How to Use the Library

Confused about how to get the most out of the library? This guide will walk you step-by-step through the use of the library's print materials, website, catalog, and research databases!

Welcome to the Library

The J. W. Martin Library on the Alva campus of Northwestern Oklahoma State University has over 100,000 books and 30,000 bound volumes of scholarly journals available for your use.

Read the descriptions on this page, and then TAKE THE QUIZ to test your knowledge.

Call Numbers

Let’s take a look at the spines from some books in our collection:

Book spine displaying call numbers

Those labels contain what are called call numbers. The call number tells you where in the library a book is shelved. When you look up a book, you will typically receive the call number, and you can then go to the shelf where the book is located.

There are actually two sets of numbers here, and we’ll explain each in turn:

  1. Dewey decimal number (for example, 708.051)
  2. Cutter number (for example, B633d)

Now take a look at the end of one of our shelving units:

End of a shelf displaying call numbers

As you can see, each shelf has a range of numbers printed on it. So when you find the call number of the book you want, you can retrieve the book from the shelf with the appropriate range. If you want a book that has the call number 708.051, as shown above, you would go to the shelf containing books with call numbers 708.05 to 735.045.

Dewey Decimal Numbers

The first part of the call number is a number assigned according to the Dewey Decimal System. This is a system for organizing libraries that Melvil Dewey invented in 1876. The numbers represent categories and sub-categories of the different fields of human knowledge. Part of the convenience of the system is tha you don’t need to know what the numbers mean—you just need to know that books are arranged in numerical order on the shelves!

Here are the major categories of Dewey Decimal Classification:

Dewey Numbers Subject
000099 General Reference and Information Science
100–199 Philosophy, Psychology, and Logic
200–299 Religion
300–399 Social Science
400–499 Natural Science and Mathematics
500–599 Language
600699 Technology, Applied Science, and Medicine
700799 Fine Arts
800899 Literature
900999 History and Biography

This system ensures that books about the same subject are grouped together. So if you find one book on the subject you’re researching, it’s a good practice to scan the other books nearby to see if they will be valuable to your research also.

Cutter Numbers

Close-up of books with Cutter Numbers emphasized

The second number on the spine is the Cutter number. You don't need to know exactly how Cutter numbers work; the important thing to understand is that this number is a code that is a shortened way of writing an author's last name. So after a book has been assigned a Dewey decimal number representing its subject, it also gets a Cutter number for its author.

On the shelves, the books are arranged numerically by Dewey decimal number and also alphanumerically by Cutter number. These numbers together make up the call number. You should always be able to find a book on the shelf if you have the call number—but if you can't find it, you can ask for help from the library staff.

The first letter of the Cutter number is always the first letter of the author's last name. After that comes a combination of other numbers and letters. Probably the most confusing aspect of the Cutter Number is that the numerals are ordered like the numerals after a decimal point. That's why, in the photograph used as our example, C762c comes after C7393c.


If it is … Then its call number is …
Nonfiction Dewey decimal number + Cutter number
Fiction F + Cutter number
Reference Ref. + Dewey decimal number + Cutter number
Biography B + Cutter number
Juvenile nonfiction Dewey decimal number + Cutter number + L.S.
Juvenile fiction F + Cutter number + L.S.