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Library Research Support: ISBNs & ISSNs

Support for Research Staff & Research Students


This guide provides guidance for Durham staff and students who need to register an ISBN for a Durham publication, or register an ISSN for a new serial publication from Durham University; 

  1. What is an ISBN: A brief overview of what an ISBN is, and when you may require one;
  2. How to request an ISBN: How to request an ISBN for a publication published under a Durham imprint.
  3. What is an ISSN: A brief overview of what an ISSN is, and when you may require one; 
  4. How to register an ISSN: Guidance on how to register an ISSN with the ISSN UK Centre; 

What is an ISBN?

What is an ISBN?

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique 13 digit number, assigned to a book or similar publication. It uniquely identifies the specific publication, edition, format and publisher of that output.

  • Example: 978-0-907552-10-9

There is no legal requirement for a book to have an ISBN. It is primarily to allow for more efficient marketing, dissemination and identification of outputs by universities, authors, libraries, booksellers, wholesalers and distributors. It allows others to identify the specific ‘version’ of that publication, which potentially might be ambiguous via a citation reliant upon author/title/publication date only.

It helps with cataloguing and if you wish to sell or distribute a publication through major bookselling chains or internet booksellers, you will usually be required to have an ISBN.

How do I get an ISBN?

I want to publish an item (for example a working paper, report, monograph) under the imprint of ‘Durham University’, how do I get an ISBN?

The University Library holds a number of ISBNs which can be used for publications by departments, centres and institutes under a ‘Durham University’ imprint. It is possible to use these to obtain an ISBN before publication so that it can be printed on the back of the title-page and quoted in advertising literature.

If you would like to claim an ISBN from those held by the University Library, there is no charge for this service. 

Please contact James Bisset (Senior Manager: Library Research Services), and provide as much detail about the publication as you can, and we will register this with the UK ISBN agency and provide you with the ISBN(s) required.

Key details to include: Title, Authors and Contributors (names and roles), a primary contact, format of publication (e.g. softback, hardback, digital pdf), date of publication, intended audience, NO. of pages, language and short description of the subject matter.


Some freely accessible examples of existing Durham publications can be seen below.

  • Rocha Mazzuchelli, D. S. and Batista Araujo e Oliveira, J. and Costa, M. (2015) 'Trabalhando com crianças pequenas desatentas, hiperativas e impulsivas em sala. Um guia para educadores.', Other. Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM), Durham.
  • Lackner, H. (2016) Understanding the Yemeni crisis: The transformation of tribal roles in recent decades (Sir William Luce Papers (17))

I want to publish an item myself outside of the University, how do I get an ISBN?

If you want to self-publish outside the University, then you will need to get your own ISBNs. In the UK Nielsen Books handles all applications for new ISBNS.

You will need to register your publisher details with them, and then purchase either a single or bulk purchase of ISBNs. A single ISBN currently costs £89.00 [last revised September 2020].

What is an ISSN?

What is an ISSN?

An ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) is a unique 8 digit number, assigned to a serial publication (including newspapers, journals, conference proceedings and working papers).

  • Example: 1758-5880 (Print), 1758-5899 (Online)

It uniquely identifies a series (and format, eg print or digital) – not individual issues within it. The ISSN is helpful to distinguish between serials with the same or similar titles, and it can also help to accurately identify and link publications which may have changed title or publishers over time. The ISSN, alongside other unique identifiers supports the sharing & re-use of accurate publication data between systems, e.g. between publishers, research funders and research organisations.

Generally, if you can supply the ISBN or ISSN for an item you are requesting, it will help to speed up the processing of your request.

How do I register an ISSN?

I want to publish / am responsible for publishing an ongoing serial publication (journal, working paper series)? How do I register an ISSN for the series?

Any qualifying serial publication can get an ISSN, for free, by registering the series with the ISSN UK Centre, which forms part of the British Library.

A qualifying serial publication is any "continuing resource in any medium, issued in a succession of discrete parts [and having a common title], usually bearing numbering, that has no predetermined conclusion. Examples of serials include journals, magazines, electronic journals, ongoing directories, annual reports, newspapers, and monographic series."

Please note: Following the cyber attack in October 2023 which affected the British Library, the online form for requesting an ISSN is not currently available (as at May 2024). Please contact the ISSN service directly at where you will be provided by a form to complete and return to them by email, and further guidance and information.


To apply for an ISSN, complete the ISSN UK Centre’s online form. The basic information required is:

  • Proposed title (working titles / project titles are not sufficient);
  • Frequency of publication;
  • Proposed start date (month / year);
  • Publisher name and address.

If your serial is already being published, you will need to send a pdf copy of the completed form along with a recent issue of the serial, to:

ISSN UK Centre
The British Library
Boston Spa
West Yorkshire
LS23 7BQ

If you have any queries about information requested on the form, or about registering an ISSN for a Durham published serial, please contact James Bisset.

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