How to read call numbers in an academic library
Libraries use classification systems to organize the books on the shelves. A classification system uses letters and/or numbers (call numbers) to arrange the books so that books on the same topic are together. This arrangement results in "serendipitous browsing:" you find one book in the catalog, go to the shelf, and, an even better book is sitting right next to it.
From the Online Catalog to the Shelf
Libraries in the United States generally use either the Library of Congress Classification System (LC) or the Dewey Decimal Classification System to organize their books. Most academic libraries use LC, and most public libraries and K-12 school libraries use Dewey.
The Millsaps Library uses the Library of Congress Classification System. Call numbers are arranged by subject. The Library of Congress Classification Outline can be found here: http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/lcco/. This shows which call numbers correspond to which subjects.
Anatomy of a Library of Congress Call Number
Book title: Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam
Author: Daniel C. Hallin
Call Number: DS559.46 .H35 1986
The first two lines describe the subject of the book.
DS559.45 = Vietnamese Conflict
The third line often represents the author's last name.
H = Hallin
The last line represents the date of publication.
Tips for Finding Books on the Shelf
Read call numbers line by line.
Read the first line in alphabetical order:
A, B, BF, C, D... L, LA, LB, LC, M, ML...
Read the second line as a whole number:
1, 2, 3, 45, 100, 101, 1000, 2000, 2430...
The third line is a combination of a letter and numbers. Read the letter alphabetically. Read the number as a decimal, eg:
.C65 = .65 .C724 = .724
Some call numbers have more than one combination letter-number line.
The last line is the year the book was published. Read in chronological order:
1985, 1991, 1992...
Here is a shelf of books with the call number order explained.
*Guide written by the University System of Georgia (with edits)