Thursday, December 16, 2010

Origin of the Term "Call Numbers"

My supervisor received the following question from someone who has recently taken a position as a media specialist at a local elementary school and forwarded the question to me and my colleagues:
Somewhere I was reading about the origin of the phrase "Call Numbers".  I didn't know if the idea of a librarian "calling" out for books in closed stacks was a real story or not.  But if it is, it may help the students grasp the idea of call numbers a little better.
This seemed like quite an interesting question, so I Googled it, Asked Jeeves (okay just went to, searched in the Oxford Reference Online, and looked in the Encyclopedia Britannica.  None of them mentioned anything about the origin of the term "call numbers."  Many results provided explanations on using call numbers to find books.  "Origin of call numbers" returned lots of results that had nothing to do with libraries. 

On a whim I thought to look in the index of Arlene G. Taylor's Introduction to Cataloging and Classification, Tenth Edition.  It referred me to page 528, where it included the following definition:
"Call number: A notation on an information package that matches the same notation in the surrogate/metadata record and is used to identify and locate a particular item; it often consists of a classification notation and a cutter number, and it may also include a work mark and/or a date.  It is the number used to 'call' for an item in a closed stack library--thus the source of the name 'call number.'  See also Cutter number; Work mark."
Bingo!  Eureka!  Ah hah!

I just love it.  Here's a time when the print source bested the online sources.  Of course it makes sense in retrospect that a book about cataloging and classification, which happens to be intended for library science students, would have such an answer.  Gotta love it.

If you are looking for ideas to teach students about Library of Congress call numbers, consider showing them the  following page on call numbers from our SearchPath Tutorial.  On the possible chance that you might be interested, here's a tutorial designed and hosted by the University of Pittsburgh on learning how to use LC call numbers, including an interactive component that allows users to put call numbers in their proper order.  The creators explain how others can link or use this tutorial for themselves. This could definitely be used in classrooms with computers. 

Though I have not checked it out yet, chances are that there is a game/tutorial freely available online that lets people practice putting Dewey call numbers in order.  This would be good for middle and high school students.

Here's a brief visual explanation from the University of Maryland's site "Finding Library Items Using Call Numbers."

1 comment:

SaraT said...

Thanks for this research! Some of us in SoCal have been trying to find a source re our notions of the use of the word "call"!