Locating Items on the Shelves

Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library

Locating books and other items in our library can be tricky at first, but with patience and practice--plus a look at this guide--you will figure it out. You can always ask any library employee for help, too. Stop by the Information Desk or Reference Desk - this is one of the most common questions we get, so don't feel bad about asking.

Our library, like many academic libraries, uses the Library of Congress Classification System to organize library materials. When books are cataloged, they are assigned a call number. Items are also assigned to one of many library collections. Once you know the call number and collection, you can find items in the library building.

Search the Catalog

Search the Library's catalog for books on your topic. Once you find a book that you want to get, write down the collection and the call number. This information will be located below the book title & description if you're looking at a list of results in the catalog. If you have clicked on the title of a book, you'll get more information about the book itself and the collection and call number information will be located near the bottom of the screen under Check Availability.

For Advanced Searchers: Codes for Index Searching

  • b8: = Shelving location (example - b8:Reference)
  • bn: ISBN
  • barcode - just scan or type in the barcode without an index code
  • in: ISSN
  • nu: = General call number (example – nu:AG106)
  • nt: = Notes (example - nt:Gustavus Community Only)
  • OCLC number - just scan or type in the OCLC # without an index code
  • List of all index codes (advanced)

Identifying the Collection

Before you go to the shelves to look for your book, first determine in which collection the book is located. Most of our books are located in the General Collection, meaning they can be found on the second and third floors. Call numbers beginning with A - PQ are found on the third (top) floor; call numbers beginning with PR - Z are found on the second (main) floor. Click here for a map of the library.

Other collections use the same call number system, but are located in different parts of the library. Collections include:

  • Reference (located on the second loor)
  • General Collection (A - PQ located on third floor, PR - Z located on second floor)
  • Oversize (located on the third floor, southwest corner)
  • Hasselquist (located in the center of the second floor)
  • Browsing (located near the newspapers on the second floor)
  • Audio Visual (located on the first (bottom) floor)
  • Children's Literature (located on the first (bottom) floor, south end)

*Note: Government Documents, which can be searched via the library catalog, use a different call number system. These items are located on the lower level. For more information on locating Government Documents, click here or visit the reference desk.

Finding Books on the Shelf

Once you have determined in which collection your item is located, start by going to the letter of the section that corresponds to the beginning of the call number. For example, for the call number BR 526 .G55 1993 in the General Collection, go to the B section. (Remember, call numbers beginning with A - PQ are located on the third floor; letters are clearly marked on the top of bookshelves.) Once you are in the B section, look at the tags on the sides of the shelves. These tags give the range of call numbers found on each side of the shelves. Browse the tags until you find the BR section.

Next, look in the BR section for the whole number 526. The tags on the sides of the shelves will direct you to the correct row. For example, if the tag on the side of the shelf looks like this:





v. 1






The book will be located somewhere in this row of shelves, because BR 526 falls in between BR 331 and BR 1720. Find the BR 526 section and use the rest of the call number to locate the book. 

  • Read the first line in alphabetical order. (BR comes before BS on the shelf.)
  • Read the second line as a whole number. (BR 526 is located after BR 443.)
  • Read the third line alphabetically, then by decimal number. (.G55 comes before .L63. And .G55 comes after .G123 (As a decimal, .55 is larger than .123)
  • Read the fourth line as a whole number; it is the publication year of the item.

Remember that in the catalog, the call number will be displayed as one line: BR 526 .G55 1993. On book spines, however, the call number will be verticle, like the examples above.


Remember that books are shelved according to subject, which means that you will find similar books on your research topic near each other. When you find a book that fits your research topic, take a look at the other books nearby. You might end up with a few more sources!

Last updated July 2021