Telephone Directory

We are all familiar with the basic use of the telephone directory, but here are a few hints to make it an even more effective tool.

Areas Covered

The place names listed on the cover give only the general areas included. Nearly every telephone directory includes listings for many smaller towns in the region. If you are using a directory from outside your local area and you are not familiar with the place names, you should check inside the book for a complete list of places covered. This is often given in a map on the back cover and in a detailed list on the first page of the white pages. If there is more than one section of white pages, you may need to check the list given in each one. For example, the Hill City listing is at the back of the Grand Rapids phone directory.

Many libraries which have directories from outside the local area make a card file index with the place names included, giving the name of the directory in which the listing can be found.

Yellow Pages

Yellow pages do not always cover the same geographical area as white pages. This is often true of large metropolitan areas where yellow pages may cover a wider area. Also, businesses pay to be included in the classified sections, and many larger firms will put ads in yellow pages of many cities even though they are not located there. Your local telephone directories include many such ads for large out-of-town companies, and these can be a useful aid in finding addresses. They often give numbers (sometimes toll free) which you can call to get information.

Be sure to check the index to the yellow pages if you don't know the heading used for the type of business you need.

Government Offices

Government agencies (and this often includes schools and universities) are listed under the major jurisdiction, either United States, the name of the state, county or city. Departments or bureaus are then listed under the parent agency - the Weather Bureau is under the Commerce Department. The yellow pages often have a helpful section under "Government" where many major offices are listed in a convenient form.

Filing Rules

Word order is generally the same in telephone directories as in library filing. It is a word-by-word listing:

All West Breeders Allan, Joe
Allan, Joe All West Breedrs

Letters used as names are found at the beginning of that letter: BJ, Inc. is at the beginning of the B's. Numbers are spelled out: 3M Business Products is listed as though spelled out "Three M." Most abbreviations are spelled out, but some are not, so check both ways. "Mr." is listed as if it were "Mister," but the Duluth directory might also list a Mrs. Beauty Salon after Mrkaich.

Alternate Spellings

It's worth checking under several spellings of a name, and the directory often lists suggested alternate spellings.

Special Features

Many telephone books have special information included in the front or back, such as time zones (included with Area Codes), local ZIP Codes (at the front of yellow pages) and sometimes perpetual calendar (at back of either white, yellow pages, or orange [index] pages).

Directory Assistance

Calling Directory Assistance can help you find information on newer listings and for places for which you don't have a phone book.

The operators are often not allowed to give out addresses, but by asking for telephone numbers for out-of-town listings you can often verify the existence of the firm or individual in a city. This can be a great help, especially if you check while the patron is still at the library. For example, if you are asked for the address of the ABC Company in Aurora, Illinois, you can check that there really is such a company there. The patron might mean Aurora, Missouri, or the company might be out of business. This kind of checking can give you a clue so you can question the patron further and more intelligently while she is still at the library.

It is a good idea to be able to instruct patrons on how they can use the directory assistance service themselves to find out this kind of information. Instructions are in the front of the telephone book.

Don't forget that you can also get directory assistance for foreign telephone numbers and for 800 (toll free) numbers.


Most yellow pages have a special listing of organizations under "Associations," "Business and Trade Organizations," "Clubs," "Social Service and Welfare Organizations" and similar headings.

Complete the Telephone Directories Practice Questions.

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This page was last updated on March 11, 2003.