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How to find books on the shelves: How books are organised

A step by step guide to finding a book on the library shelves

 Finding books on the shelves is easy once you know how the books are organised.

 Most of the University of Exeter library collection is organised using the Dewey Decimal Classification Scheme*.

* The Lasok Law Library uses the Moys Classification Scheme - This groups materials by jurisdiction and subject and it uses a combination of letters and numbers:   e.g. KN 10 

* Exeter Health Library uses the Wessex Classification Scheme:   e.g. WZ 40 for the history of medicine.

Understanding Dewey

​Dewey organises books according to subject.  Each subject is given a number. The complete number is called the classmark or call number.

  • All books on the same subject will be given the same number and will therefore be grouped together
  • Books on similar or related subjects will be located nearby
  • Each book has its classmark or call number label on the spine
  • This identifies the subject of the book as well as the exact location of the book on the library shelves, and the beginning of the author’s surname

For example:   595.789 WHI  is the call number of a book about butterflies whose author's surname begins with WHI.

The Dewey Decimal Classification system has 10 broad classes:

  • 000 - 099: Computer Science, general reference works and Information Science
  • 100 - 199: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 200 - 299: Religion
  • 300 - 399: Social Sciences
  • 400 - 499: Languages and Linguistics
  • 500 - 599: Science (including Mathematics)
  • 600 - 699: Technology
  • 700 - 799: Arts and Recreation
  • 800 - 899: Literature
  • 900 - 999: History and Geography

Each of these topics may be further divided into more specific subject areas, e.g. 590Zoological Sciences, 595 Other Invertebrates

Each of the 10 main Dewey classes can be divided into more specific subject areas:

e.g. 590 = Zoological Sciences595 = Other Invertebrates

The numbers can be sub-divided further using a decimal point and additional numbers after the point. 

e.g. 595.7 = Insects, 595.789 = Butterflies.

It can help to remember that the more numbers = the more specific the subject of the book

In this example, a book about butterflies is more specialised than a book on zoology and therefore has a longer Dewey class number.

Finding books on the shelves

Use Library Search to identify the call number of the book you want to find.

This example of a Library record shows a book which is available both in print and as an e-book.

The call number shows you exactly where to look in the library to find the print item.

Use the floor plans and shelf end signage to help you find this on the library shelf.

​Books are arranged in numeric order from 000-999. 

It can be confusing when the classification numbers after the decimal points are very long, e.g. 595.789094235 BRI

It can help to think of the numbers like decimal money, so £595.78 is more than £595.07, so on the shelves, 595.78 appears after 595.07

It can also help if you mentally add extra zeros to numbers to help you compare numbers so:


Mentally adding the two 00’s would help you visualise that .7834 comes after .78.

As books are organised according to subject,  you can use Call Numbers to see where to start browsing the shelves.

Books on the same subject will have the same call number.

Books on similar or related subjects will be located nearby.

It is also possible to browse by call number in Library Search:

  1. Carry out a normal search
  2. Click on the Call number on a Library Search record to  see other items at the same call numbers

For example, clicking on the Call No: 530.143 LAN in the Quantum field theory example record will show you items located near the record you were viewing, and these will be on the same or similar topics as the item you were viewing.

You can view a graphical display:

And also view a List display


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