Mathematical sciences: Browsing

Library resources for students of mathematics at Monash University

How to decipher call numbers

An explanation of:

  • what a call number is
  • how they are created
  • how to use one to find a book

What is a call number?

Call numbers are a classification system which allow books, journals and othe items relating to the same subject to be located together. They consist of a series of predetermined numbers and letters which are generally stuck to the spine or front of each item.

Monash University Library uses the Dewey Decimal Classification system for its call numbers except:

  • The Law Library uses a variation on the Moys legal classification system.
  • Clayton campus libraries use Dewey variations for Philosophy and older literature materials.

What do the parts of a call number mean?

Call numbers are basically divided into two parts:

  • subject classification: series of numbers that represent the subject area
  • author classification: series of letters and/or numbers that represent the author or title of the information

Some call numbers have a third part for the year of publication or extra author information.

Here is the call number for Spacetime Physics by Edwin F. Taylor, and John Archibald Wheeler, and what the parts describe:

In the Hargrave-Andrew Library
530.11 T239S Subject: 530 = Physics .11 = Relativity Theory
Author: T239 = Taylor S = Spacetime
In Caulfield Library
530.11 TAY Subject: 530 = Physics .11 = Relativity Theory
Author: TAY = Taylor


How do I use a call number to find an item?

It is important that you note down all of the call number, and which part of the Monash collection the item is held in. Then you need to find each part of the number in turn.

For example to find the book: Understanding Enzymes, by T. Palmer (call number 547.758 P176U4):

Call number structure

  1. Locate the first three digits.
  2. Locate any digits following the decimal point. Remember that it is a decimal system, so 547.8 comes after 547.75.
  3. When you have located the number in full, look for the letter, then the next set of numbers.
  4. Check that the last letter and number are correct, to make sure you have the right book and edition.

Some common problems in looking for items

If you can't find an item:

  • make sure you have written down the whole number
  • make sure that you have located the entire number, including all the digits after the decimal point
  • check that you are looking in the correct site or collection
  • look for prefix letters before the number (eg F = folio (large books), Mos = maths, NZ=New Zealand etc)
  • note that some collections (eg Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Microfiche) have their own numbering system
  • check that the item is not already on loan to someone else

Why aren't the call numbers consistent?

Sometimes call numbers seem very inconsistent, both inside and outside Monash. The reasons for this include:

  • Over time call numbers allocated to some subjects have been inadequate or knowledge has changed, eg advances in computing have caused many changes.
  • Book may be classified in different ways - for example a book entitled  Discrete Maths for Computing could be classified as a maths book, or as a computing book.
  • Monash Library is made up of a number of previously separate libraries. These libraries all had their own cataloguing procedures interpretations for the Dewey system. The Library has now standardised these procedures.
  • Some Monash collections have been catalogued differently to reflect specialist needs, eg Law and Philosophy


Key points to remember when deciphering call numbers:

  • items on the same topic are shelved next to each other
  • every part of the number is important for finding an item
  • work through the number systematically to find the item it describes
  • call numbers vary between libraries - make sure you have the right one

Guide to call numbers

The Monash libraries use the Dewey Decimal Classification scheme to organise books and journals. This ensures that all materials on similar subject areas are kept together on the shelves. The following call numbers may be useful as a guide when browsing the shelves for Mathematics and related subject areas.

Numbers Subject
371.3028 Study methods
510 Mathematics
510.1 Philosophy and theory
511 General principles of mathematics
511.1 Finite mathematics
511.3 Mathematical logic
511.4 Approximation and expansion
511.5 Graph theory
511.6 Combinatorics
511.8 Mathematical models
512 Algebra
512.2 Groups and group theory
512.3 Fields
512.4 Rings
512.5 Linear algebra
512.6 Category theory, homological algebra, K-theory
512.7 Number theory
512.9 Foundations of algebra
513 Arithmetic
514 Topology
514.2 Algebraic topology
514.3 Topology of spaces
514.7 Analytic topology
515 Analysis
515.24 Sequences and series
515.3 Differential calculus and equations
515.4 Integral calculus and equations
515.5 Special functions
515.7 Functional analysis
515.8 Functions of real variables
515.9 Functions of complex variables
516 Geometry
516.2 Euclidean geometry
516.3 Analytic geometries
516.9 Non-Euclidean geometry
518 Numerical analysis
519 Probabilities and applied mathematics
519.2 Probabilities
519.5 Statistical mathematics
519.6 Mathematical optimization
519.7 Programming
519.8 Special topics of applied mathematics
520 Astronomy
523.01 Astrophysics
523.4 Planets - astronomy
551.5 Atmosphere - meteorology
551.6 Climate
576.839 Astrobiology
808 Essay, reports and technical writing

Location prefixes

Some call numbers are preceded by a location prefix. That means the book is shelved in a special location, and may have loan restrictions. The Hargrave-Andrew Library uses the following prefixes.

Prefix Library location
Reference Level 1 (Not for loan)
Reserve Level 1 (Overnight, or 3-hr loan)
Maps Level 1 (Some items may not be available for loan)
Multimedia Level 1
Serials (unbound)

Serials <current>

Level 1 (Overnight loan for staff and post-graduate students only)

Serials (bound)

Level 1: Call number: 001 - 540.5 I85

Level 2: Call number: 540.5 J86 - 552.05 C764

Ground level: Call number: 552.05 J86 - 925 A1 NAT

(Overnight loan for staff and post-graduate students only)
Standards Level 1 (Not for loan)

f <f stands for 'folio'>

Level 2 - Items are shelved after the book call number 999.