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Homepage / What is the shelfmark and how do I use it to find a book in the library?

What is the shelfmark and how do I use it to find a book in the library?


Students looking for a book in the Kings Norton Library

We use a system called UDC to classify and store our books. Students are often confused by it when they try to find the items they need on our shelves. We are always happy to help you, but we have written this post for those of you who don’t like to ask us, or are looking for a book outside staff working hours.

The number, or shelfmark, on the spine of a book indicates a subject, so there could be a large number of books at any one shelfmark. Small numbers denote broad subjects, and longer numbers denote more specific ones. ‘Whole’ numbers, like the examples below, become more specific to a level of three numbers, before they are broken down by a decimal point to further subdivisions, for example:

6 = science and technology (broadest level)
65 = management science
656 = transport management
656.7 = air transport management

Some shelfmarks also incorporate punctuation, making them more difficult to find (sorry!). Punctuation indicates a relationship of one subject to another, but it also indicates where on the shelf you will find the book, in relation to the next whole number. All you need to understand is the order in which the most common punctuation marks are shelved, which is:

Slash (e.g. 66/77) – A book with this in the shelfmark would be shelved before books classified as the whole number of 66
Dash (e.g. 621-52) – A book with a dash in the shelfmark would be shelved after books classified as the whole number, 621, and before any classified with a colon
Colon (e.g. 656.7:3) – A book with a colon in the shelfmark would be shelved after books classified as 656.7- and before books classified with brackets
Brackets (e.g. 656.7(4)) – A book with brackets in the shelfmark would be shelved after one with a colon, and before any decimal points or next whole numbers
Decimal point (e.g. 656.7.08) – Decimal points indicate a sub-category of the previous whole number

What information do I need from the catalogue to find a book on the shelf?

The shelfmark is more than just a number, so you need to check Library Search (our catalogue) first before you start looking for a specific book. Once you are viewing the record for the item you want to find, look at the ‘Cranfield shelfmark’ field. Take a note of the full shelfmark, which includes the number plus the three letters (e.g. 656.7.08 KEY) that will appear on the spine of the book. All books classified at the same number are ordered on the shelf alphabetically according to those final three letters, so the combination should help you find the item you need quickly.

The signs at the end of each shelf give you an indication of which numbers are in which aisle.

But we know it’s complicated, so if you can’t find the book you’re looking for, please come and ask us for help!

Karyn Meaden-Pratt

Written By: Cranfield University

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  1. John 07/11/2019 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    Thanks, I almost forget the classification although I was a shelver myself at Cranfield.
    It’s a good reminder for me.

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