Dewey Decimal Classification at Goldsmiths

Ever wondered what those numbers on the spines of the books mean? Like browsing the shelves but don’t know where to start? Here’s our quick guide to Dewey Decimal Classification, the classification system used at Goldsmiths to organise books, journals, and DVDs on the shelves.

Dewey Decimal Classification is a very popular system used throughout the world (in America they even have a rap about it). It was invented by Melvil Dewey, a man so dedicated to efficiency that he simplified the spelling of his own name from Melville to Melvil.

The classification system divides topics and disciplines into 10 main sections:

000 Computer science, information & general works
100 Philosophy & psychology
200 Religion
300 Social sciences
400 Language
500 Science
600 Technology
700 Arts & recreation
800 Literature
900 History & geography

After the main 10 sections, topics are split into more sections using numbers and decimal points. So books on general topics have nice short numbers, while books on very specific topics, or a combination of different topics, will have a long number.

At Goldsmiths Library, the collections are arranged in Dewey and in numerical order on the shelves. This means that the classmark 599.096897 will be shelved before the number 599.17 – keep an eye on the numbers after the decimal point. The books at Goldsmiths are split like so:

  • 000-699 First floor (plus 000-699 periodicals, in their own section)
  • 700-999 Second floor (plus 700-999 periodicals, in their own section)

DVDs are also arranged by Dewey Decimal but are shelved together on the 2nd floor (except where they are part of a book).

The Dewey Decimal number is the number listed under ‘Location’ in the catalogue and is sometimes referred to as a class number. The three letters after the Dewey Decimal number help you find the book on the shelf, so make sure you write it all down.

The location number is the Dewey Decimal class number

If you want to get to know the numbers relevant for your subject, have a look at your subject guide on the library website (normally in a PDF file for you to print out), or you can see a summary of the whole thing. With lots of interdisciplinary courses at Goldsmiths, you might find yourself in different sections during your study – why not explore the shelves?

Top tips for using Dewey:

  1. If you find a book you want on the catalogue, try looking around on the shelf at books with the same or similar Dewey Decimal numbers. That way you can find books on a similar topic.
  2. Or you can browse by Dewey Decimal numbers on the catalogue. Simply chose ‘Browse A-Z Lists’ in the top menu, change the ‘Select index to browse’ to ‘class number’, and type in your Dewey Decimal number.

Browsing by Dewey Decimal class number


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