How To Read Call Numbers


All the books in the Lane College Library/Learning Resource Center are organized by the Dewey Decimal system. In this system, each book is assigned a unique call number based on what the book is about, who wrote the book, and where it is located in the library. A book’s call number is listed on the label on the spine of the book.

A call number can be made up of many parts, but most call numbers are very basic and consist of only two parts: the classification number and the Cutter number. The classification number is assigned to a particular book based on what the book is about, and it is made up of numbers only (no letters). A call number is made up of at least three digits and may be followed by more digits after a decimal point. Books are arranged on the shelf in numerical order based on the classification number.

The classification number is determined by the book’s topic using the Dewey Decimal classification. This is the structure of the Dewey Decimal system:

000-099 | Generalities
100-199 | Philosophy & Psychology
200-299 | Religion
| Social Sciences
| Language
| Natural Sciences & Mathematics
| Technology (Applied Sciences)
| The Arts
| Literature & Rhetoric
| Geography & History

Dewey Decimal Classification


Because the classification number is determined by what the book is about, books that have similar class numbers will be about similar topics. Sometimes two books will have exactly the same classification number if they are about exactly the same topic. In this case, the Cutter number will make each call number unique. The Cutter number is listed on the line after the classification number. The Cutter number consists of both letters and numbers and acts as a coded representation of the author’s last name (or the title if there is no specific author). This means that books on exactly the same topic (i.e., with the same classification number) will sit next to each other in the shelf in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.

Let’s look at some examples of call numbers to see how they are created.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon


Although you might think this book would belong in the 900’s since it is a history book, this book is part of a series called Great Books of the Western World. Since the books cover many topics, they are classified in the 000-099 range for Generalities. Because this is a series of great books from history, they are given the specific call number 028 which is reserved for books by and about “Reading.” The Cutter number G786 is based on the author’s last name Gibbon, and v.40-41 indicates that this title can be found in volumes 40 and 41 of this multi-volume series.

Islam in the World by Malise Ruthven


In the Dewey Decimal system, the 200-299 range is reserved for books on religion, and the specific call number 297 designates books on “Islam and religions originating in it.” The Cutter number R976i is based off of the author’s last name Ruthven, and the i at the end comes from the first letter of the book’s title. This particular book happens to be a 3rd edition of Islam in the World, so the publication year (2006) is added to the end of the Cutter number to distinguish this book from its previous editions.

The Failure of Integration : How Race and Class are Undermining the American Dream by Sheryll Cashin


The Dewey Decimal call numbers from 300-399 contain books related to Social Sciences, and specifically 305 designates books on “Social Groups.” The Cutter C338 is built from the author’s last name Cashin. Because this book is about a topic related to African-Americans, it is housed in a special collection of the library called the Negro Heritage Collection. The “N” at the beginning of the call number designates that this book can be found in the Negro Heritage room. All of the library’s materials by or about African-Americans can be found in this special collection.

Dr. Art's Guide to Science by Art Sussman


This call number shows us a few different things. Because this book is a basic introduction to science, it is given the simple call number of 500 because the Dewey range from 500-599 designates books on “Natural Sciences and Mathematics.” The Cutter number S964d is created from the author’s last name Sussman and the first letter of the title of the book; the “c.2” at the end shows that the library owns two copies of this same book. The “J” and the “CEL” provide information about where the book is located in the library. The “J” indicates that the book is written for a juvenile or younger audience. Since most of the library’s juvenile books are used by students in the education program, these books are located in their own special collection. “CEL” stands for Curriculum Education Lab, which is where these books can be found. The library also has a number of books which are not aimed at a younger audience but which are specifically about education. These books are also housed in the CEL, and their call numbers will have the “CEL” at the end but will not have the “J” at the beginning.

Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World by David Sacks


Dewey Decimal numbers in the range 900-999 indicate that the book is about Geography and History; specifically, 938 is reserved for “History of Ancient World – Greece.” The Cutter number S121e is made from the author’s last name Sacks and the first letter of the title of the book. The addition of the year 2005 shows that this book is a subsequent edition of a previous book. Finally, the “R” at the beginning of the call number designates that this book is housed in the Reference collection, which means that the book can only be used within the library and cannot be checked out.

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King


If a book is a work of fiction and not a treatise on a specific topic, it does not get a numerical Dewey Decimal classification number. Instead, the letter “F” is added to the beginning of the call number to indicate that the book is housed in the Fiction section. The Cutter number K545do is built off of the author’s last name King and the first two letters of the book’s title. In this example, the Cutter ends with two letters from the title because the call number F K545d was already taken (by the novel Desperation by Stephen King) and every book is required to have a unique call number.


Finally, here is a list of all the codes which can appear in a call number to show that the associated book is kept in one of the library’s special collections.

CEL | Curriculum Education Lab (appears at end of call number)
| Fiction
JF | Juvenile Fiction
N | Negro Heritage
| Negro Heritage - Fiction
| Negro Heritage - Juvenile
| Negro Heritage - Juvenile Fiction
| Negro Heritage - Reference
R | Reference
V | Video