The ISSN: an ISO standard identifier


ISSN stands for International Standard Serial Number.

It is a standard bibliographic identifier, defined by the ISO standard 3297 (2007) and used to identify newspapers, journals, magazines and periodicals of all kinds and on all media–print and electronic.


Which publications are concerned by an ISSN?

An ISSN identifies all continuing resources, irrespective of their medium (print or electronic):

  • newspapers,
  •  annual publications (reports, directories, lists, etc.),
  •  journals (being scholarly or not),
  •  magazines,
  •  collections,
  •  websites,
  •  databases,
  •  blogs,etc.

In many countries, an ISSN is mandatory for all publications subject to the legal deposit.


What form does an ISSN take?

An ISSN takes the following form:

  • the acronym ISSN is shown in capitals,
  • followed by a space,
  • followed by two groups of four digits, separated by a hyphen.

The number must always be preceded by the ISSN acronym.


What is its role?

The ISSN role is to identify a publication.

It is a digital code without any intrinsic meaning:

  •  it does not include any information about the origin or contents of the publication,
  • it does not guarantee the quality or validity of the contents.

The ISSN is associated with the title of the publication. If the publication is modified significantly, a new ISSN must be assigned.


Practical uses of the ISSN

Beyond its role of identifying titles, the ISSN is an essential daily tool for all serial publication professionals.


Electronic archiving

The ISSN International Register is the worldwide catalogue for serial publications. Serial publications are registered in it exhaustively. Consequently, the ISSN is a bibliographical tool: students, researchers, writers of resumes and librarians can use it to give the precise references of a serial publication.



Used as a standardised identification digital code, the ISSN is used in IT applications to:

  • update files,
  • establish links between different files, and
  • search for and exchange data.


Distribution, subscriptions and management

Libraries use the ISSN to:

  • identify titles,
  • order and verify serial publications, and
  • claim missing issues.

The ISSN simplifies lending operations between libraries, as well as controls and verifications on union catalogues.

The ISSN must be used precisely to ensure OpenURL-based links are resolved correctly.