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How Call Numbers Work (Literature edition)

January 30th, 2009 by Chris Strauber

A common question I get at the reference desk is: Do you have any fiction I can read for fun, and how do I find it?

One of the great secrets of the Library of Congress classification system academic libraries use is that large parts of it are secretly just alphabetical lists. LC arranges literature by country or language group, then time period, then author. If you can find the right area of the shelf, we do actually have a collection you can browse by author.

Here’s a brief overview of how “PR”, the series for British literature works. (source in PDF form)

PR 1-999

Critical surveys by genre and time period

PR 1000-1369

Collections of literature (poetry, drama, short stories, letters, etc.)|

PR 1490-1799

Anglo-Saxon literature

PR 1803-2165

Anglo-Norman period. Early English. Middle English.

PR 2199-3195

English renaissance (1500-1640)

PR 3291-3785

17th and 18th centuries (1640-1770)

PR 3991-5990

19th century, 1770/1800-1890/1900

PR 6000-6049

1900-1960

PR 6050-6076

1961-2000

PR 6100-6126

2001-

Within those date ranges, authors are in alphabetical order. Works by an author are also arranged alphabetically. So PR 4000-6000 is essentially an alphabetical list running from roughly Austen to Trollope.

Critical works are mixed in. Good news: You can quickly see everything by or about an author. Bad news: If you’re looking for something fun to read, you probably don’t want the critical works. Unless it’s meta-analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So how can you tell which is which? Critical essays have an additional number starting with “Z”.

Patrick O’Brian. The Fortune of War. PR6029.B55 F67 1991
Patrick O’Brian: Critical Essays and a Bibliography. Ed. A.E. Cunningham., PR 6029 .B55 Z75 1994.

Happy browsing!

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