Continuing Resources Cataloging & Standards Forum: The Once & Future ISSN: 2017 Annual Conference

Benjamin Abrahamse (Ben), Cataloging Coordinator, Acquisitions & Discovery Enhancement, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries, and Chair, ALCTS Continuing Resources Section, Cataloging Committee, hosted the forum jointly sponsored by the ALCTS Continuing Resources Section’s Cataloging and Standards Committees. Abrahamse welcomed the audience and forum speakers, Dr. Gaëlle Béquet, Director, ISSN International Centre and Regina Romano Reynolds, Director, U.S. ISSN Center and Head, ISSN Section, Library of Congress.

Gaëlle presented, “ISSN International Center: Progress Made on the 2015–2018 Strategic Plan,” stating she would give an overview of the ISSN International Centre (“the Centre”) and its activities, including changes already made and ongoing projects to enhance the ISSN International Register. She reviewed key facts and figures, noting that there are more than 1.9 million records in the ISSN Register; that in 2016 the register database grew by nearly 60,000 records; and that digital publications represent 10% of the total number of records. She stated that the ISSN Network is composed of 89 member countries; each of which assigns ISSN that are then proofed before entry into the Register. Most recently, in 2016, the ISSN Network was joined by Russia. The ISSN International Centre has been working closely with librarians from the Russian Book Chamber in Moscow.

Gaëlle introduced the five areas of the 2015–2018 strategy: 1, improve the operations of the Network; 2, enhance ISSN data, products, and services; 3, maintain and enhance the Centre’s technical infrastructure; 4, set up new partnerships; and 5, share ISSN data with a wider community. The work of the Centre towards the first strategic goal includes translations of the ISSN Manual into Spanish and Russian in 2015, with additional languages to come; organizing webinars and training sessions for new Network members; strengthening cooperation with National Centres outside of Europe and North America, for example, India, Kirghizstan and Uzbekistan; and encouraging the creation of new centers, e.g., in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and in Latin American countries such as Cuba, Panama and Peru. Under the second goal, the Centre has been working on the development of a new corporate extranet and ISSN Portal, with special attention on non-Latin and Cyrillic scripts. Additional enhancements include implementation of a quality scheme for ISSN data, enhancement of the data to support linked open data (LOD) applications, and use of the UDC (Universal Decimal Classification) scheme to allow for faceted searching. Technical infrastructure goals include a new core bibliographic database for 2018. Towards the fourth goal, the Centre is working on semi-automating ISSN assignments with National Centres and publishers, and on participating in innovative projects using ISSN. Some examples include: projects to batch assign ISSN to digitized resources in France, Italy and Spain; 17,000 ROAD (Directory of Open Access Scholarly Resources) records in RDF Turtle format available for reuse; and the Centre’s successful work to incorporate ISSN as a criterion for resources in Latindex, a Latin American database equivalent to the Directory of Open Access Journals. Among other innovative projects, Gaëlle described the Centre’s work with the University of Edinburgh on the Keeper’s Registry of digital publications being preserved by organizations such as the Library of Congress, HathiTrust, Portico, and others. Using ISSN, the Keeper’s Registry records which serials are being preserved by these organizations. The Centre is also currently working with the Transfer Code of Practice Group to offer an alert service to libraries, publishers and other interested parties regarding changes of ownership for serial titles.

As to goal 5, the ISSN International Centre is using open source applications to develop its new corporate extranet and ISSN Portal. Subscriptions and payments will be managed via the extranet. Via the Portal, the ISSN, Key title, ISSN-L, publication medium, country of publication and title URL will be freely available in RDF format. Subscribers will have access to enriched data, improved indexation, graphs, and links between titles and serial families. By the end of September 2017, a first version of the new Portal should be available, and after additional work is done with additional functionalities, the new service should be completed by the year’s end.

Next up, Regina presented, “Revising the ISSN Standard: How Do You Update an Icon?” Referencing Karen Coyle, Regina said that in a rapidly changing world, standards have everything to do with change, and create an area of certainty around which change can happen. The first iteration of the ISSN was drafted in 1971 and published as ISO 3297 in 1975 (ISO is the International Organization for Standardization). Around 1988, NSDP (the Library of Congress National Serials Data Program, former name of the U.S. ISSN Center) began assigning ISSN to online serials, as part of the ISSN Network’s policy to assign ISSN to serials in any format. The revision of ISO 3297 that was published in 2007 incorporated the decision that separate versions of publications, including electronic versions, should be assigned separate ISSN, and introduced the Linking ISSN (ISSN-L) i.e., a mechanism that was designed to collocate the ISSN of separate versions of resources.

How will the ISSN accommodate the current landscape that includes new formats as well as developments such as PRESSooBIBFRAMEONIX, and linked data? Some potential topics for the upcoming revision of ISO 3297 include: defining “editions” in the digital world, revising lists of ISSN metadata, granularity of ISSN assignments, a “meta-ISSN” that might encompass titles over time, ISSN use for subparts, and preparing the ISSN for a key role in a linked data environment. Comments from ISO members who voted to revise the standard included assessment of the ISSN-L; explanation of “typologies” and such terms as periodical, website, blog; consideration of the use of a base ISSN plus suffix (a concept that also came up during the 2007 revision); and support for positioning the ISSN for linked data.

The current serials landscape also includes the work done by the ISSN Review Group consisting of experts within the ISSN Network who regularly provide recommendations and additions to the ISSN Manual, the revision of ISO 8, a standard about the presentation of serials, the development of FRBR LRM (Library Reference Model) by IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions), and the definition of a new ISSN business model supporting new usages.

Recent updates to the ISSN Manual by the ISSN Review Group have included clarification of the scope and coverage of the ISSN, addition of optional elements for RDA, and instructions on use of the ISSN regarding coverage of more than one format. ISO 8 – Presentation of Periodicals is currently under revision and will incorporate detailed guidance on how to present ISSN on various media as well as elements of PIE-J (a National Information Standards Organization recommended practice on the presentation and identification of e-journals). The FRBR LRM’s concept of the serial work may serve to draw the borders of additional entities that comprise editions, e.g., the paper edition of a journal and its web edition, according to the needs that have to be met in a given implementation of the model. Another important issue is the dichotomy of the ISSN which is a bibliographic identifier and also a product identifier. Librarians think of continuing resources in terms of cataloging rules while publishers wish to identify their products. Although issues such as these may sometimes create conflicts during the revision process, parties from various communities that use ISSN will need to reach consensus. How should digital editions be defined and identified? Should there be separate ISSN for each digital format, e.g., PDF, EPUB, Android, Kindle, as there are for ISBN? Would an ISSN suffix solution be appropriate to address the different platforms, devices, formats, editions, etc.?

Other ISSN revision considerations include ISSN’s relationships with standards, recommended practices, and frameworks such as DOIISNI, ONIX, PRESSoo, and BIBFRAME. As to the concept of the “meta-ISSN” for serial families, it will be important to define its boundaries, e.g., earlier-later titles only? Other editions such as geographic and language editions? Related titles such as supplements? As to ONIX, aligning mandatory metadata is a possibility, for example, serial numbering is optional for ISSN assignment but mandatory for some ONIX messages. And then there is the ever-present elephant in the room, serial title change rules, perhaps needing attention not only for English language publications but also for languages whose scripts do not specify words. Finally, what can the ISSN become as a key identifier in a linked data environment? The ISSN International Centre will shortly expose part of its dataset (the ISSN Register) as linked open data (LOD) under a Creative Commons license and this is very likely to boost the reuse of ISSN by other constituencies.

The ISSN Revision Working Group (ISO TC46/SC9/WG5) includes a broad community representation, e.g., publishers, libraries, aggregators, indexing and abstracting services, database providers, platform providers, and standards agencies. ISO standards development from proposal to publication usually follows a 36-month time table, including six months of review and comments from stakeholders. At the end of her presentation, Regina posed this question, “So how do you update an icon?” and offered this response: “Timely, consultatively, expertly, and effectively!” She concluded with the catch phrase used on the U.S. ISSN Center’s web site and brochure, “If ISSN did not exist, someone would have to invent it.”

Next Ben welcomed questions and comments from the audience. Steve Shadle, University of Washington, commented that as to prefixes/suffixes, there should be a controlled list, since devices go out of date; and as to platforms and subscriptions, there can be variations, e.g., continuing subscriptions vs. perpetual access. Regina agreed as to formats. As to subscription types, she referenced the issue of bibliographic identification vs. product identification. Steve asked if the ISSN International Centre could offer guidelines, and Regina added that an ISSN Network publisher’s manual may be an option. Kevin Randall, Northwestern University, commented on the title change issue, stating that although a many-year latest entry cataloging experiment at Northwestern had been discontinued, he wondered whether the ISSN and key title might provide the possibility of handling other title change proposals, such as one made by German colleagues to describe serials from current issues and update elements like the title proper to accommodate minor changes of title or possible RDA changes to remove definite articles. Regina answered that she sees the potential of LOD to solve the successive/latest entry cataloging issue because we wouldn’t have a record-based environment but rather separate elements that could be either aligned under a given title or pulled together for a title history depending on needs.

Mitch Turitz, San Francisco State University, asked whether, given the proliferation of formats and demand for ISSN, does having only seven available digits in the ISSN (the last digit being a check digit) result in running out of ISSN sooner rather than later? Gaëlle responded that the WG 5 would need to address this problem. Regina added that the total number of possible ISSN is 9,999,999 (the first sequential ISSN is 0000-001 and the last ISSN is 9999-999). To date, 2.3 million ISSN have already been assigned, leaving approximately 7 million more available to be assigned.

Gordon Dunsire, RDA Steering Committee Chair, commented on the challenge of aligning ISSN with either FRBR or the Library Reference Model (LRM). He felt that, depending on how ISSN might be assigned in future, running out of ISSN might be a concern and that a suffix solution based on a particular piece of data rather than format could be considered. He emphasized the importance of the ISSN and expressed his support for the work of the WG 5, stating, “We are all in this together.” Amy Wood, Center for Research Libraries (CRL), remarked that the CRL had recently subscribed to the ISSN database. In a shared print environment, she said, with millions of dollars being spent, being able to rely on the ISSN is essential.

The forum concluded with a strong round of applause from the audience.

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