The dreaded case of duplicate ISBNs

Doreen Sullivan
SCIS Cataloguing team leader

Have you ever had this experience? You search for or download the record for an ISBN and a completely different title is returned. Huh? How could SCIS have gotten it so wrong?

In most cases, this is not a mistake. The fact is, sometimes publishers print the same ISBN on more than one of their publications. Although ISBNs are meant to be unique to each title edition, it is surprisingly common for publishers to give the same ISBN to different books.

These are known as ‘duplicate ISBNs’ or ‘ISBN duplicates’, and they are frustrating for all concerned. It means that the same ISBN could show in two or more SCIS records.

When a SCIS cataloguer creates a record with a known duplicate ISBN, they will include a note like this: ‘Duplicate ISBN. Linked to SCIS record no. 911499’. But if you’re simply downloading a record, chances are you won’t see the note field.

You can set your profile to ‘Prompt me to choose from a list’ when ISBN duplicates appear. If you have this setting enabled and we’ve catalogued both items — the same ISBN but two different titles — the SCIS system will inform you of the duplication when you go to download the record directly from SCIS. Then you can select the title you need.

If you need more information to make your choice, we recommend performing an ISBN search on the SCIS catalogue, which will provide the SCIS number for each record. You can then download the record using the relevant SCIS number.

And if SCIS hasn’t catalogued two records — you can only see one title and it’s not the one you want — please contact us at catinfo@esa.edu.au so we can look into the issue for you.

To change your ISBN duplicate settings in your SCIS profile, please follow the prompts in the article, My Quick Scan result does not match the item ordered.

For more information on downloading SCIS records, please see our brief video, Downloading records in SCIS.

ISBN-13 – a wee refresher

As you are probably aware, on 1 January 2007 the expansion of the International Standard Book Number from 10 digits to 13 was implemented.

The 13-digit ISBN was implemented to make it compatible with EAN-13 barcoding standards, which means that the ISBN and the barcode are now able to be the same number. Formerly the barcode was usually a conversion of the 10-digit ISBN which appeared printed inside the book, but some publishers chose to use barcode numbers which did not relate to the ISBN in any way.

It is now standard for publishers to assign the same 13-digit number for both the ISBN and the barcode number, allowing SCIS users to conveniently scan it into the Orders page in SCISWeb to retrieve their records.  However, SCIS users should be aware that books published in or before 2006 may have a barcode that does not relate at all to the ISBN, which may result in their records being unmatched when they try to download them in SCISWeb.  Where this is the case, you will need to type the ISBN in manually in order to retrieve the correct SCIS record.  Very rarely, recently published books may also be issued with barcodes that do not match the ISBN, although the standard has been widely adopted by most major publishing companies.

Currently, when ordering in SCISWeb, it does not matter whether you enter the 10- or 13-digit ISBN in your order – as long as it is the correct ISBN! SCISWeb will automatically convert the different ISBNs behind the scenes and retrieve the record. This is because all 13-digit ISBNs with the 978 prefix are able to be converted from from 10-digit ISBNs to 13-digit ISBNs and vice versa. Once all the numbers with a 978 prefix are used up, ISBNs will have a 979 prefix and will no longer have a 10-digit ISBN equivalent – making it impossible to convert them to a valid 10-digit ISBN. It also should be noted that the process of converting a 10-digit ISBN to an ISBN-13 does not simply require the numbers 978 to be added to the start of the old 10-digit ISBN. If in doubt, an online ISBN converter is freely available from the US ISBN Agency. If you haven’t already done so you may wish to reconfigure your barcode scanner to read ISBN-13.

You can also elect to have all ISBNs output in 13-digit format by changing your preferences in My Profile. Unfortunately, this conversion functionality is not available to those of you who download records via Z39.50 (also known as Rapid Entry or Z-Cataloguing). Because Z39.50 bypasses the SCISWeb interface to access the SCIS database directly without going through the SCISWeb interface, any import parameters (such as ISBN conversions) must be set up in the user’s local system.