ISBN/ISSN Knowledge for Publishers/Authors/Researchers


The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) are unique codes assigned to books and serials respectively to identify and distinguish one of each type of publication from others to enhance book trade and supply.

ISBN applies to textbooks/monographs, while ISSN applies to series. Therefore, every textbook/serial published in every country is expected to bear the codes. This is in line with the international standards on publishing and book trade.

Accordingly, every publisher/author must obtain the codes for new publications from the National Agency for ISBN and National Centre for ISSN.

The international publishing standards also cover Catalogue-In-Publication (CIP) data for forthcoming books, and submission of legal deposit materials which are then published as a National Bibliography yearly, e.g. National Bibliography of Nigeria.

The need to ensure availability for reading/constitution of every book and every serial publication in the global village, as well as compliance with global publishing standards, has brought about bibliographic control services by the National Bibliographic Agency, e.g The National Library of Nigeria in Nigeria.

The apex library performs bibliographic control functions which include the allocation of ISBN and ISSN to Nigerian publishers for their various titles. There is also the International Standard Music Number (ISMN) program which will commence in the country before long.

History of the ISBN and ISSN Systems

The ISBN system has its origin in the book numbering system introduced in the United Kingdom in 1967 and the United States in 1968 following a suggestion by Professor Gordon Foster of the Trinity College, Dublin of the need to introduce a numbering system for the book trade given the benefits accruing to all parties.

He is reported to have created a 9-digit Standard Book Numbering Code.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) later developed an interest in it leading to the emergency of ISO recommendation 2108 which set out principles and procedures for International Standard Book numbering.

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Hence, 10 digits ISBN was developed and published in 1970. The ISBN standard is under the control of ISO Technical Committee 46/Subcommittee 9 TC 46/SC 9. The ISBN International Agency, originally situated in Berlin, now operates from London.

It implements and manages the ISBN system worldwide thereby ensuring its universal application. It has the functions of allocation of group identifiers, updating, and publishing assigned group numbers, and rendering advice to group agencies on the use of ISBN.

Similarly, the ISSBN network, according to Nwosu (2005) was started by R.R. Bowker Company, which assigned ISSN to a large number of serials published throughout the world and listed in Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory, Irregular Serials and Annuals, an International Directory and New Serials Data titles cumulation 1950-1970.

UNESCO developed an interest in it and consequently, in 1974, the ISSN network originally known as International Serials Data System (ISDS) was established under the framework of UNESCO’s World Science International Program(UNISIST).

The ISSN system was first drafted as an ISO 3297 in 1975. The International Centre in Paris commenced the implementation of the program which became officially established in January 1976. The International Centre is responsible for the implementation and management of the ISSN system worldwide.

Format of ISBN

ISBN is currently made up of 13 digits quoted in five parts and separated by a hyphen or space. Every volume or edition of a book must carry a different ISBN.

The format is as follows:

  • 3-digit EAN 978 product code (Book Industry)
  • Country Identifier (Identifies National, Geographic Groups)
  • Publisher Identifier (Identifies a particular publisher which can be government, educational institutions, commercial and private individuals)
  • Title Identifier – Identifies editions of a particular title)
  • Check digit. A single digit at the end of the ISBN provides an automatic check on the correctness of the ISSBN, e. g. the book titled Book Publishing And The Reading Culture in Nigeria. ISBN – 978-978-8196-09-9
  • 978 – Te 3-digit EAN 978 product code for the book
  • 978 – Country identifier – Nigeria
  • 8196 – Publishers identifier – Manifold Grace Publisher
  • 09 – Title identifier – Book Publishing and Reading Culture in Nigeria
  • 9 – Check the digit
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Change in the Format of ISBN

The ISBN originally started with ten digits. The revision in the structure from ten to thirteen digits took effect on the 1st of January, 2007. This was done to increase the numbering capacity. The EAN Prefix 978 was added to the existing digits. This was necessitated by expansion in the publishing industry leading to the proliferation of books with the numbering capacity being used at a faster rate than was originally envisaged (Abiola, 2008)

Publishers that still have ten (10) digits are expected to get it converted to thirteen (13) digits for them by the ISBN Agency in the National Library of Nigeria, the role issuing authority.

However, the ISBN and barcode already represent EAN 13 which is compatible with the 13 digits ISBN. Following the change in the structure, multi-lingual conversion software was made available to all National Agencies to ensure the conversion of the old format to a thirteen (13) digits structure.

Modus Operandi

The ISBN system has been in operation for four decades with the International Agency in London.

Each National Agency is allocated various ranges of ISBN by the International Agency with metadata on a spreadsheet of the utilized ISBN for updating the International Publishers’ Directory.

Before January 2007 as earlier stated, the ISBN supplied to all National Agencies was ten (10) digit format.

Scope of Use

ISBN is applicable applies to both print and electronic bibliographic resources. According to ISO, the book on which ISB should be assigned includes printed books, pamphlets, microfilm, publication, Braille publication, mixed media publication, and machine-readable tapes.

Location of ISBN on Publication

The ISBN, once assigned, must be printed in a conspicuous place in the book and in large fonts to be easily seen. It must start with the acronym ISBN, followed by thirteen (13) digits in five parts separated preferably by a hyphen. It can be printed on:

  • Reverse of the title
  • Base of the title
  • Base of the spine
  • The back cover
  • The back of the dust jacket and on the back of any other productive case or wrapper.
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ISBN Agency in Nigeria

Nigeria joined the ISBN system in 1974 with the setting up of the ISBN Agency in the National Bibliographical Control Department of the National Library of Nigeria. It is the sole issuing authority for ISBN.

The National Agency in Berlin and country identifier of “978” was allocated to Nigeria. The use of ISBN has continued to gain prominence in the country through the efforts of the foremost library.

To further enhance the use of ISBN, a miscellaneous identifier was devised for “Author-publishers” in 1997. Author-publishers refer to persons who would like to publish their works by themselves without going through commercial publishers.

The Agency recognizes them ad set aside a miscellaneous publisher prefix for them. However, Author-Publisher is not expected to state “published” but “author-publisher followed by a full address on the copyright page which usually contains information about the publisher.

National Library of Nigeria as the National Bibliographic Agency is entitled to receive copies of any published works in the country, i.e. three, ten, and twenty-five copies of any newly published works from private, state, and federal government agencies respectively within one month of publication at their own expense (Decree 29 of 1970).

Failure to comply with the law by any publisher attracts a penalty fee. It also serves as a requirement for additional ISBN for new publications. Other functions of ISBN Agency are as follows:

  • Promoting participation in the system within Nigeria
  • Maintaining a register of publishers on which the publication of the Publishers’ Directory is based
  • Assisting the book industry in the use of ISBN in the computer system.

Author: Salawu Bashiru


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