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ISBN and ISSN Systems: History

Explanations and resources for ISBNs and ISSNs.

ISBN History

W. H. Smith (the largest single book retailer in Great Britain), the British Publishers Association's Distribution and Methods Committee and other experts in the U.K. book trade devised the Standard Book Numbering (SBN) system in 1966 and it was implemented in 1967. At the same time, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee on Documentation (TC 46) set up a working party to investigate the possibility of adapting the British SBN for international use. As a result, the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) was approved as an ISO standard in 1970, and became ISO 2108. 

That original standard has been revised as book and book-like content appeared in new forms of media, but the basic structure of the ISBN as defined in that standard has not changed and is in use today in more than 200 countries. Today the ISBN Agencies around the world are administered by the International ISBN Agency, located in London, UK.

The purpose of the ISBN is to coordinate and standardize the use of identifying numbers so that each ISBN is unique to a title, edition of a book, or monographic publication -- braille, microform, and electronic publications, as well as audiobooks, educational/instructional videos/DVDs and software -- published or produced by a specific publisher or producer.

ISSN History

The various and constant changes to which serials are subject, combined with the large growth in the world's publishing output, prompted the development of a standard (ISO 3297-1975; ANSI Z39.9-1979) for the identification of serials: the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN).

The International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) was developed in the early 1970s to enable identification of serial publications at the international level. It was prompted by the various and constant changes to which serials are subject, combined with the large growth in the world's publishing output. Administration is coordinated through the ISSN Network, an international intergovernmental organization within the UNESCO/UNISIST program.

The ISSN is a U.S. standard, ANSI/NISO Z39.9, and an international standard, recently updated to ISO 3297: 2007. This 2007 ISSN standard adds the Linking ISSN (ISSN-L), which works within several established electronic information systems to link various media versions (print, online, CD-ROM) of a single title together, allowing for fully complete media records of an individual serial resource. Linking ISSNs are preceded by the letters ISSN-L.