use the book Hi, Anxiety by Kat Kinsman as an example.

The library catalog provides this information about the book:

Let's check the 3 pieces of information you need to find the book:

Let's use local geography as an analogy to talk about how to understand call numbers. The first letter, or letters, are like the county the book lives in. You would find the bookshelf (called a "range" of books) with the letters RC on the side.

The numbers you see next - 537 - are like the city the book lives in. Move down the range until you find the cluster of books with the letter-number combo RC537. Together, this letter number combo describes the subject of the book.

You then see a space with a period (.) that separates the next set of letters and numbers from the first. K is like the street the book lives on. This letter represents the author's last name. The numbers that follow - 5345 - are equivalent to the building number for the book's apartment complex. It's a code for that particular author.

Finally, we see one last number - 2016. This is like the book's apartment number. It represents the date the book was published.


The bookshelf below (courtesy of Vanderbilt University) explains how to read call numbers on a shelf.

Click here to practice reading call numbers.