How to File Fiction in Dewey Decimal

The Dewey Decimal System catalogs library books by assigning them a call number based on their subject. Call numbers begin with a three-digit number. The first digit represents one of 10 broad classes, such as religion, technology or art; the second digit represents one of 100 divisions within that class; and the third digit represents one of 1,000 sections within that division. Numbers appearing after a decimal point in the numbering system narrow the topic further; the more numbers included, the narrower the classification. Although most libraries file fiction alphabetically, some use Dewey Decimal System numbers.

Dewey Decimal System Filing

Look at the first three digits of the Dewey Decimal System number on the label at the bottom of a book's spine. Numbers from 800 to 899 are classed as literature but aren't necessarily fiction. Fiction titles typically end in 3. For example, 813 is American fiction, 823 is British fiction, 833 is German fiction and 843 is French fiction. The number 890 comprises a grab bag of world literature -- including fiction -- that doesn't fit into the other divisions.

Locate the shelves for books with call numbers from 800 to 899, and find the book's appropriate numerical section. For instance, a novel with the call number 813.4 goes to the right of 813.331 and to the left of 813.914.

Look for the "Cutter number" that identifies the book's author and title. It usually appears under the Dewey Decimal System number and starts with the first letter of the author's name. The Cutter number for a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel begins with "H." Read the subsequent numbers digit by digit -- just as you did with the Dewey number -- to file the book correctly. The lowercase letter that sometimes follows these numbers is a "work mark" representing the first easily identifiable letter of the book's title. Thus, Hawthorne's "The Marble Faun," with the Cutter number H38m, would be shelved to the left of his book "The Scarlet Letter," which has the Cutter number H38s.

Alphabetical Filing

Look for an "F" or "Fic" on the label at the bottom of the book's spine. Each indicates that the book is a work of fiction. One to three letters of the author's last name appear below that code. For example, the call number for a book by Nathaniel Hawthorne might look like this: F Haw

The designation means that the book belongs in the fiction shelves among books by authors whose last names begin with "Haw."

Find the shelf for authors whose last names begin with the letters on the book's spine label, and file the book alphabetically. If two authors have the same last name, then file the book by the author's first name. For example, a book by Julian Hawthorne is placed to the left of a book by Nathaniel Hawthorne because "J" is before "N" in the alphabet.

File the book by title if the author has more than one book on the shelf. For example, Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The House of the Seven Gables" is filed to the left of his book "The Marble Faun" because "H" is before "M" in the alphabet.

  • The Dewey Decimal System isn’t based on whole numbers. Thus, a book with the call number 801.1845 goes to the left of a book with the call number 801.2. When comparing two call numbers, look for the first digits that differ as you read the call number from left to right. The book with the smaller digit is always shelved to the left of the other book, no matter how many numbers follow.
  • Libraries often file North American and British fiction alphabetically and foreign literature numerically. Fictional works such as plays and epics also tend to be filed numerically.
About the Author

David Swan has been a professional writer since 1991, working primarily on academic titles. He has written and edited textbooks on green business, community redevelopment and the chemistry of hazardous materials.

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