Thursday, August 10, 2006

The ISBN Gets Bigger

I don't know about you, but when I'm entering books into my LibraryThing catalog, I always use the ISBN if the book has one. Sure, you can search by title. But I'm so anal, I have to be sure I'm entering the exact edition.

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. The ISBN is "a 10-digit number that uniquely identifies books and book-like products published internationally" according to -- who else? -- the U.S. ISBN Agency. The fine folks over at Wikepedia informed me that the ISBN system was started in the U.K. in 1966. Most standard 10-digit ISBNs follow this format:
  • a single digit to identify the country of origin
  • a three-digit number to identify the publisher
  • a five-digit number to identify the exact title
  • a single digit checksum character.

I first learned about ISBNs when I worked in a bookstore during college. After looking up so many titles, I actually started to recognize the publisher codes. Fortunately, my brain has now been filled with other, more useful pieces of information.

Two things I didn't know until today: there is a fee to obtain an ISBN. And starting January 1, 2007, ISBNs will expand to 13 digits.

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