After reading the rules by which Library of Congress call numbers are sorted below, you can watch an animated example showing the rules in action. And at the bottom of the page is a link taking you to the tests, where you'll get to test your understanding of the Library of Congress rules.
- The first line is always a Letter Line and is filed alphabetically.
- The second line is a Whole Number line and is filed numerically.
- Sometimes the second line is decimalized and continued on the same line or on the third line. Anytime you see a decimal point, always take each space separately (do not consider it a whole number).
- However, generally the third line is a Cutter Line. It begins with a decimal, then a letter. Always read each digit separately in the Cutter Line. Remember if there is a decimal point, take one space at a time. The Cutter Line may also be split on two lines, but when this occurs there is only a decimal point at the very beginning of the Cutter Line.
- Other lines may include volume numbers, copy numbers, dates or a combination.
- Letters before numbers.
- Nothing comes before something.
- No date comes before a date.
- Volumes are compared before copies.
- Copies are compared before dates.
- x ("little x") represents 1/2 - it comes after the letters but before numbers.
- Ignore "Undergrad" or "UrbLib" at the beginning of call numbers - these are old labels from a time where the Library was arranged differently.
Here's an animated example of some of the LC Rules - just click on the small blue triangle to get started...
And now on to the tests...
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The Library of Congress Classification System (LC)
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.
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.
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