How to Read ISBN Numbers

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An ISBN number is an International Standard Book Number. The ISBN is a unique identifying number for published books, cassettes, videos, DVDs and software. The ISBN identifies the publisher, the region where the publisher is located and the work that is published. An ISBN for a publication prior to 2007 would be a 10-digit number with four parts. Since 2007 the IBSN has 13 digits with five parts. The three-digit prefix in the 13-digit ISBN distinguishes the number from a Global Trade Item Number or Universal Product Code. The ISBN is printed on the product in both numerical and bar code formats.

Isolate an ISBN to examine. For example, here are two ISBNs from “Ho'opilipili 'Olelo: Hawaiian Language Crossword Puzzles”: 0824821009 and 978-0824821005. Note that this book has both the 10-digit and 13-digit ISBN formats. The change to the 13 digits by ISO expanded the global ISBN numbering capacity. It also allows the ISBNs to harmonize with Global Trade Item Numbers (GTIN), also known as the Universal Product Code (UPC) in North America.

Look at the 10-digit ISBN: 0824821009 or 0-824821-00-9. The zero signifies this book was published in an English-speaking country. The next six numbers -824821- are the publisher's identifying number. A block of ISBNs are assigned to a publisher and number will change according to which block is used. The publisher assigned the next two numbers -00- to "Ho'opilipili 'Olelo." The last number -9- is a ‘check digit.’ The check digit is a formula used to confirm that the number is an ISBN number as opposed to other numbers used by the ISO. “The method of determining the check digit for the ISBN is the modulus 11 with the weighting factors 10 to 1,” according to the U.S. ISBN Agency.

Look at the 13-digit ISBN: 978-0824821005 or 978-0-824821-00-5. The 978 prefix identifies this number as an ISBN as opposed to a 13-digit GTIN. The zero means the book was published in an English-speaking country. The publisher's number -824821- remains the same. The two identifying numbers assigned to this book by the publisher -00- remain the same. The last 'check digit' -5- changed because the method for determining the 'check digit' is now applied to a 13-digit number rather than a 10-digit number.

Identify the publisher. The ISBN provides the publisher's code. "Publishers, Distributors & Wholesalers of the United States" and "Literary Market Place" are two hard-copy sources that identify publishers by ISBN. is an on-line source. Go to this web site and enter either ISBN used above, 0824821009 or 978-0824821005. According to this ISBN database, the publisher code 824821 is assigned to University of Hawaii Press.

Read these two ISBNs: 0824830091 and 978-0824830090. Read the 10-digit ISBN first. The zero means the item was published in an English speaking country. The publisher’s number is 824830. The item identifier is 09 and the ‘check digit’ is 1. Now read the 13-digit ISBN. The 978 alerts the reader that this is an ISBN. The zero indicates the English-speaking country of origin. The publisher’s number is the same as in the 10-digit ISBN: 824830. The item number is the same: 09. The ‘check digit’ is different because this is a different number. The ISBN database shows that this publisher’s number is also assigned to University of Hawaii Press and the publication is “Ho'opilipili 'Olelo: Hawaiian Language Crossword Puzzles, Volume II.” The difference in publisher’s numbers, even though it is the same publisher for both volumes, reflects a time period between the publication of the first volume (2000) and the second volume (2006).

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