Recently, I had to apply for an ISBN number – in France. It proved to be an interesting experience, although my first attempt was successful, so my understanding and completion of the form was obviously correct. Here in France, where literature and writers are highly valued, ISBN are distributed free. In other countries, including the UK, where the registration of ISBNs is managed by a private company, in the UK’s case Nielsen, there is a charge. As I mentioned in a previous blog post about citing books, an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a ten or thirteen digit number that identifies a specific book. ISBN numbers have been in use since the 1970s and most books carry one.
Journals – ISSN numbers
Another medium that is often cited in academic works is a journal, or a specific article in a journal. A great deal of importance is placed on the publication of peer-reviewed research. How does a journal differ from a book? Basically, a book is single publication although there may be a series of volumes, or several subsequent editions and revisions. A journal is a serial publication, ie. it appears in parts. These can range from regular weekly or monthly publications to annual or irregular editions. In terms of academic journals, these normally comprise peer-reviewed scholarly articles written by a number of different contributors.
There are a number of codes that can help in identification. Whilst a book will always carry an ISBN number, journals – or serial publications – have their own form of identification: an ISSN number. This is an eight digit International Standard Serial Number which identifies the specific volume in a series. Note that a journal will have different ISSN numbers for online and print versions. Also, the ISSN number refers only to the volume, which may contain several different articles. I was interested to discover that the headquarters for ISSN is based in Paris, in an international project coordinated by UNESCO and the French government. At the end of 2016 their database held just under 2 million items.
Another term that you may have come across is the DOI number. The Digital Object Identifier is a set of unique numbers conforming to an international standard – ISO 26324:2012. Some 133 million DOI have been issued since the international management of this identification system began in 2000. The objective is that the reference number should be permanent and unambiguous. Many academic articles and government reports use DOI numbers, but it is not restricted to the written word, many types of information including software and videos can be allocated a DOI number to enable the specific piece of work, or even a small element within that work, to be identified.
Some citation styles permit or encourage the use of DOI numbers in preference to a website address URL. It’s certainly shorter! The format for citation is – doi: 10.1234.567. Of this string of numbers, the ’10.’ denotes that it is a doi handle, the next four digits, the prefix, identify the registrant. That is the body managing the allocation of this particular doi. The final three digits after the slash are known as the suffix and these are allocated by the registering body to the specific work being identified.
So, now you know the basics of these three numerical referencing systems. It should be possible to use just the number to identify the work when searching online libraries, and indeed, often just a good old Google search.