Usefulness of ISBN/ISSN Systems to Authors/Publishers


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.

ISSN Systems

ISO3297-1975(E) Standard (ISSN) defines a serial as a publication in any medium, made in successive parts normally having numerical or chronological designations and intended to be continued indefinitely (e.g. Vol. No1).

Serials include periodicals, journals, magazines, electronic journals, ongoing directories, annuals, (reports, yearbooks, directories) newspapers, monographic series, and ongoing integrating resources such as loose-leaf publications, which are continually updated, e.g. online databases and e-databases.

However, various versions of ISSNs like ISBN carry different ISSNs. Therefore International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) is a unique code for the identification of a serial publication, print or electronic.

ISSN code is used b Publishers for easy identification of their serial publications and to incorporate a barcode on them for sale via the major retailers.

Libraries use the ISSN as a fundamental identifier for distinguishing between identical serial titles, and for facilitating checking and ordering procedures, collection management, legal deposit, interlibrary loans, etc.

Catalogue databases use the ISSN as a record control number and can make use of the records on the ISSN register.

Documentation centres which handle bibliographic references use the ISSN for more accurate serials citation, abstracting and indexing services, etc; Subscription agencies that act as intermediaries between publishers and their customers use the ISSN to ensure that the correct serial publication is ordered.

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Academics use it to cite full details of publications for research purposes; Retailers/Wholesalers use ISSN-based barcodes within their internal systems to assess and control magazine/newspaper circulation.

The Structure of ISSN

ISSN consists of eight digits code quoted in two groups of four digits separated by a hyphen and preceded by the acronym ISSN, e. g. ISSN 03310000.

The check digit located at the extreme right position is to guard against errors caused by the incorrect transcription of an ISSN. When ISSN is assigned to a serial, a corresponding bibliographic record is simultaneously created to avoid confusion.

The ISSN is inseparably linked to a standardized form of the identified serial known as “key title” to avoid duplication. The ISSN and the key title are equivalent.

ISSN Centre in Nigeria

ISSN National Centres are mainly located in the National Libraries. This is because they appear to satisfy the criteria for determining the choice of a centre for the work, i.e. having access to all new serials published in the country either through legal deposit or through connections with the National Bibliography.

National Centres perform the major function of identification and assignment of serially published in their countries. They also engage in the promotion of the system through advertisement.

Nigeria joined the ISSN network in 1976. The nation’s ISSN Centre originally known as Nigerian National Serials Data Centre (NNSDC) was established in the National Library of Nigeria.

The Centre (NNSDC) was established in the National Library of Nigeria. The Centre performs the under-listed functions:

  • Registration of Nigerian serials which implies an identification of a particular serial title and assigning to it an ISSN that is linked to the key title, and preparing a record containing the required bibliographic and subject information which is submitted to the International Centre for an update of the international files.
  • Promoting the use of ISSN in Nigeria through advertisements and seminars/workshops
  • Building and maintenance of a National file of ISSN records
  • Championing national programmes, concerning serials such as publishing the National Union List of Serials (NULOS)
  • Maintenance of Loan ISSN databases

Location of ISSN on Serial Publication

The most preferred location of ISSN o a serial is the upper-right-hand corner of the cover. Another preferred location is on the copyright page.

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How to Obtain ISSN

  • Having a maiden issue (Vol. 1 N0 1) is a prerequisite for obtaining ISSN. This is to ascertain the real existence of a serial publication and to ensure its continuity.
  • Verification of the title from the National Centre to be sure that it is not already used to avoid duplication


Since the ISBN ad ISSN concern publishers of books, it is not our place to examine the role expected of publishers in the administration of ISBN and ISSN.

A publisher for ISBN and ISSN administration is defined as any person, company partnership, association, group or body of any kind whatsoever, issuing and publishing books and pamphlets (Adio, 2005)

Publishers are of various categories. The publishing output determines the extent of ISBN allocation, e.g.

  • Block of Ten (10) (978-978-45545-7-6
  • Block of Hundred (100) -978-978-4549-29-7
  • Block of One Thousand (1000)-978-978-930-725-4

Furthermore, the smaller the publishing output, the longer the publisher identifier and the shorter the title identifier.

ISBN (Single) is also issued to those who require less than 10 blocks, i.e. one or two books including author-publishers thus 978-978-931-868-1.

The form of ISBN (Single) is similar to that of 1000 blocks, simply because the requests for a single ISBN are usually met from blocks of 1000 generated for that purpose.

The Role of Publishers

  • Publishers are responsible for obtaining ISBN and ISSN from the National Agency and National Centre respectively with full information on the backlist of their books and publishing outputs.
  • Obtaining computer printouts of ISBN and ISSN from National Agency and National Centre
  • Responsible for administering the numbering of their publications and maintaining a register of ISBN and ISSN that have been published.
  • Ensuring strict adherence to the guidelines in assigning ISBN and ISSN and informing the sole issuing authorities about invalid and wrong applications of the ISBN and ISSN.

Difference between ISBN and ISSN

The two systems are, to some extent, complementary and can be used in the same publication, such as monographic series and manuals. However, there are several differences as stated below.

  • A fundamental difference is that while ISBN identifies a publisher of a specific book, ISSN does not and is not linked to ownership.
  • The ISBN must be used on a single volume or edition ad versions of a title, i. e. hardcover and softcover, a specific title within a monographic series or a specific directory or yearbook, while ISSN identifies the title of a serial publication which remains constant for all volumes.
  • The ISBN is a thirteen-digit structure quoted in five parts while ISSN is an eight-digit structure quoted in two parts.
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Importance of ISSN and ISBN

  • Foster easy identification ad retrieval of every bibliographic material in the global village and thus enhance the effectiveness of the concept of Universal Bibliographic Control (UBC) aimed at Universal Availability of Publications (UAP)
  • They uniquely distinguish a title or edition of a monograph, and only the title of a serial from another even when the works bear identical titles or treat the same subject matter.
  • Enhance worldwide ordering and distribution system as ISBN facilitates the publication of publishers’ ISBN Directory for easy contact with book vendors and publishers for the acquisition of books.
  • Useful in authenticating a country’s intellectual output.
  • Useful in the creation of Union Catalogue and Union List of Serials which promote an inter-library loan system.
  • Contributes to the effectiveness of book trade and supply nationally and globally. Marketers prefer to deal in books with ISBN and ISSN since the mere quoting of the two codes especially ISSN without other details of a publisher in a book transaction will sometimes suffice.
  • Useful in the creation of other reference tools such as Books-in-Print, National Bibliography, etc. all of which create awareness and knowledge of and easy accessibility to various available bibliographic resources in all branches of knowledge.
  • Enhances library functions of education, information and recreation. The knowledge of the availability of these various materials in various fields of knowledge makes the task of acquisition of books for consultation and utilization much easier.

Way out

Publishers and authors must guard against errors as they can hurt publishing and the book trade.

The sole issuing authorities of the two codes are the ISBN Agency and ISSN Centre in the National Bibliographic Control Department of the National Library of Nigeria. Publishers must obtain them directly from the apex library.

Author: Salawu Bashiru

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