Tuesday, January 11, 2011
ISSN is the acronym for International Standard Serial Number. The Library of Congress suggests thinking of it as "the social security number of the serials world." Like the ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, it is a number assigned to a publication as identification. The ISSN is used when the publication is ongoing or serial versus a one-time-only publication like a book. Simply put, an ISSN is a bar code for your blog.
Weblogs fall under the category of serial publications (a serial does not have to be printed) and getting an ISSN for your blog is something to consider for a number of reasons. First, there are no special benefits involved in obtaining an ISSN for your blog. Having an ISSN doesn't give you any special copyright protection; registering your blog with an ISSN doesn't mean no one else can use the title of your blog (titles are not copyright-protected; occasionally they can be registered with the Patent Office, but that's another can of worms.) If you use blog content in newsletters you mail out, having an ISSN doesn't entitle you to discounted postage rates (although the post office does use it to regulate certain serials like magazines and other print periodicals that come through their system.)
What an ISSN does is distinguish your weblog from all the others out there in NetPubLand. If you have a popular or common title for your blog, your ISSN can prevent your content from being confused with content under the same name written by someone else. It also creates an official identification that will be indexed and used in serial reference databases around the world. Libraries already use ISSN to index their serial reference databases, and as the popularity of e-readers and other internet gadgets grow, it's likely other public-access reference databases will be compile online serial content for use as knowledge bases and resource materials (the UKSG & NISO's KBart committee is already setting up standards.)
I applied for my weblog ISSN about ten years ago, and it's come in handy a few times when I've referenced my online content in letters, publication credits and such. I always assumed the number went with me wherever I blogged, but recently a friend told me that I probably need a new number for PBW because the URL and title are different from the blog I was writing back in 2001 (when I first applied.) I've written to the LoC about it, and I'm waiting to hear back from them (will update this post as soon as they let me know if title and URL changes mean you have to get a new number.)
One last thought: while an ISSN does not automatically protect your content, it does create identification for it that is registered with the Library of Congress. If I were going to sue someone for appropriating and profiting from my content, which is copyrighted the second I write it, I'd like to have that content registered under my name somewhere as a point of reference. A URL can bought by or sold to anyone, but once assigned, an ISSN is permanent.
You (or, in the event you belong to a group blog, the person designated as the blog publisher) have to apply for the ISSN, but here in the U.S. there is no fee involved. To get started, go to the Library of Congress's U.S. ISSN center to read more (you can now even apply for an ISSN online.) As an eco-friendly move they're now e-mailing ISSN numbers as they are assigned to applicants. so be sure to give them a good e-mail addy for you. If you reside outside the U.S., you can apply to either the national ISSN center in your country or (if your country doesn't have a center) the ISSN International Centre in Paris.
The Library of Congress's ISSN FAQ page.
Phase I of KBart ~ Knowledge Bases and Related Tools can be read in .pdf format here