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International Standard Numbers (ISNs)

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About ISSN

Definition of a Serial

A "serial" is a publication, in any medium, issued in successive parts and intended to be continued indefinitely. This definition includes periodicals, newspapers, annuals (reports, yearbooks, directories, etc.), journals, memoirs, proceedings, transactions of societies, monographic series, and unnumbered series. The definition does not include multivolume sets made up of a finite number of parts, even if all parts are not issued simultaneously.

Origin of the ISSN

Serials, by their very nature, are often subject to changes in title, frequency and format. This fact, together with the vast growth in publishing throughout the world, has necessitated a standard method to identify serials.

Increasingly, libraries, publishers and distributors are turning to computers to cope with the size and complexity of the growing output of publications. The exchange of information about serials between different automated systems demanded a standard numeric code, internationally used.

In 1971, a draft International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard for the creation of International Standard Serial Numbers (ISSN) was written. The ISSN program is within the framework of UNESCO's world science information program (UNISIST). ISSN is a two-tier network, with an International Centre in Paris and national or regional centres in individual member countries. The International Centre records and publishes data supplied by national or regional centres.

In 1973, the National Library of Canada was designated the national centre for Canada. As a result the Library created ISSN Canada, which is responsible for numbering all serials published in Canada and for recording the required bibliographic data. This information is forwarded to the International Centre in Paris for registration in its central database.

Advantages of the ISSN

The ISSN should be as basic to a serial as its title. The advantages of an ISSN are many.

  • An ISSN can identify a title regardless of its language or country of origin. This is possible because each serial is assigned a unique and non-transferable number according to a standard scheme that has been internationally adopted.

  • An ISSN provides an efficient and economical method of communication between publishers and suppliers.

  • An ISSN is an essential element of the SISAC and EAN bar codes.

  • An ISSN is used in libraries for identifying titles, ordering and checking in serials, and claiming missing issues.

  • An ISSN simplifies interlibrary loan systems and union catalogue reporting and listing.

  • An ISSN, employed as a standard numeric identification code, can be used in computers for updating and linking files, and retrieving and transmitting data.

Construction of an ISSN

An ISSN consists of eight digits, the first seven being a unique title number and the eighth, a computer check digit. This check digit guards against the computer accepting an incorrectly transcribed ISSN.

To avoid confusion with other numbering systems, an ISSN is preceded by the letters ISSN, e.g. ISSN 0027-9633. The numbers serve only to identify a serial uniquely.

For each serial assigned an ISSN, there is a corresponding key title. This key title is a commonly acceptable form of title, established at the time of the ISSN assignment. It is formulated by the responsible national centre, according to standard ISSN rules, from information appearing on the serial.

Because the ISSN identifies only one title, the ISSN must change when the title changes. When a title ceases to be published, the ISSN assigned to that serial's title must never be reused.

Canadian publishers are requested to notify ISSN Canada of any pending title change, and to avoid printing an old ISSN on a new title.

Location of an ISSN

The ISSN should appear in a prominent position on all issues of a serial publication. For serials distributed on the Internet and World Wide Web, the ISSN should appear on the first screen of the item. For printed serials, the preferred location for the ISSN is the top right-hand corner of the front cover. It should always be preceded by the letters ISSN. When an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is also applicable, usually for monographic series, the two numbers should appear together, each preceded by its own prefix of letters. The ISSN should be quoted on all descriptive and promotional literature regarding the serial.

International Standard Serial Numbers in Canada

ISSN Canada began registering Canadian serials in January 1974. All new serials received by Library and Archives Canada are automatically registered. To help us in assigning ISSN to continuing publications and to new or changed serials, publishers are requested to send details, including, if possible, photocopies or page proofs of title page and cover, to ISSN Canada.

Online application for an ISSN is also available.

Information about serials registered throughout the ISSN network is published in the ISSN Register, available on the Web (ISSN Portal) from the ISSN International Centre, 45, rue de Turbigo, 75003 Paris, France www.issn.org.

All other correspondence and enquiries regarding ISSN should be addressed to:

ISSN Canada
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON   K1A 0N4
Telephone: 819-994-6895 or 1-866-578-7777 (toll free in Canada and the US)
Fax: 819-997-6209
E-mail: issn@bac-lac.gc.ca

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