Call #? Cutter? What does it mean?

A call number is a group of numbers and letters put together to tell you where you can find your book, DVD, map, or (sometimes) journal in the library. A call number is located at the bottom of the book spine. To find a call number for a book, you have to look it up in our online catalogue. Call numbers serve two purposes: first, they provide a unique location “address”, for every item within the library; second, they group items by subject, so that when you browse the shelves, you will find books on the same subject next to each other.

Call numbers are assigned not randomly but according to a classification system. In the Law Library, we have books in Library of Congress (LC) (at the 1 – 5 floors) or Cutter (in the basement) classification systems. It can be difficult to understand LC call numbers if you are not used to them, so you may wish to take a look at this small video that could help you to read a LC call number.

You may have noticed that in the Law Library, the majority of books have a call number that starts with K. This is due to the fact that letter K is assigned to “law” as a subject in the LC classification system. Any letters and numbers that you see after K denote a specific sub-subject, e.g. KE 470- 474 groups books on Law of Canada – Conflict of laws. You can consult this Tip-Sheet to see the break-down of the class K by topic.

2 comments on “Call #? Cutter? What does it mean?

  1. Oh, so the Cutter Collection uses a different style call number than the rest of the library! I was wondering about this the other day when I was down in the basement getting a book. I never even considered that the call number system might be different, since all of the books started with “K”.

    So what is the story with the Cutter Collection, and why do they use a different call number system? Did the entire library formerly use Cutter and then these older books were simply never recataloged?

    If so, it reminds me of the John Crerar Library at the University of Chicago. It was originally an independent science library using Dewey. When it merged with the U of C circa 1980, the original holdings were kept in Dewey and were moved into the new library’s basement, where they were rarely ever consulted, since 100 year old scientific publications tend not to have a high review rate. That said, the collection will probably some day become extremely useful for history of science scholars.

  2. Cutter classification system was used at McGill until 60s when all our holdings were re-classed in LC. But as it is usual with huge projects, some things have been left dragging behind :), e.g. our Cutter collection. And, yes its story is similar to the one of John Crerar Library, but the end is better. Now, we are working on re-classing our Cutter books and integrating them in our “upper-floors” collection.

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