I’ve been looking at the bibliography of an old book called History Of Burma by G. E. Harvey and am quite confused. There are abbreviations introduced first like this:

B Bodleian Library
BM British Museum
IO India Office Library

An example for an actual citation is:

John Stevens, The Portuguese Asia, three vols 1695.

B 55.b.59-61.
BM 582.e.6, 8.
IO 300.A.76.H.10-12

I can see the abbreviations refer to respective libraries, but what about the numbers? Are they referring to the book’s location in the library, or pages within the book itself?

  • 7
    Logically, those would have to be the call numbers, since if they were page numbers, why would they be different for each library?
    – MJeffryes
    Jan 9 '18 at 10:34
  • 3
    why not get each of the actual references (use an inter-library loan for example) and check for yourself? They probably did not follow APA or Harvard referencing styles then...
    – Solar Mike
    Jan 9 '18 at 10:38
  • In case you've never needed to go to one, academic (and public nonfiction) libraries tend to use classification systems arranged by subject area, modified by by physical necessity if a book happens to be a peculiar size. On public shelves books are likely to be ordered by call number, if it's kept "in the back" all kinds of things are possible.
    – origimbo
    Jan 9 '18 at 16:32

A quick search of the current Bodleian catalogue turns up this record.

Selecting the 'find & request' tab indicates that the three volumes are still available with call numbers 55.b.59-61. Thus, it would appear that the bibliography is specifying call numbers in the different libraries (much as modern bibliographies list DOIs!).


To expand on @avid's answer: those numbers very likely refer to manuscripts, incunabula, or other rare or unique items.

Specific index references are necessary for a number of reasons, even if a single library may have multiple copies of a work:

  • Titles get many variations over time, may be spelled multiple ways or in different languages.
  • Dates are often sketchy at best, but oftentimes may be century estimates (even if there's a date, if it's a manuscript it may be a copy from a different era).
  • Manuscript tend to have important errors, variations, and marginalia, that distinguish copies, so we need to know exact tomes/scrolls/etc that were used.

As an aside, you will probably not get copies via ILL, but you may be able to get the source library to scan them for a nominal fee (or they may already be scanned and freely available—check online especially for large national libraries).

  • It looks like the citation is to a set of books published in 1695, so ILL is really unlikely. On the other hand, different call numbers in different libraries is really common, even for widely circulated books by living authors. E.g. "Does God play dice? : the mathematics of chaos by Ian Stewart" is 352:1.c.95.543 at the Cambridge UL (Dewey style) and Q172.5.C45 .S74 at the Betty & Gordon Moore Maths Library (Library of Congress style). These two buildings are ten minutes gentle walk away from each other.
    – origimbo
    Jan 9 '18 at 18:18
  • 2
    @origimbo call numbers, AFAIK, should be the same only if the same systems are involved and older libraries often have their own unique systems . Inventory numbers are definitely unique to each library, and generally (always?) kept separate from the general collection that use the various call number systems that group like texts together. But now that I look at it more, it looks like the OP did get call numbers and not inventory numbers which are generally integers. Jan 9 '18 at 18:23
  • I was hoping those numbers would let me pin down to a specific page of the book. By the way, the cited book was in three volumes and it does not even point to a specific volume. I found an online copy published for free.
    – Nay Min
    Jan 10 '18 at 12:41

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