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Understanding Library of Congress Call Numbers

This guide explains how to read Library of Congress call numbers to locate books in the stacks.

What is a Call Number?

In order to find a book on the shelf you will need to know a) the call number of the book and b) the floor on which it is shelved. Please note that books are arranged by call number, not by ISBN number or by title. Every book has a call number. A call number is like an address. It tells you where a book is shelved in the stacks. The call number is attached to the spine of the book.


How Books Are Arranged in Our Library

Books on the same subject are grouped together. This is very helpful because you can find several books on the subject in the same location or nearby. We use the Library of Congress classification system which is a combination of letters and numbers. The first section of the call number represents the subject of the book. The second section of the call number represents the author's last name, and the last section of the call number is the date of publication.

For example, if we did a title search in our catalog for "The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English" by Lorna Sage, we will get the following record in Southern Search:

Author Sage, Lorna
Title The Cambridge guide to women's writing in English / Lorna Sage ; advisory editors, Germaine Greer, Elaine Showalter
Publisher Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1999

Book Cover

 SCSU Reference 1st floor     PR111 .S24 1999        LIB USE ONLY

Description viii, 696 p. : ill., 1 map ; 26 cm
Subject English literature -- Women authors -- Dictionaries
Women and literature -- English-speaking countries -- Dictionaries
Women and literature -- Great Britain -- Dictionaries
Alt Author Greer, Germaine, 1939-
Showalter, Elaine
ISBN 0521495253 (hardback)
0521668131 (pbk.)

The call number for this book is "Ref PR 111. S24 1999". The "Ref" before the call number indicates it is a reference book. Reference books cannot be checked out and hence the status "Library Use Only". If a book can be checked out you will not see "Ref" in front of the call number. The first two lines describe the subject of the book. "PR" stands for the subject area which is English Literature. 111 represents "Women Authors General Works". "S24" represents the author's last name and 1999 is when the book was published.

Another example

Here's another example. This is the catalog record for the book "Shakespeare's Sonnets" with a commentary by David West:

Author Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616
Uniform Title Sonnets
Title Shakespeare's sonnets / with a new commentary by David West
Publisher London ; New York : Duckworth Overlook, 2007

Book Cover

 SCSU Stacks  PR2848.A2 W47 2007     AVAILABLE
Description v, 474 p. ; 24 cm
Bibliog. Includes bibliographical references (p. 471) and index
Subject Sonnets, English
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Sonnets
Sonnets, English -- History and criticism
Alt Author West, David Alexander
ISBN 0715636618 (UK)
9780715636619 (UK)
1585679216 (US)
9781585679218 (US)

The call number for this book is PR2848.A2 W47. This book can be checked out as it doesn't have "Ref" before the call number. "PR" represents the subject area, British Literature. "2848" represents Shakespeare's sonnets and .A2 after 2848 indicates that it is a collection of sonnets. "W4" represents the author's name. 2007 is the year of publication.