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The use of international standard numbers by authors, publishers

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INTERNATIONAL standard numbers are globally recognised unique identifiers assigned to intellectual outputs such as monographs, journals, serials, materials, and music before the final production for public use. Among these numbers are the International Standard Book Number, International Standard Serial Number, International Standard Name Identifier, International Standard Music Number, International Standard Audiovisual Number, and ISWN.  The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) a unique international identifier for monographic publications which identifies each book.  The ISBN is not only assigned to printed materials, but to each variation of a book that exists, such as those from different editors, hard cover or paper back etc.

The ISBN was established in 1972 with headquarters in London and presently has over 150 ISBN registration agencies providing ISBNs for publishers and authors in more than 200 countries of the world. In Nigeria, the National Library is the only agency authorized by the International Agency to issue ISBNs since 1974 with a group National Identifier of “978” allocated to Nigeria. Prior to 2007, the ISBN consisted of ten digits but was changed to thirteen digits in January 2007, and is usually preceded by the letters,“ISBN”. It is important to note that, an assigned ISBN is unique and peculiar to the material it is assigned to, and can never be revised/reassigned. The thirteen-digit number is divided into five parts of variable lengths, separated by a hyphen for ease of reading. The first set of numbers usually indicates the country of the publisher  as“978” depicts publications from Nigeria. The ISBN is usually printed on the verso of the title page, back cover, the spine of a book, as well as on the e-copy and electronic publications.

Apart from creating worldwide awareness of titles, one of the major global advantages of the ISBN is the facilitation of compilation and updating of book-trade directories and bibliographic databases, such as catalogue and books-in-print. The International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) on the other hand is an eight-digit number that is globally assigned to identify serials and periodicals, including magazines, newspapers, journals, pamphlets, etc. The ISSN was developed in the early 1970s to aid identification of serial publications at the international level and once a number is assigned, it holds throughout the lifespan of that periodical.  The ISSN is used to distinguish serials with the same title,a very important element for ordering, cataloguing, inter-library loan and other processes associated with serials.It is used for both print and electronic publications. Print ISSN is distinguished from the electronic ISSN with the prefix ‘P’ (P-ISSN) and ‘E’ (E-ISSN), respectively. The National Library of Nigeria as the Nigeria bibliographic centre responsible for the issuance of these International Standard Numbers has the responsibility of sensitising and advising authors, printers and publishers on the importance and the professional use of these numbers. There was a provisional agreement signed between UNESCO and the French government in 1972 to create the ISSN International Centre to manage International Serial Data System (ISDS). In January 1976, the ISSN International Centre became self-sufficient. The Nigerian National Serial Data Centre (NNCDC) was also set up at the National Library of Nigeria in 1976.


The Nigerian ISSN Centre is responsible for the registration of all serial titles published in Nigeria and for assigning them with ISSN. The Nigerian ISSN Centre is also charged with the responsibility of advising editors and publishers of serials in Nigeria on international publishing standards and rules required for the layout of their serials publication. For the avoidance of doubt, the National Library of Nigeria is the only agency in Nigeria mandated to issue ISBN and ISSN to authors and publishers, therefore members of the public are advised to avoid the use of fake of ISBN/ISSN by obtaining these numbers only from the National Library of Nigeria.

Authors and publishers can obtain these numbers by visiting any branch of the National Library of Nigeria or through its

  • Professor Anunobi is the National Librarian and CEO of the National Library of Nigeria

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