Looking for a book? How the ISO affects our studies

Founded on 23 February 1947, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has served to coordinate and unify standards globally. In the past 71 years, the ISO has developed and continues to update over 22 000 standards.[1] You may ask why this is important to students. The unique codes assigned to books and journals that we read on a regular basis were developed by this organization and makes identifying sources that much easier.

The unique identifier of a book is an ISBN, perhaps you have used one to make sure you order the right textbook online. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number, if ever you’re looking for its documentation, you can find it as ISO 2108 online.[2] The ISO created the International ISBN Agency to monitor and review the standard. Essentially, the make the rules for how to construct an ISBN and what it can be used for. This information is passed on to country-level organizations who actually provide a publisher with an ISBN for a specific edition, or even a chapter in a book.[3] Any book published since 2007 uses a 13 number ISBN.

Unlike the ISBN, the ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) does not contain any information about country or the publisher. The 8-digit code is simply a unique number to identify all elements of a serial publication. So long as it is being published, the series uses the same number. ISSN’s were first released in 1975 as ISO 3297, the most current version, like the ISBN, is from 2017. ISSN’s are used for publications which are published on a regular basis with definitive end date (i.e. a periodical not a multivolume work). All national ISSN info is sent to and managed by the ISSN International Centre.[4]

A more recent addition to the publication identification family is ISO 26324 which was passed in 2012.[5] This standard created the Digital Object Identifier (DOI). Unlike the ISBN and ISSN, DOIs are not assigned by government, rather they are assigned by independent agencies.[6] DOIs are used to identify individual articles within volumes and issues of a journal which has an ISSN. Sometimes, DOIs are included in citations to make sure that an article can easily be identified and found.

Overall, the ISO’s work is an interesting example of international cooperation which is often overlooked. When thinking about international organizations, the United Nations, World Trade Organization, and others come to mind first. However, without the ISO many regulations would not be compatible across borders or may not exist. As students, their work allows us to easily identify references, but as people it helps to create standards for many aspects of our lives, from food to technology to the environment and healthcare.[7]


[1] https://www.isbn-international.org/content/iso-turns-70-years-old

[2] https://www.iso.org/standard/65483.html

[3] https://www.isbn-international.org/content/what-isbn

[4] http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/services/issn-canada/Pages/issn-canada.aspx

[5] https://www.isj-editors.org/?page_id=486

[6] http://www.doi.org/registration_agencies.html

[7] https://www.iso.org/about-us.html

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