Australian ISSN Agency: 40 years old and still going strong

Australian ISSN Agency: 40 years old and still going strong
Wishing ISSN a happy 40th birthday
5 May 2015

2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the ISSN Network and, like so many 40 year olds it is reflecting on life so far.   

What is ISSN anyway?

ISSN—or International Standard Serial Number—is an eight digit code that uniquely identifies newspapers, journals, magazines and periodicals, regardless of county of origin or content.

The first seven numbers represent the title of the serial and the eighth is a computer check digit. The check digit acts as a guard against computers accepting an incorrectly transcribed ISSN. 

To avoid confusion with other number systems, an ISSN is preceded by the letters ISSN and appears as two groups of four digits separated by a hyphen.

If you are wondering why we need a code to identify serials, just think how many newsletters are called The Bulletin. In fact, many newspapers, magazines or newsletters have the same or similar titles. Similarly, serials also have a habit of changing their title and the ISSN provides a way of linking one to another. Do you remember when Limelight was called 24 Hours, and before that it was Australian Listener, and before that it was 24 Hours?

Maggie Diaz (1925–), Newspaper seller, Melbourne, ca. 1965, nla.pic-vn6000897

The early years

In 1971, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard for the creation of International Standard Serial Numbers (ISSN) was drafted. This International Standard was officially published in 1975 as ISO 3297. In 1972 the French Government signed a provisional agreement with UNESCO to create the ISSN International Centre to manage an International Serials Data System (ISDS). 

The agreement was formalised in 1974 and the ISSN International Centre was created in Paris. The ISSN Network was formally established in 1975 and The ISSN International Centre opened in Paris in 1976.

ISSN is a two tiered system with the International Centre supported by National Centres around the world. Today there are 88 national centres, including Australia.

The Australian ISSN Agency

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

Australia’s first ISSN

The first Australian ISSN assigned was in 1973 to the Australian Gem & Minerals FossickerISSN 0310-0006—published in the small town of Kenmore, Queensland by Henry Publishing. It was a magazine for “people everywhere young or old, with or without families, to take an active part in a fast-growing, Australia-wide interest already enjoyed by thousands of people who love to fossick”. Fossicking, the pass-time of hunting for gold and precious stones, is still a popular activity in Australia, however this serial appears to have enjoyed a limited print run between 1974 and 1975. All known issues are held in the National Library’s collection. 

Australian Gem & Minerals Fossicker received the first Australian ISSN in 1973

Paper to electronic

In those early days the registration process was managed manually, with handwritten ledgers to record the numbers and photocopied contents pages mailed to the International Centre.

First Australian ISSN Agency ledger

Today, the process is much simpler. ISSN records are entered directly onto our catalogue as soon as a number is assigned to a publisher.  When the serial title is received under legal deposit the number is then registered and the record upgraded. Having the entire process managed in a single catalogue record allows us to use this as the basis for identifying and claiming serials that have been assigned an ISSN but have not been received by the National Library.

Each year the Australian ISSN Agency allocates an average of 1,075 ISSNs to new serials and registers approximately 1,900 numbers with the International Centre. As of 2013 the Australian Agency contributed a total of 51,628 records to the international register making us the sixth highest individual country contributor, behind Canada, France, Germany, UK and US. 

If life begins at 40, the Australian ISSN Agency looks forward to many more years providing ISSNs to Australian serials.