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Cell Phone Directory
Moscow phone book, 1930.
Moscow phone book, 1930.
Polish phone book, 1948.

Polish phone book, 1948.


In telephony, a telephone directory (also called a telephone book and phonebook) is a listing of telephone subscribers in a geographical area or subscribers to services provided by the organisation that publishes the directory.

Subscriber names are generally listed in alphabetical order, together with their postal or street address and telephone number. Every subscriber in the geographical coverage area is usually listed, but some subscribers can request the exclusion of their number from the directory. Their number is then said to be "unlisted" (American English), "ex-directory" (British English) or "private" (Australia and New Zealand).

In the case of unlisted numbers, practices as to Caller-ID vary by jurisdiction. Sometimes, the Caller-ID on outbound calls is blank; in other jurisdictions, unlisted numbers still show unless the caller dials a blocking code; in still others, the customer must pay a fee for automatic blocking.

Under current rules and practices, cell phone and Voice over IP listings are not included in telephone directories. Efforts to create cellular directories have met stiff opposition from several fronts, including a significant percentage of subscribers who seek to avoid telemarketers.

In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (in Feist v. Rural) that telephone companies do not have a copyright on telephone listings, because copyright protects creativity and not the mere labor of collecting existing information. Within the geographical reach of the Court, the Feist ruling has resulted in the availability of many innovative telephone directory services on CD-ROM and the World Wide Web.



Telephone directories can be published in hard copy or in electronic form. In the latter case, the directory can be provided as an online service through proprietary terminals or over the Internet, or on physical media like CD-ROM.

In France, the Minitel videotex system originated as an attempt by France Télécom to rid itself of its paper publishing costs by forcing all telephone users to use Minitel terminals instead.

In Switzerland, a few payphones are now accompanied with electronic telephone directory terminals instead of paper directories, and phone users are charged for each search.



A telephone directory may also be called a phone book or may be known by the colour of the paper it is printed on.

  • White pages generally indicates personal or alphabetic listings.
  • Yellow pages, sometimes called the A2Z, generally indicates a business directory classified by business type or services provided, almost always with paid advertising.
  • Black pages, sometimes called a "reverse telephone directory".
  • Other colours may have other meanings, depending on a country's customs. Information on government agencies is often printed on blue or green pages.


Ancillary content

A telephone directory may also provide instructions about how to use the telephone service in the local area, may give important numbers for emergency services, utilities, hospitals, doctors, and organisations who can provide support in times of personal crisis. It may also have civil defence or emergency management information. There may be transit maps, postal code guides, or stadium seating charts, as well as advertising.



The first telephone directory, consisting of a single page, was issued on February 21, 1878. It covered 50 subscribers in New Haven, Connecticut. The Reuben H. Donnelly company asserts that it published the first classified directory, or yellow pages, for Chicago, Illinois, in 1886. The first British telephone directory was published in 1880.


Reverse directories

A reverse telephone directory, reverse directory, or criss-cross directory, is a telephone directory in which the entries are in order by address (first by city, then by street, then by house number), and were used to find out the name of a subscriber with a particular address or to find the neighbors of a particular address. They were fairly common until the 1960s as a separately published book, or sometimes included at the back of the regular telephone directory with each section on a different colour paper. Printed reverse directories have become less common with the availability of telephone databases on CD-ROM and on the Internet with advanced searching features.

They are not well known to the general public since they have generally been available on a limited basis to telephone companies or government officials, although genealogists and private investigators know which public libraries have them in their collection. In addition, some telephone companies have made the information generally available through little known services, such as the "2080 service" in Chicago (now discontinued), where a call to the exchange and the number 2080 produced an operator who would give the name and address of any other number in that exchange. But such services remain online.

Instead of looking up a number, a call to directory assistance (4-1-1 in the NANP) will give the same results if a book is not available. However, there is usually a significant charge for this.

In the United Kingdom, Ireland and many other countries it is illegal to perform a reverse lookup from a phone number, although some companies have attempted to sell reverse directories. CD-ROM telephone directories supplied by telephone operators are now sold in an encrypted format that allows only lookups from a name and address.

In Jersey, the local paper phone book has a form of reverse directory with the phone number and then the name and address, for example:

  • 712345 – Mr A Smith, 1 Any Street, St, Helier
  • 712346 – Mrs B Johnson, 2 Any Street, St Helier

It exists after the regular directory in the phone book.

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