Wednesday, January 12, 2011


After working in the library for almost 2 years, I have written down literally thousands upon thousands of ISBNs for books. After a while I noticed that books from the same country or from the same publisher had similar ISBNs. This made me curious, so I did a little research last year and found out how books are assigned their respective ISBN. It's kind of neat.

Here is how the number is broken out:

It's always 13 numbers long. The first three digits are always 978. I'm not sure why. Sometimes people leave off this prefix to have a 10 digit ISBN, but that practice is being phased out. The next section codes for the language the book is written in. The third section is the publisher, the fourth is the title (assigned by the publisher), and, finally, the last digit is the check digit.

The language number is kind of neat:

Here are the numbers that are assigned in the language section. The only things I've personally ordered with a language code of 4 are some comics for the Sampler section of the library. I guess there's not a lot of demand for other Japanese stuff...

Now let's look at the check digit.

The check digit is just a complicated math formula to make sure you didn't mix up your numbers when you wrote them down. You multiply the numbers by either a 1 or 3, add them all up, divide by 10, subtract the remainder from 10, and there's your digit. If the number is 10, then just write a 0.

If you don't want to do all the math, you can just use this website, which does it all for you. I use this quite often because people don't realize that the check digit changes when you add then "978" prefix to the ISBN.


Katie said...

This is really fascinating. And it's almost strange and surprising to know that there's a method to the madness, but I guess it makes more sense for there to be a system than for there NOT to be a system.

Also, that math equation boggles my mind a little.

Katie said...

P.S. When did you write this? I never saw you working on it. Maybe I was too wrapped up in HP.

Bryan Lewis said...

I wrote it during a break I had in between classes yesterday. It didn't take too long because I didn't have to look much up or anything...

Katie said...

Also, I'm glad you didn't call it an "ISBN number."