Find It!

A helpful guide to searching the catalog and finding a book at the Main Library.

Last time I told you a little bit about how the Dewey Decimal System works. So now it’s time to figure out how to use the library catalog, and the Dewey Decimal numbers, to find a specific item on the library’s shelves.

You can always ask a librarian for help, but if you want to search for items on your own here are the basics of finding things in the library:

1. Search the online catalog.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about how to search, but if you need help with this part someone at the reference desk will be happy to help you.

2. Find the item you want, make sure it's the right one, and figure out where to look for it.

Sometimes we own popular items, like Ice-T's memoir, in several different formats. Make sure you’re looking at the one you want by looking at the descriptive icons under the title. You might also see multiple results for the same title when we own several different editions. For example:

This is a play written in 1939. The script has been reprinted several times since then both on its own and in collections of plays. We also have a DVD version, and even an LP of people reading from the play. All of these show up as separate results, even though they’re sometimes very similar, because even two printed books of the same play might have a different introduction or translator.  

Once you pick the item you want, there are several other things to look for. Here are a few to keep in mind:

Is it on the shelf?

If yes, it should say “Available” - if you see one that says “Not available” it means it’s either checked out, missing, or in transit between branches.


At which branch?

The catalog only lists one copy of each book in the list of search results.

To see every branch that owns the book, you can either click on the title to go to new page or click on “see all” to see a list of all the copies. Clicking “see all” only shows you all “available” copies. To see if there are some that are currently checked out, un-check the “only show available” box.  

This shows you all the copies we own, whether they're currently on the shelf or not. Like this:

This can be helpful if you’re leaving for Iceland next week, because you can find out if a copy is due back in the next couple of days or not.

If you find yourself in a different branch from your book, or if it’s currently checked out, go ahead and click “Request it” and we can hold the book for you when it’s returned or send it to another branch for you.  

In which section?

Most of the nonfiction books in the Main Library are shelved in one giant section - we call them the nonfiction stacks, but we don't write that in the catalog, just the call number. It’s always good to make sure the book you want isn’t in a different area. There are separate sections for things like New Books, Children’s and Young Adult, Travel, Reference, and a few other sections.  All of the books that are shelved outside of the main non-fiction or fiction stacks should have the section listed right next to the name of the branch. Like this:

In this example, you can see that Greenland Expedition is shelved in the general nonfiction stacks, because it just says “Available at Main Library.” Land of Fire and Ice, however, is in the Oversize section. 

Since only nonfiction items are assigned call numbers, you can easily tell when a book is shelved in the nonfiction stacks. In the example above, you would look for the book by Karal Ann Marling in the nonfiction stacks and the book by Vladimir Sorokin in the Fiction stacks. Biographies, test prep books, and fiction genres (Mystery, SciFi, and Westerns) are also shelved by author, title, or subject rather than by call number at the Main Library. We can always point you in the right direction if you’re having trouble finding the section you need.

What’s the call number?

You’re almost ready to go to the shelf and get your book! But before you do, make sure you write down the whole call number. The call number is listed in parentheses after all of the location information, and you want to write down everything you see inside of those parentheses. 

I talked more about why the whole number is important in my last post, but in summary there are often several shelves of books with the same or very similar numbers, so you can save a lot of time by writing down the whole thing.

3. Head to the shelf.

But first, if your item looks like this:

go ahead and write down the call number, and ask us to get the book for you at the Reference Desk, because it’s not shelved in a public area. Luckily for you, our storage is all in the building, so it usually only takes a few minutes for someone to find the book and bring it to you.

If your book is in the nonfiction stacks, you’ll see something like this:

 Then you know it's time for step 3:


3. Head to the shelf!

Generally the call numbers start with zeroes near the reference desk and end with 900s near the computer lab. We can always point you in the right direction, or walk you to the shelf if you’re having trouble.

4. Look for the number.

You’ll see labels on the end of each shelf to give you a general idea of what numbers are on that row of shelves.

When you get to 796 you might see this helpful pictogram letting you know you’re in the right spot:

The books are organized in numerical and alphabetical order from left to right and top to bottom on each shelf. Each time you get to a divider in the shelf, move down to the next shelf. You might find 796.91 KUNZLE (and the other books with the number 796.91) right between 796.0496 and 796.912. 

5. Check out your book and enjoy!

I hope that you learned a little bit about how to find books on your own, but if you still need some help finding things please don’t hesitate to ask at the reference desk!