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Call Numbers: Finding Items in the Library

You've searched and searched in WorldCat, and you've finally found the perfect book for your research paper. There's just one problem: you're not sure where to find the physical book! Fear not: with the help of call numbers, you'll be able to find your book in no time. 

What are call numbers?

  • Each library item (book, video, DVD) has its own unique identifying number, or call number. This number reflects the subject of the item. A call number is like an address that gives the location where the item can be found in the library.

Reading call numbers

1. Search WorldCat for a book or other material. Next, scroll down to the section "Availability/Holdings." It will look something like this:

This section tells us some important things:

  • Which library is the material located in? (McKeldin Library, Hornbake Library, etc.)
  • Is the material shelved in the stacks or folio? (The stacks are for regular-sized books, while over-sized books are shelved in the folio section)
  • Is the material available? Is it on the shelf, checked out to someone else, or lost?
  • What is the material's call number? 

2. Write down the entire call number: DK260. F54 1996. To locate the call number, we'll break it up into pieces: 


These letters will help us find out on which floor the book is shelved. Since we know this particular book is shelved in McKeldin Library, we can look at the McKeldin Library floorplan to figure out where the DK books are located. The floorplan is available online, and is also located on each floor next to the main elevator in McKeldin.


Looking at the floorplan's breakdown of book locations, we can see that books with a call number starting with DK are located on the third floor


This part of the call number is arranged in numerical order.

Once you locate the DK books on the third floor (which you can do by following the signs posted at the end of each bookshelf), scan the books on the shelf until you find call numbers starting "DK260"


This is the first letter of the author's last name and is arranged alphabetically.

Once you find the books starting "DK260", look for call numbers that start "DK260. F"


Treat any number after the decimal point as a decimal number. For example, .54 comes after .411, because .54 is the same as .540, which is higher than .411

Once you find call numbers starting with "DK260. F", look for books with call numbers that continue to "DK260 .F54"

1996 This is the year the book was published; it is arranged in numerical order


Help! I still can't find my book!

Don't worry! Call numbers can be tricky. If you get stuck, you can always ask for help at the Library Services Desk on the first floor. There are phones on floors 3 through 7 that you can use to call for assistance as well. The more you practice, the easier it will become, and you'll become a call number master in no time. 

Tips and Further Information

  • Always start with the first one or two letters of the call number; this information will help you find the correct floor where your material is shelved. Once you're on the right floor, follow the signs on each bookshelf.
  • Because our materials are shelved by subject, you can find additional relevant resources for your research just by scanning the shelves. Look at the books shelved to the left and right of your book to see if anything sparks your interest!
  • UMD Libraries use the Library of Congress Classification system for organizing our books. If you'd like to learn more, please visit the Library of Congress Classification Outline