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Student Worker Guide: Shelving Books

Shelving Books

Shelving Books

Before you work on shelving books, explore the library a bit so that you know where each call number is. In the first room are all the books that have the Library of Congress call numbers A-N. The second room has call numbers O-Z. The shelves on the right-hand side as you enter the second room are for Popular Fiction, Children’s Collection, and Annuals.

As you browse these books, you’ll see that categories and topics group together. All the art history books are next to each other, photography, etc. You’ll get more comfortable with where things go as you start trying shelving. Make sure you understand how to read call numbers before you begin.

How to Read Call Numbers

Reading call numbers can be tricky, so make sure to take your time and ask if you’re unsure. If you are good at organizing and alphabetizing things, you will love reading call numbers.

The Irving Shapiro Library uses a call number system called Library of Congress classification system. Most academic libraries use this system. If you go to a public library, you’ll see that they use a different call number system.

A call number is a bit like an address. It tells you where each book “lives” in the library. Each book has its own unique call number.

Alphabetical Headings

Call numbers begin with a letter or combination of letters relating to broad topics. For example, books relating to science begin with the letter Q, and beyond the single letter “Q” heading are more specific topic headings: QB relates to astronomy, QD to chemistry, etc. Therefore, when searching for an astronomy book, the QB series of call numbers will alphabetically fall between the QAs and the QCs.



After the alphabetical heading is a number further narrowing the subject field. The call number for the book Secrets of the Night Sky begins QB 63. The QB 63s come between the call numbers QB 62.7 and QB 64.

Cutter Numbers

Following the first series of LC heading/number combinations are additional alphanumeric combinations, sometimes more than one. In the case of Secrets of the Night Sky, the cutter number begins with a B, which relates to the author of the book, Bob Berman: QB 63 .B. The QB 63 .Bs are followed by books beginning with QB 63 .D for Davison and QB 63 .J as in Jones.


Secrets of the Night Sky is not the only book on the topic by an author whose last name begins with a B. Books by Samuel Barton and Elijah Burrit also being with QB 63 .B, but are distinguished from Berman’s by different cutter numbers. The full call number for Berman’s book is QB 63 .B473; Barton’s is QB 63 .B3; and Burrit’s is QB63 .B94. Berman’s books will be found on the shelf between the other two books because of the following LC classification rule: Cutter numbers are decimal numbers, not whole numbers. Often the cutter numbers are preceded by a dot—a reminder that they are decimals.


























(Keep in mind that with decimals .3 is the same as .300 and .94 is the same as .940.)

Before going on, play this game from Kent University Library until you feel comfortable with how to read call numbers:

Shelving Procedure

  1. Check the call numbers on the spine of each book before you begin.
    1. Leave any items that have red “Reference” stickers on their spines on the book cart for the librarian to shelve.
    2. If a book has a blue circle on it, it must be shelved in the Children’s Collection.
    3. If it has a red circle on it, it must be shelved in the Popular Fiction.
    4. Otherwise, all other books go on the corresponding shelves. A book with the call number “A100 . S32 2008” will go on the A shelf.
  2. Items should be upright. If an item is too tall to stand upright, shelve them on their spines with the call number label facing down.
  3. Items should be brought out to the edges of the shelves to make even, neat rows.
  4. Watch for crowded shelves. If an item will not slide back into its place with a gentle push, then the shelf is too full. Leave the item that you were trying to shelve on the book cart where it came from and make sure to put in your Daily Log that there was not enough room. The librarian will shift things.

Items with damage (mold, mildew, loose pages, torn covers, etc.) should be left at the desk for the librarian to look at.