ISTC – International Standard Text Code

Last Friday at the NISO/BISG forum on changing standards I heard a presentation by Andy Weissberg at Bowker on the ISTC standard.  This standard was adopted in March of 2009 and according to an ISTC press release, “The ISTC system provides a means of uniquely and persistently identifying textual works in information systems, and facilitates the exchange of information about such works between publishers, authors and authors associations, collective management organizations, libraries, search engines and others on an international level. The ISTC makes it possible to group products containing the same content, or even in some cases, different content with the same origins, together, optimizing their discoverability in search engines, retail and library cataloging systems.

This means that the exact same text, whether in ebook, large print, paperback, hardback, or other will have a unique ISTC code.  It’s bigger than ISBN, identifying the text, not the physical book.  As a reference librarian, I’m interested to know more about ISTC and how it could help us search for text in any format available.  I find multiple records in a catalog for the same text (hardback, paperback, large print, ebook, audio book) to be very distracting. Many users just want – the text – and will take it in whatever format is available.  ISTC could benefit these users.

I’ve invited Andy to do a NSR interview to discuss ISTC.  I hope to have that posted soon.

2 thoughts on “ISTC – International Standard Text Code”

  1. There are substantial obstacles to adoption of ISTC.
    –The rights holders of different versions are sometimes different.
    –Is an abridged illustrated Gulliver’s Travels the same “work” as Gulliver’s Travels?
    –ISTC envisions itself working across music, print, movies etc. The licensing authorities for these industries would need to work together.
    –The interest of Bowker are at odds with the interests of copyright owners; and Bowker is unlikely to receive cooperation so long as they insist on being the “owner” of the identifier.

  2. Tim, on behalf of the International ISTC Agency and Bowker, I’m responding to your comments here to ensure that you, as well as the industry at large, get some clarity, answers and input on the issues you raised:

    While there are perceived and understood “obstacles” on a variety of levels to the adoption of ISTC, we are working dilligently and collaboratively with many stakeholders across the supply chain to assess and address them on strategic, workflow, technical and business modeling levels. We now have an approved ISO standard (an achievement itself) to execute on in ways that other standards like ISBN have worked for decades.

    To address your specific comments:

    1. There is full acknowledgement that there are different rights-holders of different versions. In addition to expending signficant resources on title-linking levels, Bowker is working with its ISTC International Agency counterparts as well as within emerging standards consortiums like the ISNI, and more specifically with IFRRO and CISAC, to enable the integration and convergence of important intelligence between bibliographic records and rights management intelligence. On bibliographic levels alone, we are able to validate rightsholders on many levels; although there are challenges when you navigate and assess the quality and accuracy of hundreds of thousands of data sets from publishers and libraries, which we continue to do in the interest of ISTC standard adoption and in the interests of all industry stakeholders.

    2. On Gulliver’s Travels, remember that ISTC’s are a work identifier, not a product identifier, and are based on the TEXT contained therein. If the abridged version has different text from the original work, it gets a separate ISTC.

    3. On the subject of cross-media application and identifiers, ISNI ( envisions database interoperability between music, print, movies, etc., and ISNI/ISTC interoperability is already being contemplated in the realm of ISTC data sets. Remember, ISTC is focused on co-locating matched textual works. The ISTC is not intended for identifying the manifestations of a textual work, including any physical products (e.g. a printed article) or electronic formats (e.g. an electronic book). Manifestations of textual works are the subject of separate identification systems. Its the relationships between them in co-located record environments. This page on the International ISTC web site will help clarify:

    4. Bowker’s interests are NOT “at odds with the interests of copyright owners” at all. In fact, our interests and significant investments and resource allocation to support copyright owner objectives are highly ALIGNED with these stakeholders.

    Bowker HELPS copyright owners, and will continue to advance our value propositions in this area as a pre-eminent information services provider to publishing industry at large. We do NOT, nor do any other parties for that matter “OWN” identifiers. As a registration agency on a variety of levels, we enable the assignments of identifiers to a variety of types of copyright holders, and are responsible as a bibliographic agency to ensure that all assignments are unambiguously and accurately available to the supply chain.

    Bowker works highly collaboratively with organizations like IFRRO and CISAC who directly represent the interests of copyright owners.

    We work directly with thousands of authors and self-publishers to ensure that their copyright interests are met, and that their expectations of discovery and trading are met or exceeded.

    We have ARMIES of people who are engaged (and paid) daily in cleaning the data we receive from publishers, large and small, via electronic means and paper for the purposes of accuracy, discovery, cataloging and trading. Data quality includes things like maintaining a contributor authority and making sure that contributors, whether they are rightsholders or not, are accurately reflected in bibliographic databases.

    Lastly, Bowker’s involvement in major emerging digital marketplaces and rights-holder claiming environments only furthers our objectives to support copyright owners.

    My door, land-line and cell-phone lines are open for a deeper, direct discussion, and I hope the above provides some clarity on these important issues, challenges and opportunities.

Comments are closed.