Alphabet Soup: BISAC

BISAC began as a standalone initiative, designed to create standards for EDI transmissions in the book supply chain, largely between ordering departments and warehouses. BISAC was responsible for a file format called “BISAC fixed” as well as another called “X12”. With the rise of book superstores such as B&N, Borders, and Books a Million, it became apparent that a standard was needed to determine where in these stores books should be shelved. BISAC took on the responsibility of creating standardized codes that publishers could use to suggest to bookstores which section of a store a book would be a good fit for.

Initially there were only a handful of codes. By 1995, there were around 50 general codes, with a few “sub-codes” under each – forming a 2-level hierarchy. The codes were rather cryptic – 3 letters followed by some numbers – because they were developed for machine-to-machine processing. The actual names of the codes were only used by those doing the assigning and those receiving the books and deciding where to put them. (There were those nerds who had the codes memorized, because there were so few of them.)

But with the emergence of online retailers, BISAC experienced a period of rapid change. It was subsumed by the Book Industry Study Group, which had originally been created as a research community analyzing the book market. And BISAC codes were developed with an eye towards discovery on the web as well as in-store placement of books. Whereas bookstores required a single BISAC code, web stores could “shelve” a single book in multiple categories. Most guidelines recommend 3-5 codes per title.

You might notice, for example, that the “Body, Mind and Spirit” BISAC categories begin with the characters “OCC”.

This is because that category used to be called “Occult” back in the 80s and 90s. It was where books about UFOs, spiritual healing, crystals, Wiccans, and other titles were shelved. The OCC prefix evolved into the “New Age” category. As “Body, Mind and Spirit”, it has been expanded to includes books about mindfulness, meditation, reiki, “inspiration and personal growth”, and fengshui, all of which are fairly mainstream, in addition to continuing with more obscure topics such as astrology and numerology.

So if the BISAC prefix doesn’t match up to the name of the category itself, it probably had a previous life as a category more appropriate for the 80s or 90s cultural landscape. Books reflect our landscape, and their subjects evolve over time.

More information about BISAC codes can be found here.

Alphabet Soup: DOI

The DOI is not in fact an identifier of digital objects. It’s a digital identifier of objects – DOIs can be assigned to physical items. But they are most frequently assigned to digitally-published journal articles.

The DOI is, like the ISBN, not a dumb number. There is a prefix and a suffix, separated by a slash. Most of the time, the prefix begins with the number “10”, followed by a period – this indicates that the identifier, while part of the Handle system, is specifically a DOI. After the period, there’s a number indicating who registered the DOI (similar to a publisher prefix). Following the slash, the actual identifier of the article can be alphanumeric.

The main DOI registration agency is CrossRef, but there is also one for the entertainment industry called EIDR. Most book publishers who are using DOIs register them with CrossRef, however - these are largely academic and scientific publishers who also publish journals.

More information about DOI can be found here.

Alphabet Soup: ISTC

The ISTC began development in the early 2000s as a way of collocating editions of textual works. It’s not technically a “Work ID” for books, but was misperceived that way – in actuality, it’s an identifier of text strings. So (broadly speaking) the hardcover, paperback and ebook edition of a book would all receive the same ISTC, but the French translation would not, because the text strings are different.

The ISTC is not necessarily assigned by a publisher, or a library, or a bookseller. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. There is no “ownership” of the ISTC like there is with other identifiers.Anybody who wants to register a textual work – whether it’s an author, an agent, a publisher, or whoever - must submit a request to an ISTC registration agency with the necessary metadata needed to distinguish that work from others. The registration agency determines whether or not that request qualifies for a new or an existing ISTC.

More information about ISTC can be found here.

Alphabet Soup: ISAN

The ISAN was developed in the year 2000 and published by ISO in 2002. It identifies an audiovisual work – so it applies to films, TV shows, video games, etc. ISANs are used by film and television studios, services such as iTunes and HBO, and technology companies like Microsoft.

The first twelve numbers of the ISAN form the “root” of the identifier. The root is assigned to the core work. The next set of numbers applies to the episode or part (if there is one – if not, the next four numbers are zeroes). The next character is a check character. The next eight numbers identify the version of the work. The last number is also a checksum.