How to Look for a Book

In this digital age, most people depend on a computer database to search for books in a library. But here is a classification method that helps us look for any book under any subject and author

Published: 03rd February 2014 01:49 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd February 2014 01:49 PM   |  A+A-


Last week, a study group in the school where my wife teaches had to do some research for a project. They were specifically told to search for information in the books in the school library. Nonetheless, upon reaching the library they automatically walked over to the computer section. In this wired age, we all automatically go to Google and Wikipedia, gateways to easily-found facts, but perhaps also substitutes for truly in-depth research. Imagine their horror when they found that the Internet was down!

Left with no choice but to adhere to her initial brief to confine their research to old-fashioned dead-tree tomes, the leader of the study group turned to one of her minions. “Go search for a book,” she commanded him. “Search for a book,” came the reply in a pained, whiney tone. “How do you do that?” Foxed, the leader had to admit defeat.

This is a true story. Maybe you can relate to it?

Well, I’m here to demystify for you the process of finding a book, whether it’s in a library or a bookstore. Remember, all the books are arranged in such places in a two-tier system:

☞    First, by subject

☞    And then, within each subject, by author name

There is actually a system for arranging library books by subject: it’s called the Dewey Decimal Classification. At the highest level, all books are divided into 10 groups, each of which is associated with a numeric code:

000 –  General works, Computer science and Information

100 –  Philosophy and psychology

200 – Religion

300 – Social sciences

400 – Language

500 – Science

600 – Technology

700 – Arts & recreation

800 – Literature

900 – History and geography

Each of these groups has subdivisions. If you think about it a bit, you’ll realise that these groupings are actually quite logical and if you think a bit about where the topic you are researching fits, you can go to the right section in the library.

Looking for a book about gardening? Arts and recreation is where you want to search. Maybe you also want to understand more about the plants in your garden? Another trip to the Science section is in order — specifically to section 508, which is Natural History.

Once you reach the section you need, you can look for the book by title, but if you know the author’s name, then look out for his or her surname (Dickens for Charles Dickens, Rowling for JK Rowling and so on) — and remember to go in alphabetical order (so Dahl would turn up before Dickens).

In a bookstore, the books are usually arranged a little more simply. You will broadly have Fiction and Non Fiction sections. Fiction is usually sub-divided by genre — Crime, Science Fiction, Romance and so on, with a special section for children’s books. Non Fiction is also divided into subjects like History, Music and Business.

When I visit a bookshop I usually spend a little time strolling about and getting an idea of what kind of classifications the store uses. If you are not sure, or don’t have the time, you can always ask the shop assistants in a bookstore or the librarian in a library where everything is.

You might find this a little clunky compared to the ease of an online search, and maybe it is, a little. But there is another great advantage to physically finding a book — you never know what you’ll find by accident in the adjoining shelves or on the way to the section you need! If you’re anything like me, you’ll go in looking for one book and come back with half a dozen.

I hope this makes it easier for you when you go searching for a book the next time.

Happy browsing, and don’t forget to get the book you were looking for in the first place!


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