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Welcome to Williams Libraries: Finding Materials

First-Year Library Guide

Step 1: Determine which floor has the call number you need.

Call Number Floor
A-D Level 4
E-H Level 3
J-PF Level 2
PG-Z Level 1
DVDs, CDs Level 3

Note: This table is for the location of items in Sawyer stacks. There are other library locations (such as  Sawyer DVD, Sawyer Reserve, and Sawyer Reference) that also use this call number system. See library maps for further information.

Step 2: Locate the book on the shelf

Unlike public and school libraries, most academic libraries use the Library of Congress Classification scheme to arrange books on the shelves.

Sawyer call numbers

Read call numbers line by line:

  • First line: arranged alphabetically
  • Second line: read as a whole number
  • Third and fourth lines: arranged alphabetically, then numerically, with the number treated as a decimal (e.g., .A627 comes before .A65)
  • Last line: shelved chronologically.

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Hale Polebaum-Freeman
Research Services
Sawyer Library
Pronouns: they/them/their(s)

How to practice finding books and other materials remotely

While there is really no substitute for practicing finding items and browsing the collection in person, you can practice a little bit online by using the Virtual Browse functionality in the catalog. This feature shows you a revolving menu of the physical items in call number order, so in essence it is recreating the physical shelving order of the books and other items in both Sawyer and Schow.

To utilize this feature you must first be looking at the record of a physical item. After performing a search, look for an item record that lists the item as "Available at [library] ([call number]). This information will be located below the title, author, and year of publication of the item - see screenshot below for reference.

A screenshot of a record for a book in the library catalog. At the bottom of the image the call number is circled in green.

Click the title of the item to go to the item's record. This is the screen where you can request the item for pickup, or scans of the item, among other important tasks and information. If you scroll to the bottom of the record you will see the Virtual Browse feature - screenshot below.

A screenshot of the virtual browse feature in the library catalog.

Use the arrows on either side to scroll through items as you would find them on the shelf! Again, this is less exciting than browsing in person, but it does show how connections between the subjects of the materials are made. If you’re interested in practicing finding materials using call numbers, or are having trouble finding materials you can always get in touch with Hale ( or Ask a Librarian