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ISBN and ISSN Systems

ALA Library Fact Sheet Number 28




The ISBN is a unique machine-readable identification number, which marks any book unmistakably.  Its purpose 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 published or produced by a specific publisher or producer.  According to the article "How to Obtain an ISBN," written by Don Riseborough, Senior Managing Editor of the United States ISBN Agency, and published in the 2004 (49th edition) Bowker Annual: Library and Book Trade Almanac (pages 551-554), the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) system began in the United Kingdom in 1967 and was introduced into the United States by the R.R. Bowker Company in 1968.  ISBNs are now used in nearly 160 countries worldwide.


Each ISBN consists of ten digits separated into the following parts:


  • Group identifier (national, geographic, language, or other convenient group)
  • Publisher or producer identifier
  • Title identifier
  • Check digit


Beginning in 2005, the U.S. publishing industry will begin to make the transition to 13-digit ISBNs, which will conform to the general EAN-13 standard for product identifiers, and allow U.S. books to be sold through all channels – both booksellers and general merchants – using a single identifier.  Existing 10-digit numbers will be adapted to the new system by means of a standard prefix.  The implementation date for assigning new 13-digit ISBNs to product will be January 1, 2007.  For more information on ISBN-13, see, ISBN-13 For Dummies®, Special Edition at:


Administration of the ISBN system is carried out through the International ISBN Agency in Berlin, Germany; the national agencies; and the publishing houses themselves. In the U.S., the U.S. ISBN Agency and the publisher assign ISBNs.  There are standards governing printing of ISBN numbers of materials and the printing of the ISBN in Machine-Readable Coding.


For an U.S. ISBN application form and additional information, contact


U.S. ISBN Agency

630 Central Avenue

New Providence, NJ 07974

Tel: 877-310-7333

Fax: 908-219-0188







According to the article "How to Obtain an ISSN," by the National Serials Data Program, Library of Congress, and published in the 2004 (49th edition) Bowker Annual: Library and Book Trade Almanac (pages 555-556), the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) is the internally accepted code for identifying serial publications.  It is an international standard, ISO 3297, and a U.S. standard, ANSI/NISO Z39.9. The ISSN consists of two groups of four digits in Arabic numerals 0 to 9, except for the last (or check) digit, which can be an X.  The two groups of four numbers are separated by a hyphen and preceded by the letters ISSN.


In the United States, the National Serials Data Program at the Library of Congress is responsible for assigning and maintaining ISSNs for all U.S. serial titles.  To request an ISSN number, publishers can either request or fill out an application form or send a current issue of the publication to the program and ask for an assignment.  Assignment of the ISSN is free and there is no charge for its use.  In recent years, the ISSN has been incorporated into bar codes for optical recognition of serial publications and into the standards for identification of issues and articles in such publications.  Copyright centers, subscription agencies, and libraries all use ISSN numbers to track serial titles.


For further information about the ISSN or ISSN assignment, U.S. libraries and publishers should contact:


National Serials Data Program

Library of Congress

Washington, DC 20540-4160

Tel: 202-707-6452

Fax: 202-707-6333





Non-U.S. parties should contact:


ISSN International Centre

20, rue Bachaumont

75002 Paris, France

Tel: +33 (0)1 44 88 22 20   

Fax: +33 (0)1 40 26 32 43





For a summary explanation of the various book industry identifiers, see Roadmap of Identifiers, Including an Explanation of Identifiers, Version 2.0, April 2005, prepared by the Book Industry Study Group, Inc., at


June 2005



For more information on this or other fact sheets, contact the ALA Library Reference Desk by telephone: 800-545-2433, extension 2153; fax: 312-280-3255; e-mail:; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795.