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Library Organization

How is Everything Organized?

Most materials in the Library are arranged on the shelf by subject. For example, most of the books on Cambodia are together, most of the books on sociology are together, and most of the books on art are also together. An item is given a unique call number that distinguishes it from all other materials in that section and in the Library.

Most Library materials have Library of Congress call numbers. The first letter (or letters) of every call number indicates a specific subject area. The other numbers and letters in the call number distinguish that item from all others.

Let's deconstruct or take apart this call number: QE 538.8 H47.

QE is the letter for science that stands for geology, a branch of science

is the number that pertains to earthquake prediction

H47 is the particular number that distinguishes this book from all others.


Finding Materials using a Call Number

To find an item by using its call number, you will need to do the following:

1.After searching COAST, write down the call number and the location (e.g., 4th Floor) of the item you need. Again, let's use the call number, QE 538.8 H47, as an example.

2.When you arrive at the correct location in the Book Stacks, you must look at the complete call number to find the item. Remember, these letters and numbers are like a street address: every part counts.

So, let's try to find the book with the call number QE 538.8 H47 on the shelf. The following illustrations provide an explanation of how call numbers are arranged on the shelves.

Bookshelf graphic showing the arrangement of QE

Part 1: QE

Arrangement on the shelf is alphabetical by the letters. QE comes after Q, and QA.

Bookshelf graphic showing the arrangement of QE 500s

Part 2: QE 500's

Within the QE's, the arrangement is numerical. QE 535.2 comes after QE 535, and before QE 971.

Bookshelf graphic showing where to find QE 538.8 .H47

Part 3: QE 538.8 H47

Arrangement within the QE 538.8 area is first alphabetical (.A5, .A6, .D7, .H47) and then numerical, with the number being read as a decimal. You might expect A6 to come before A55, but it does not. Since the third line of a call number is read as a decimal, A55 stands for A.55 and A6 stands for A.6. A55 comes before A6 since .55 is smaller than .60. All the numbers in this third line are decimals.

Exceptions to Call Number Rules

Almost every item (book, magazine, journal, microfiche, etc.) in the Library has a Library of Congress call number. There are some materials, however, that use other types of call numbers. These include (but are not limited to) the following:  (Note: the following linked items will launch in a new window.)

Federal Documents:

Federal Government Documents use the Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs) call number system. Federal Government Documents in the Library are located in Storage on the Lower Level and are arranged by their "SuDocs" numbers. COAST will give you a "SuDocs" call number for any Federal Document found in this collection.

California Documents:

California Government Documents have a CalDoc number (similar to the Federal Government SuDocs system). California Government Documents in the Library are located in Storage on the Lower Level. COAST will give you a "CalDocs" call number for any California Document found in this collection.

Masback Science Fiction Collectionand Mystery Collection:

These paperback science fiction and mystery books have call numbers that are simply "Masback" or "Mystery."  When you locate an item like this in COAST, head to the Study Areas on the 2nd Floor (for Mystery) or 3rd (for Masback) and look for the book according to the author's last name.

Media Materials:

Media materials include compact discs, DVDs, videos, records, audio cassettes, etc. Older media materials have assigned numbers (e.g., Compact Disc 1, Compact Disc 2, Compact Disc 3). Newer media materials have call numbers (e.g., PN1997 G626 1997). COAST will provide the correct call number for each item. Media materials are located in Media Resources on the Lower Level.


Newspapers do not have call numbers, but are arranged alphabetically by title. Recent issues of newspapers can be found in the Current Periodicals area (Lower Level). Older issues of newspapers are stored in microfilm cabinets on the Lower Level.

Reserve Materials:

All Reserve Materials can be found listed via our Reserves service.  If you have questions about Reserves, the staff in Reserve Services (Lower Level) can help you.

Collections Directory:

For a complete listing of library call number locations see the Collections Directory.

You are now done with Section 1!

Go to

"Section 2: Introduction."