How to shelve library materials

How to Shelve Books in a Library

Two Methods:

If you are thinking of volunteering or getting a job at a library, you will need to know how to shelve the library books. All library books in all libraries are shelved according to either the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress Classification System. While many university and specialty libraries use the Library of Congress Classification System, most public libraries, elementary and high schools shelve their books according to the Dewey Decimal System.


Shelve Books According to the Dewey Decimal System

  1. Learn how the Dewey Decimal System works.Learning the system is not difficult because it is logically organized and built on a decimal base. Essentially, every class of book is assigned a category number (a whole number, such as 800) and a cutter number or numbers (numbers to the right of the decimal point). These are the numbers you see on the spine of a library book, and they are referred to as the call number. The system is comprised of ten classes, which are further divided into 10 more subcategories, and each of those subcategories contains 10 subdivisions. The 10 main classes of the Dewey Decimal System are:
    • 000—Computer science, information and general works
    • 100—Philosophy and psychology
    • 200—Religion
    • 300—Social Sciences
    • 400—Language
    • 500—Science
    • 600—Technology and applied science
    • 700—Arts and recreation
    • 800—Literature
    • 900—History and geography
  2. Remember that the purpose of call numbers is to group books of the same subject together, and is comprised of at least two parts:the Class number (000 through 900) and the cutter number. The class number is a whole number and the cutter number(s) are placed after the decimal point.
  3. Get a feel for how a classification is broken down.Here is a short example of how you would find or shelve a book about American fiction literature written between 1861 and 1900. (The broad classification for literature is “800.”)
    • Look at the second number after the “8.” The number “1” indicates that the book is further classified as “American literature in general.” The second number after the “8” further defines the division; 811 is American poetry, 812 is American Drama, 813 is American fiction, 814 is American essays and so on.
    • Look at the first number after the decimal point; this number refines the classification even further. Thus, a book with a call number of “813.4,” tells you that the book is American fiction written between 1861 and 1900. Obviously, the more numbers, the more specific the subject.

How to Shelve Books According to the Library of Congress Classification System

  1. Learn the 20 classifications the Library of Congress uses to separate areas of knowledge.Each class corresponds to a letter of the alphabet.
    • A General Works
    • B Philosophy-Religion-Psychology
    • C History (Civilization)
    • D History (Except America)
    • E American History
    • F Local American history, Latin American History
    • G Geography and Anthropology
    • H Social Sciences
    • J Political Science
    • K Law
    • M Music
    • N Fine Arts
    • P Language and Linguistics
    • Q Science and math
    • R Medicine
    • S Agriculture
    • T Technology
    • U Military Science
    • V Naval Science
    • Z Bibliography and Library Science
  2. Read more about how each class is further subdivided into subclasses, using a combination of letters and numbers.As with the Dewey Decimal System, the more numbers and letters contained in a call number, the more specific the classification is—and the easier it is to find or shelve the book. The LC call number “PS3537 A426 C3 1951,” identifies the “Catcher in the Rye,” by J. D. Salinger, which was published in 1951 (the last four numbers in the call number.)

Community Q&A

  • Question
    How do I shelves books with four letters and four numbers?
    Amy Flugel
    Community Answer
    If you mean books that have fewer numbers/letters, it depends. Drew would come before Drewer, because spaces after letters are treated as coming before the letter A. With numbers, 793.4 comes before 793.43, but it comes after 793.389.
  • Question
    How are children's books shelved?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Shelve them alphabetically by author surname in the category they are in: easy reader, picture books etc.
  • Question
    What is the proper way to file a series of books?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Shelve in series order if you can see the series lable on the spine. If not, shelve alphabetically according to title.
  • Question
    How do I assign Dewey Decimal call numbers to books?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    You will first have to do a subject analysis on the book to decide which main class the book belongs to. Then you will have to keep breaking down the sub-classes by referring to information found in the Tables (Dewey Decimal 'rules' on how to class subjects). It can become a bit complicated. Many books have already been given Dewey Decimal numbers. You can find this information on the title page verso where the publishing and cataloging information is found.
  • Question
    How are books usually shelved in a middle school library?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    They are shelved according to subject, then author.
  • Question
    How do you shelve adult fiction books?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It depends on the library and what system they use to organize their books. Most libraries have their books in alphabetical order according to either the book's title or author in a certain category.
  • Question
    Would historical fiction books be classified under fiction or history?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    All books that qualify as fiction would be classified under fiction. The history section is for non-fiction historical titles.
  • Question
    How do I shelf a general science book that has an applied science number?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    If you shelf them according to numbers it will be easier for you to find the book you are looking for.
  • Question
    Where are diaries filed in the Dewey Decimal System?
    Amy Flugel
    Community Answer
    They are normally either in the Biographies (think Anne Frank), or by subject matter (think "Into Thin Air" by Krakauer).
  • Question
    How should I shelve books by two authors with different names?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Depending on the classification of each book, (I am going to assume that they are in the same class) the books can either be shelved alphabetically starting with the title of the book or by the author's last name. If both of the books have the same last name for the author, you would then turn to the first name to shelve them alphabetically. Hope it helped!
Unanswered Questions
  • What can I do with a card catalog?
  • How do I find the shelving order in a library?
  • How do I shelve children's bilingual non-fiction books?
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  • Call numbers in both systems are always read from left to right, top to bottom.
  • All library books, no matter what system they are classified under, are physically shelved from top to bottom and from left to right.


  • New library employees or volunteers are not expected to know the entire Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress classification systems. However, make sure you at least know the 10 main classifications, and the first 10 subdivision of each classification.

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Date: 06.12.2018, 23:57 / Views: 53551