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Research Foundations: Call Numbers

Locating Books

Once you find a printed book in the catalog, it is time to locate the book in the library. To find a book, pay attention to the availability, college, campus, collection, and call number of the book listed in the library catalog.

catalog book record

example printed book in the library catalog

Availability lets you know if the book is available or not for checkout. College will say "Seminole" for Seminole State College. The campus will be either "Altamonte," "Heathrow," "Oviedo," or "Sanford." The collection for books will vary between "Circulation," "Reference," and "Reserves." Books in the circulation collection can check out for three weeks with one renewal. Books in the reference collection must stay in the library; however, you are welcome to make photocopies. Titles listed in the reserves collection are textbooks and other items professors have set aside for students to use in the library. You will find these books behind the Information Services Desk.

The final important piece is the call number of the book. You can think of a call number like the address of the book, directing you to the book's location in the library. Call numbers consist of both letters and numbers. In the library catalog, the call number is enclosed in parenthesis; for example: (NA5205 .H69 2003). Write down the entire call number to find the book. Seminole State library (as well as most other academic libraries) arranges books using the Library of Congress (LC) classification system. 

Interpreting Call Numbers

book spine with call number NA5205 .H69 2003

call number interpretation

Each book has a label on its spine with the call number. Each group of numbers and/or letters is code for a particular a subject area, subtopic, author information, and publication information. For example, the decoded call number for the book NA5205 .H69 2003 is:

NA = Subject Area (Architecture)

5205 = Subject Area Subtopic (Religious Architecture)

.H69 = Author's Last Name (Howe)

2003 = Publication Date (2003)

Call numbers not only allow you to find a specific book, but help you browse subject areas. For example, if you find one book on Claude Monet’s paintings (ND55 .M7 M6 1999), you can look to the left, right, above, and below that book for others on the same or related topics. Some broad topics, like pollution, are in multiple subject areas depending on the information's focus (law, business, social issues, etc.), so it is best to find a few different call numbers and browse those sections.

Shelf Ranges

call number range on book shelf

library shelf end panel

The next step is to find the correct shelf range for your book. First, make sure you are looking in the right campus library (Altamonte, Heathrow, Oviedo, or Sanford/Lake Mary) and collection (Circulation, Reference, or Reserves). The Sanford/Lake Mary campus library has two floors of books. Books in the Circulation collection span both floors while the Reference books are only upstairs. The Circulation and Reference books are all located on one floor in Altamonte Springs, Heathrow, and Oviedo libraries. If the book is in the Reserves at any campus, go to the Information Service Desk for assistance.

On the end of each row in the library, you will find the call number range posted. You probably will not see your exact call number listed, so you need to locate where yours falls within that range. Using our example of NA5205 .H69 2003, start by looking for the section containing call numbers beginning with an "N." Once you have found the “N” section, look for a range that has "NA" in the row. In the pictured example, the range on the right has call numbers N1040 – NB568.5. While it does not explicitly state that “NA” is contained here, we know that NA5205 .H69 2003 is in this row because “NA” comes after “N” and before “NB.”

Reading Call Numbers

reading call number NA5205 .H69 2003

call number read aloud

A follow up to call number interpretation is the ability to read the call number. This will help you match the call number to the corresponding book on the shelf. It will also help distinguish when numbers are used as whole numbers or read as decimals. You read a call number in left-to-right, top-to-bottom order.

NA = Read by individual letter ("N A")

5205 = Read as a whole number (five-thousand, two-hundred, five)

.H69 = Read as decimal point, letter, and then individual numbers (point "H" six nine)

2003 = Read as whole number (two-thousand, three)

Match the call numbers to the book in the same way you read them. Sometimes you may find a variation of a call number with the subject and subtopic (NA5205) followed by a decimal point with a letter and/or numbers (.C56) after it. Two examples with additional decimal places are BF138.2 .D93 2010 and ML 1842.A6 T56 2001. Both feature an extra segment, but are read the same as any other call number.


Shelf Rows

call number range on book shelf

book row scanning

After locating the appropriate range, it is time to go down the row and look at the individual shelves and books. It is helpful to think of finding a book with a call number as a matching game - each call number corresponds with usually just one book on the shelf.

Scan the books from left to right, top to bottom, one 3-ft section of shelving at a time. With NA5205 .H69 2003 as our call number, you first find books that match the "N" category, followed by those labeled with "NA" in the call number. Once in the correct section, find books with "5205" after the “NA.” Remember that if you have found the "NA5000" section, you must keep going to the right. If you have reached "NA6000," though, you have gone too far and must look back to the left. When you have found “NA5205,” look for the book that has the remaining call numbers ".H69," and then finally the year of publication (note: some older books will not have a year of publication).