Thursday, November 4, 2010

GV903, and Other Mysterious Library Numbers

Last night, the Duke Law Bowling League Fall 2010 tournament entered its semifinal round. GV903, a team comprised of staff members from the Goodson Law Library & Academic Technologies, was knocked out of contention for the BarBri Cup after an exciting Elite 8 match with defending champions Strike a Posner. The competition has been strong all season, and GV903 has enjoyed rolling against so many Duke Law students. But we were a bit concerned to hear the same question from virtually all of our opponents this season: “What does your team name mean?”

The answer, of course, can be found in the library! You may have noticed that most materials in the library are organized by the Library of Congress Classification Outline, where books are arranged not by their title or author name but by an alphanumeric code (known as a “call number”). These call numbers correspond to the subject matter of the book; as a result, books on similar topics are grouped together. In this classification system, GV903 is the beginning of the call number for any books about (what else?) bowling—and because the Library of Congress call numbers are used in most academic and research libraries, you could walk into any library which uses this system and find bowling books at GV903.

Shockingly, there’s not much to be found in the Duke University Libraries under the actual call number GV903 (although we’re sure the illustrations in this 1939 handbook must be unintentionally hilarious by now). But those search results are a good reminder that you can actually search call numbers in the online catalog, just like you would search for a title keyword or an author’s name. Since similar books are assigned the same call number, this can be a useful strategy if you have found one particularly relevant book, and want to see what other books are available which have been classified with the same call number.

The Duke Libraries catalog also allows you to Browse Call Numbers, although this can lead to an overwhelming number of results for some call numbers (such as KF, the classification for American law materials, which retrieves more than 55,000 results). The browse feature does work particularly well for quickly pulling up legal materials from non-U.S. jurisdictions (like the 17 titles classified under Law of Antarctica).

Library of Congress isn’t the only call number system out there. Public libraries tend to use the numeric Dewey Decimal system (where bowling books can be found at the call number 794.6). Even within the Duke libraries, you might encounter different styles like the Superintendent of Documents system (for federal government documents). If you have any questions about locating a call number or searching for materials on a particular subject, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

This lesson in library call number systems has been brought to you by the members of GV903:
  • Sean Chen, Digital Resources Librarian (captain)
  • Shyama Agrawal, Acquisitions Librarian
  • Kristina Alayan, Foreign & International Law Librarian
  • Jennifer Behrens, Reference Librarian
  • Karen Douglas, Head of Collection Services
  • Melanie Dunshee, Assistant Dean for Library Services
  • Kelly Leong, Reference Intern & Lecturing Fellow
  • Hiroki Nishiyama, User Analyst
    (With special guest appearances throughout the season by staff spouses & significant others: Marvin Douglas, Chris Bobko, and Chris Reeves)
Good luck to the Final Four in next week’s championship rounds, and we’ll see you on the lanes next spring!