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SWITCH Libraries' Information Literacy Tutorial: Unit 4
Finding Books

This tutorial is for use by the community of library users within the SWITCH Library Consortium.

The Value of Books

Books image

Books (and ebooks) are excellent sources of information. They will help you gain a better understanding of a topic and should be among the resources used to complete your coursework. Here are a few characteristics of books: 

  • Great starting point for understanding the background information of a topic.
  • Provide an in-depth and broad examination of a topic.
  • Deeper analysis of a topic than available in other sources.
  • Provides "settled science" and information on fundamentals and established principles.
  • Good for understanding how a topic is structured and what other topics are related to it.
  • May not be as current as other sources of information but can be good for understanding a historical perspective.


How do students find books? By searching the online catalog TOPCAT.

TOPCAT image

Locating Books on the Shelf

Library books are arranged by "classification systems". Depending on the library, a book will typically be classified using the Dewey Decimal Classification System or the Library of Congress Classification System. While these classification systems differ numerically, they have one important thing in common - both systems assign "call numbers" based on the subject of a book. That means that books on the same subject are generally located next to each other on a library shelf.

To find a book in your school's library, first find the call number in the TOPCAT record.

Call number image


Now, use that call number to find the book in the stacks of your library. The call number is located on the book's spine. Remember, library books are arranged by subject. That means if you find one book on a topic, you may find more by browsing the other titles on the shelf.

Reading a Library of Congress Call Number

Reading a Dewey Decimal Call Number

Test Your Knowledge

Quiz image

Please review the information on this page before attempting the quiz. After completing the quiz, a score will be sent to your email address. Click here to take the Finding Books Quiz.

Ask a librarian logo
Questions? Please contact your home library and ask to speak with a librarian.


Video icon attribution: Rob-nowman used according to Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

"How to Read a Library of Congress Call Number", University of Arkansas Libraries:

"Call Number 101", Cardinal Léger Library: