call number ☜☞ signatura topográfica

A call number is a system of notations, usually composed of a combination of letters and numbers, created to locate a specific item in a library. Its purpose is to organize the shelving and retrieval of items in a collection, whether a single title in a pamphlet folder or a fat tome of several plays bound as a factitious volume.

The British term pressmark best describes the practice of identifying the fixed location of a book within the library: the specific bookcase (or press), shelf, and position where a book could be found, e.g., Biblioteca, Armario, Tabla Número in one of our examples.

Since the 19th century, call numbers (for the most part) have been devised with reference to standard subject classification schemes. The Dewey Decimal System and Library of Congress Classification System are among the best known. Within these two systems, books are classified by subject, thus for our area of study, Golden-Age Spanish playwrights would be grouped under a large general number, then further subdivided by individual dramatist, and, within the oeuvre of the author, further divided by title and edition. A single suelta or a factitious volume of several sueltas can have a call number. In the case of the latter, the user may have to hunt within the volume to find the play of interest.

Beyond the two most widely used systems in the U.S., the one created by Melville Dewey in 1876 and the one implemented by the Library of Congress in the first decade of 1900, there are dozens of call numbers systems in use by libraries. The second line of our bibliographic record is the Holding Institution, below that is the call number that institution has assigned to the specific suelta. The Boston Athenaeum, the Boston Public Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the New York Public Library are among the ones with the most unusual call numbers. Some libraries keep their sueltas in archival boxes, and the folder number within the numbered box is sufficient information to locate the items.
  • Call number based on Library of Congress classification system.

    Additional observation: notice the "sourcing" in the gutter.

    La moza de Cantaro

    [Vassar College]

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