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Finding Books in the Library: A Guide


This guide was designed by a Gustavus student to help you find a book in our library, using the call number you find in the online library catalog. Finding books in the library can be tricky until you get used to it. You're not alone in feeling confused! 

One of the most frequent questions we get is people asking for help finding a book, so never feel embarrassed about asking. We don't expect anyone to come into the library automatically knowing how to find books.

If you ever have any trouble finding a book, please ask at the Information Desk or Reference DeskBoth desks are located at the main entrance. For more information on finding and using books, consult the Books section on our Doing Research guide.

Step 1: Search the Library Catalog


                                                                                                 Image: Screenshot of Library homepage.

Go to the Library's homepage:

  • On the library's homepage, you can view library hours, search for books and articles, follow library social media accounts, and read library news. 

Type your search term into the search box (where it says "Search for Books, Music, Videos & More"). 

  • You can enter any search terms in the search bar and it will search for things related to the phrase you put in. Computers aren’t very smart, so if your search phrase doesn’t show what you’re looking for, try other related searches to see if it works better. For this guide, we’re going to be finding Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I knew the exact title of the book I needed, so I used that as my search phrase.

Step 2: Check for Availability and Location


                                                                                 Image: Screenshot of the Children of Ruin catalog record.

Check the book's availability and location information, including call number

  • The catalog tells us the book is available AND that it is located at:
    • ​​​​​​​ Gustavus Adolphus College, Gustavus Library General Collection   PR6120.C53 C452 2019
  • “Gustavus Adolphus College” is us, so it’s somewhere in the library. 

  • “General Collection” is information you need to note for step 3.

  • “PR6120.C53 C452 2019” is the unique code assigned to this book. It’s this number that we’re going to use to find our book.

Step 3: Visit the Library Directory


                                                                               Image: Library directory.

Visit the Library Directory, located near the entrance, directly across from the Information Desk.

The directory will tell you where books in your collection and call number range are located. 

  • Our book's unique call number begins with PR and is in the General Collection, so we need to find the corresponding PR section of the General Collection in the directory. This section is on the main floor, chapel side.

Step 4: Go to the Shelves



                             Image: Shelf signs with the letter "P."

                                                                                                                          Image: Card on the side of a shelf indicating the call number range.


Look for the call number signs on the side of shelves to direct you further. 

  • Every shelf in the library has a sign with the first letter of the call number range it contains.  

Consult the cards on the sides of the shelf to narrow your search.

  • Each shelf contains a card showing the exact range of books on that shelf.
  • The shelf above has books with call numbers from PR 6053 (top of shelf nearest you) to PR 8868 (end of bottom shelf furthest from you). Our book will be somewhere on this shelf.

Step 5: Find The Correct Shelf


                                           Image: Shelf of books in our call number range.                                                                  Image: Children of Ruin book


Read the call number to find your book

  • Every call number has a similar format. They are in order numerically and alphabetically. If you find yourself looking at books with the call number of PR 8-something, you've gone too far. Similarly, if you find a book that's PR 6120.D, you've also gone past it.
  • If your call number starts with a single letter, like H, it will be at the very start of the H section, even before call numbers that start with double letters, like HA.
  • Call numbers use both whole numbers and decimals. PR 610 is actually miles away from PR 6120.
  • Some books won't have call numbers on their spine. This is because they're too thin and the call number will be on the cover.
  • Books are shelved by subject, so be sure to browse nearby books to find other titles related to your topic.

Remember, it does take some persistence and practice to find books in our library. Any library employee, including our amazing student workers, will be happy to help you find books.


In addition to organizing by call number, our materials are also organized into collections. Here's a list of various collections and where they're located. Make sure you are in the right collection area before you look for your item. The Directory will point you to the right place or ask a library employee.

  • Browsing - Find current, popular fiction & nonfiction reads near the entrance couches. Look for the "nonrequired" banner. 
  • New Title - Located perpendicular to the Browsing collection, this low shelf displays new arrivals to our library.
  • Reference - Explore materials like encyclopedias, handbooks, and statistical compilations on the main floor, Beck Hall side. These books are meant for in-house use only and can't be checked out.
  • Special Collections & Rare Books - You are always welcome to study in the Special Collections & Rare Books room (SCRB), located on the main floor next to the classroom across from the entrance and browse our Special Collections
  • Oversize - Some books, like a lot of art books or yearbooks, are too big for standard shelves and have their own set of shelves on the third (top) floor, Beck Hall side.
  • Children's Collection - Find many award-winning children's books on the first (bottom floor). Look for the blue paint on the overhang.
  • Young Adult - We also have a small collection of Young Adult books, located right next to the Children's Collection. Look for the cranberry paint on the overhang.
  • Audio Visual - Our AV collection mainly includes DVDs and is located on the first (bottom) floor.
  • Periodicals - We subscribe to some journals in print. These are found on the first (bottom) floor, mainly on the Chapel side. This is one collection that is not organized by call number. Journals are alphabetized by title of journal and then further organized within each title by year or volume/issue.
  • Government Documents - Also located on the first (bottom) floor, Beck Hall side, Government Documents have their own call numbers, called SuDoc numbers, and are organized by the government agency that published the document. 

Everything else that doesn't fit the above categories goes into the General Collection. The General Collection is split over the top floor (call numbers starting with A - PQ) and the main floor (call numbers starting with PR - Z).

Note: Sometimes a book will be listed as being on display. Displays are usually near the entrance; a library worker can easily help you identify which display. Display books can be checked out.

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