Circulating Books

"The reflections and histories of men and women throughout the world are contained in books... America's greatness is not only recorded in books, but it is also dependent upon each and every citizen being able to utilize public libraries."                                                                                            Terence Cooke (1921-1983)

Libraries use classification systems to organize the books on the shelves.  A classification system uses letters and/or numbers (call numbers) to arrange the books so that books on the same topic are together.  This arrangement results in "serendipitous browsing": you find one book in the catalog, go to the shelf, and an even better book is sitting right next to it.

Libraries in the United States generally use either the Library of Congress Classification System (LC) or the Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC) to organize their books. Most academic libraries use LC, and most public libraries and K-12 school libaries use Dewey.  Here at Napa Valley College, we use the Dewey system, but at neighboring Solano College, they use the Library of Congress.

Dewey Decimal Classification System books

How is the Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC) arranged?

The DDC has ten major classes:

000 Generalities:
       Computer science, information & general works

100 Philosophy/Psychology

200 Religion

300 Social Sciences 

400 Languages

 500 Natural Sciences/Mathematics

 600 Technology

 700 The Arts

 800  Literature/Rhetoric

 900  Geography/History


Think of the decimal system as 10's, 100's and 1000's.  Think of information as first classified into 10 main classes, then these 10 classes broken down into 100 divisions, and these 100 divisions broken down into 1000 sections:

10 classes

100 divisions

1000 sections

The picture below depicts the main classes and some selected subdivisions:


Dewey Decimal Classifical System Books

Looking at the book's call number:

A book's call number is similar to its address:  it is where the book can be found on the shelf.  Here's an example of a book's call number:

   796.334                                      Book title:  Coaching Girls' Soccer
     DEW                                          Author:  John DeWitt
                                                      Call Number:  796.334 DEW 

The first line describes the subject of the book, sports, which is broken down as this:

796 = Athletic and outdoor sports games
.3    = Ball games
.34  = Inflated ball driven by foot

The second line represents the first three letters of the author's last name:

DEW  =  DeWitt

For more in-depth information on the Dewey Decimal system, check out OCLC's excellent description of the classification system.

To gain a fascinating glimpse into Melvil Dewey, the creator of the Dewey Decimal System, read Sarah Prescott's wonderful article,"If You Knew Dewey."

Locating Circulating Books

To find circulating books, take the link to the Solano, Napa and Partners' (SNAP) online catalog.  You can search by keyword, title, author or series. 

Library of Congress Subject Headings

What is a Subject Heading?

The Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) provides an alphabetical listing of authorized or preferred terms established by the Library of Congress since 1898.  These "official" terms should be used when doing subject searches in the Napa Valley College SNAP online catalog.

There are basically two ways to search for information on a topic:  using keywords from the title or information about the item, and using subject headings.

While keyword searching relies on the language used by the author, the publisher, or the person writing the abstract or summary, subject headings use a single word or phrase to represent a particular topic or concept.  For example, the terms substance abuse, chemical dependency and addiction are all used to describe the same concept, but only one of them will be used as the subject heading. 

This makes subject headings a very powerful way to search for information on a topic because once you know the subject heading, you can search for everything on the topic regardless of the language used in the title or other information about the book. 

Scientific Information Literacy Modules
Unit 1:  What is Science?
Unit 2:  Scientific Information
Unit 3:  Information Formats
Unit 4:  Defining Search Terms
Unit 5: Conducting a Literature Review
Unit 6: Science Information Sources

History Information Literacy Modules
copyright 2011 Napa Valley College

updated June 14, 2011, by Nancy McEnery, Reference Librarian-Instructor