The Work

It’s Not Just ISBNs Anymore: ISTC

As more content gets digitized – as more books get digitized and made searchable, and book metadata refers to many, many kinds of products – it’s necessary to use other identifiers to help organize all that information and make it find-able. The ISBN only goes so far – it unambiguously identifies an edition of a book. But in an increasingly networked book world, we need to identify many other things as well. What if we want to talk about, search, and work with all the ISBNs of a book at once? What if we want to search for movie scripts, poems, and other things that will never have ISBNs?

This is why the ISTC was invented.

The ISTC  identifies “textual works” regardless of how they are published. Some examples:

  • Prose (books, articles)
  • Lyrics (words only)
  • Poetry
  • Screenplays
  • Audio scripts (radio, podcast)
  • Stage scripts
  • Other scripts (sermons, speeches, presentations, lectures)

It looks like this: 0A32009012445C9B

So how is this different from ISBNs? Well, ISBNs identify specific editions -trade  paperback, mass market paperback, hardcover, large print, ePub, PDF. ISTCs identify the text itself, regardless of format.

A useful picture can be found here:  How ISTC Works

And here is a list of things the ISTC is not for:

  • Abridged Editions
  • Annotated Editions
  • Compilations
  • Critical Editions
  • Excerpts
  • Expurgated/Edited Editions
  • Non-text material added (enhanced ebooks)
  • Revised editions
  • Translations

These are called derived works, and they each get their own ISTC. Why, you ask?

Well, the ISTC is not a work identifier. It’s a text identifier. The manifestations (editions) must each have the identical text string to get an ISTC. Thus, translations, abridgements, etc. have separate ISTCs from the original text.

So how does it work in real life? Let’s use “New Moon” by Stephenie Meyer as an example. The movie script gets a separate ISTC from the novel – because they contain different words, different texts. (The hardcover, paperback, and ebook editions all have the same ISTC, because they are identical in text.) And the Spanish-language version, “Luna Nueva”, gets a separate ISTC, because its text, its words, are different.

But what if I want to relate them? you ask. What if I want to let people know that these text strings all go together in some way?
This, my friends, is why we have metadata. The identifiers identify – they say “this thing is not that thing” or “this thing is the same as that thing” – and the metadata describes. Describes the thing, describes its relationship to other things.
The metadata for the ISTC allows you to specify a “Source ISTC”. So in this way, you can link the original ISTC to any or all of its derivations. All derivations of “New Moon” can be related by sticking the original book’s ISTC into the “Source ISTC” field.
Bowker’s Books in Print database, for example, stores both:
What can be done with it? Ideally, it makes search results less ambiguous. You can be sure what is and isn’t a translation, an abridgment, a related work. As our books proliferate (and we added 1,555,790 ISBNs to the Books in Print database in 2011), honing search results becomes absolutely essential to make sure that readers find the exact right book.
If this intrigues you and you want to geek out on the standard, you can go here and go bananas.

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