Practical Use of the Library: Locating a Book


When an attempt is made to locate a particular book in the Library, it must be emphasized that the procedure for doing that is the same, i.e. (Author, Title and Subject) irrespective of the medium i.e. (Card Catalogue, OPAC Micro-form) used in the record keeping. The Catalogue, be it manual or electronic remains a guide to Library Stock Nwaokocha (2004). According to him,

“the Catalogue is to Library Users what a Map is to a traveller”. Librarians are trained to juggle into the mind of the prospective novice user of the Library by anticipating what he is likely to look out for.


Information is therefore carefully extracted from the book and put on the Card or Electronic Database in Libraries.

In view of the above background, there are major avenues called Access Points to any book or journal in the Library. It is assumed that no one library Patron comes into the Library without the knowledge of any of these Access Points. Such Access Points include author’s name or editor’s name, title, series and subject.


If a user comes to the library with a view to locating a boo written by the Author e.g. Wole Soyinka, he should approach catalogue with the surname which is Soyinka and not Wole. If he/she approaches the catalogue with Wole, that is a wrong approach and will never find such material.

 The catalogue is arranged in alphabetical order from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ using the author’s surnames. The Patron in this case, goes to the catalogue cabinet looks for the drawer marked “S”, and flips through the cards in the drawer which are again arranged in alphabetical order of name starting with “Sa” to “SZ” if there are such authors.

On locating the very author ‘Soyinka Wole,’ he is to copy the class mark or call mark of the book and proceed to the shelf. The class mark is usually written at top left hand corner of the catalogue card. All things being equal, the book will be on the shelf exactly according to the class mark arrangement in the shelf list cabinet.

However, it must be mentioned that books as much as they are meant to be used would not always be permanently seated on the shelf. Therefore, finding a book card in a catalogue drawer, is not a guarantee that it must expressly be on the shelf. In fact very heavily used/demanded books do not stay on the shelf for long.


By the cataloguing rule, the main entry to an edited work should be by title while added entry in the tracing is made for the editor. The same procedure for author search should be followed in searching for an edited work, by the editor’s surname. All things being equal if the book is not borrowed, torn and sent for binding it should be in its rightful position on the shelf in accordance with the classification order.


It can happen that a user comes into the library not knowing or having an author in mind but knows a title by which he/she wishes to assess the catalogue. In this case, he will approach the catalogue via title search.

He will do this successfully if he employs the filing rule of ignoring articles in a title by proceeding to the first main word in that title e.g. “The anatomy of a lizard” if this is a title to a book in the library catalogue; the user will do well in search of this material by ignoring the entry article 'the' and search for that book under “anatomy.“ Without this step methodically taken the user will not find the desired material whereas it is available on the library shelf.


Some books are published under series and a Library Patron who can neither remember Author/Editor or Title may well remember Series Statement of such a book. If he does, provision is equally made by the Librarian to help him locate such a book. For instance a book published under the African Writers Series can be retrieved from the Catalogue Marked ‘A’ the first significant letter.


Attempt can also be made by Patron to locate materials bysubject search, if a Patron cannot remember author/ editor or title. However, this approach is not often advised by Librarians. This is because not all subjects are directly approved to be used as subject heading by the library of congress classification scheme. However, the beauty of Subject Search is that the Patron will be referred to the used subject and because every subject matter is colocated, the Patron will get another related title on the subject matter.


The term call number/classification mark or call mark are all used to refer to the number given to a particular book in the library that differentiates it from a million of other books in the library. The class mark/call number or classification mark is derived from the Agency in charge of issuing a particular identification number in accordance with its classification scheme adopted by a given Library.

Some of such Agencies are Library of congress classification Scheme situated in the United States of America, Dewey decimal classification Scheme (DDC) and Universal decimal classification scheme (UDC) etc. Whichever of these that is employed, the number is usually pasted on the spine of the book. Each class mark is unique to identifying a particular book.


When using a Computer Catalogue popularly referred to as online public access catalogue (OPAC) you will obtain the same information result, but instead of Catalogue Card it will appear on the Screen.

 If you adopt the ‘Author’ Approach by typing the surname of the Author all the works by that same author will appear and you then make a choice. So also, if ‘title’ Approach is adopted while ignoring articles such as ‘A’ ‘An’ or ‘The’ and go to the main word in the Title, all the works that are co-located will appear, you will then ccpy the class mark and physically proceed to the shelf for the Book or Journal.


Following a methodical classification scheme every book acquired and processed has its rightful place on the library shelf; but for some obvious reasons, books held by the library may not be expressly found on the library shelf even though the library has them. Such possible reasons are highlighted below:


Collection failure results when a book that is supposed to be represented physically on the shelf is absent from the shelf whereas the catalogue record says it is available but cannot be located on the shelf. This occurs if:

(a) A book is wrongly shelved:

That is when for instance a history book is shelved along with chemistry books. Such a book will be temporarily lost to a user with history background until it is sorted out and shelved properly by the Library Assistant in charge of shelving and shelf-reading.

(b) As a result of use:

In addition to the above if a book or journal is currently being used by a library patron and another user is searching for the same book assuming it is the only copy in the library he/she cannot find it, until the first reader finishes with the material and it is reshelved by the Library staff.

(c) As a result of repairs:

Library books that are so heavily used may go bad or some delinquent users could deliberately rip-off pages of books. When this happens those books are temporarily withdrawn for repairs. At such times, the book is absent on the Shelf; a user who comes seeking for such material would be disappointed, though the book is represented in the Card Catalogue but not on the Shelf.

(d) As a result of borrowing:

Registered users of the Library find some books of interest and therefore decide to borrow them for home use. If such a book is the only copy on the open shelf and it has been given out on loan then a subsequent patron would have nothing to consult or borrow.

In that case the book is represented on the Catalogue cabinet but absent on the Shelf.

(e) As a result of loss:

This result when a library has acquired a book, processed it, and made it available to its prospective users through the catalogue to the shelf. The user, in an attempt to locate such a book, he/she searches through the catalogue card and finds the book represented on the catalogue. The user becomes frustrated when such a book is not expressly available on the shelf. This result when the book is completely lost; until the book is reacquired and replaced on the shelf, the catalogue will show that the library has the book while it cannot be located on the shelf because it is lost.

(f) User failure:

This results when a user adopts the wrong approach to the catalogue and therefore cannot find a book which though is available in the library but he is unable to reach it; for example, when a user seeks to find a book authored by Wole Soyinka by attempting to locate it under the first name ‘WOLE’, instead of SOYINKA, which is the surname.

This is obviously a wrong approach to getting access to such a desired book. This approach will result in his failure to retrieve the desired material. This user failure is due to the use of wrong search strategy and the said book will be lost or inaccessible to such a user.

User failure can also result from wrong title approach. The title of a book is yet another very important avenue of getting access to a desired material by a patron of any library. However, this will not be, if the wrong title approach is made.

For instance a book titled “An Introduction to the use of Library”. In the alphabetical arrangement of title catalogue this book will be tiled under ‘I’ not ‘A’. This is because in the filing rules anicles such as ‘A’ ‘An’ and ‘The’ are usually ignored. So, if a user looks up the above title under ‘A’, he/she will never find such a book; he would then erroneously conclude that the library does not have the book, whereas it was his approach/search strategy that was wrong.

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