• Post author:
  • Post category:Adults

Surprise! You thought we were done with our delve into Dewey, but I have one more surprise for you all: Cutter Numbers!

Now, you might be wondering… “What the heck is a Cutter Number?” These are strings of numbers added to the end of Dewey Decimal call numbers to help narrow down a book’s location more specifically on the shelf. And they are created by using the author’s name. Still confused? Keep reading to find out more!

So, to keep things really short and sweet, Cutter Numbers are great because they help to distinguish multiple books on the same topic. To help us, we’re going to look at a made-up scenario. You’re looking for a Polish-to-English dictionary. And your professor recommended two different ones: one assembled by a linguist named Wojtyła and one by a linguist named Lapinski. But, when you go to the shelf (you know the books should be under 491.853), you find that the library’s collection of Polish-to-English dictionaries takes up three shelves! You could of course, just look at each one until you find Wojtyła and Lapinski, or you could use Cutter Numbers to get you there faster.

The Cutter Numbers code the author’s name by swapping out some of the letters with numbers. So, if we were looking for the dictionary by Wojtyła, it would look something like this:

491.853 W658953

And Lapinski’s dictionary would be listed like this:

491.853 L3756755

This makes it easier to find the specific shelving location. Of course, the average library user would not be expected to know the proper Cutter Numbers off-hand. You’ll see them when you look a book up in the catalog. It will be listed at the end of the call number. Here are a few examples of books from my personal collection, as well as from SearchOhio:

Using our knowledge of Dewey that we’ve built up over the past few weeks, we can see that the first book is literature (821), specifically a work of criticism of English poetry (in this case, breaking down the poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner. For book two, the J marks it as a juvenile book, while the designation of 398.21 marks it as a book of folklore specifically focusing on human-like beings (in this case, Paul Bunyan). The third book uses Library of Congress classifications, so we won’t be able to decode it here (although PN refers to “General Literature”). And finally, the fourth book on our list is a biography, which is why its listed under 920.

I’m not going to break down the Cutter Numbers here (explaining the author’s names or anything like that), but you can at least tell a few things at a glance. For example, the first letter of a Cutter Number refers to the author’s last name. So, using the last book on the list as an example, it starts with G because the author’s last name is Gilbreth (and starts with G). The last letter of the Cutter Number sometimes refers to the title of the book. It’s a little hard to see here, but it’s a C, for Cheaper by the Dozen.

A few years ago, WPPL decided to simplify our call numbers. So, we reduced those long, clunky Cutter Numbers into something a bit shorter and sweeter– ie. the first three letters of the author’s name. The picture above was taken directly from one of our shelves. And books in 002 are all about the history of the book. As for the Cutter Numbers, the left title is by Rosenbloom (ROS) and the right is by Smith (SMI). The middle one is a little squidgy. The editor is James Raven, so you’d think it would be RAV, but since this is a collection of essays that Raven didn’t write, we’re using the title: The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book, and therefore, the Cutter Number includes OXF for Oxford.

Are you still confused? It’s okay. Cutter Numbers are confusing. And while an understanding of the DDC is important to help readers (as well as librarians) understand where items are in our collection (eg. knowing that 800s are literature and 500s are science), you don’t really need to know how a Cutter Number is formed or even what it means (unless you’re working in Cataloging, of course!). All you need to know is where to find the books you want on your shelf. And Cutter Numbers will help you do that.


I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.