Information Services

Printed books

The Library collection contains several million printed books, located across library sites, which are shelved in subject order according to the Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal classification schemes. Help is provided on how to find printed books on the Library shelves.

About printed books

The Lending Collection includes books printed since 1850. Older or rare books are held within the Centre for Research Collections (CRC).

The High Use Books Collection (HUB) is located on the Ground Floor of the Main Library, and the Current General Lending Collection is located on the Second and Third Floors. The Older Lending Collection is available on the Fourth Floor, alongside current print journals.

Locating printed books

Use DiscoverEd to find details of printed books. The bibliographic record will include the name of the holding library (location) and the relevant shelfmark which will help you locate the volume on the shelf.

Books are arranged by either Library of Congress classification, or Dewey Decimal classification.

Library of Congress classification

Library of Congress classification is an alphabetical arrangement. Shelfmarks consist of one or more capital letters, followed by numbers and end with three letters.

The capital letters denote the main subject of the book, the numbers refer to a sub category of the main subject, and the three letters refer to the first three letters of the main author’s surname.

For example: the book, 'An introduction to probability and inductive logic' by Ian Hacking, is assigned the shelfmark BC141 Hac.

Subclass Stands for
BC Logic
141 Logic of chance. Probability.
Hac. Hacking, Ian.

A list showing how subjects are classified using the Library of Congress scheme, is available to help you locate books in the University libraries.

Dewey Decimal classification

Dewey Decimal classification shelfmarks are numeric. They begin with a decimal point and usually end with three letters.

The numbers in a Dewey shelfmark denote the main subject of the book and the letters refer to the main author’s surname.

For example: the book, 'Collected Poems 1909-1962' by T.S. Eliot, is assigned the Dewey number .821 Eli.

Subclass Stands for
821 English poetry
Eli Eliot, T.S.

Some shelfmarks may include a prefix which indicates a specific format (i.e. Outsize or Pamphlet), or that a volume is held in a special sequence.

A Guide to Dewey is available to help you locate books in the University’s libraries:

Borrowing printed books

Printed books which are not designated as reference volumes may be borrowed by Edinburgh University staff and students, and external borrowers. The length of the loan period can vary according to type of book and borrower.


Most libraries have self-service photocopying facilities and portions of books can be copied within existing copyright guidelines.

Interlibrary Loans

Printed books which are unavailable in Edinburgh University Library may be obtained through the interlibrary loans service.

Recommending a new book

University staff and students may make recommendations for the addition of new printed books to library collections.

Further help

For further help and information contact EdHelp.