Do you have an International Standard Name Identifier?

A new identifier has been developed that is assigned not to creative works but to the creators, and claims it will solve the problem of name ambiguity.

An author, then, would not merely name themselves as the copyright holder on their book’s copyright page, but would add this number as well, uniquely identifying themselves. This number would also be added to ebook metadata, and to ISBN data, for example.

The ISNI database thus far has been built mostly by harvesting data from ISBN agencies and from library databases. You can go to the ISNI website to see if you are already in the database (I did and I am), and from what sources your information came from; mine came from Library and Archives Canada, Bowker, and something called VIAF (Virtual International Authority File), which I had never heard of. VIAF, it turns out, is “an OCLC service — built in cooperation with national libraries and other partners — that virtually combines multiple LAM (Library Archives Museum) name authority files into a single name authority service.”

I noticed, however, that only my first two non-fiction titles were in my record; my novel and the second edition of The Global Indie Author were not. If you also find your record is incomplete or incorrect, there is a form you can fill out to add supplemental data to improve the database; I filled out the form and the record was updated and an email sent to me within two days. Alas, the data was still incorrect and I had to send a second email. This in indicative of what critics argue is the fundamental problem with the database: it has been assembled by data mining rather than by permission of those in the database; this may only lead to entrenched inaccuracies. Building a database from data mining creates many opportunities for inaccuracies or insufficiencies since the records mined may themselves be incorrect or inadequate. This is particularly pertinent to those who publish under one or several pseudonyms. Of concern, too, is that it is not clear which sources are being mined: the ISNI International Agency website claims the data is compiled from “hundreds of databases,” yet only 67 were listed on their website. And if you go to the ISNI site and click on their registration link, you are directed to contact one of only three agencies, Bowker, Ringgold, and Bibliotheque Nationale de France; go to Bowker and try to register and all you get is an email window.

Of particular concern to self-published authors is that the data is being mined mostly from ISBN agencies or Cataloguing in Publication records, yet one can publish to Kindle and Kobo without the need to acquire an ISBN and/or a CIP record.

It also ignores online writing such as blogs, yet such writing is often an integral aspect of the modern writer’s life; and it ignores, for example, academic dissertations published online by universities. What this means is that the database is highly biased in favour of writers who publish traditionally, or who self-publish in print (and apply for a CIP record) and not just in digital formats. This is an absurd approach to take in this millennium.

There are also privacy concerns, and concerns that the database will be used to justify orphaned works. These issues and more are covered quite well by author Edward Hasbrouck on his blog, The Practical Nomad. Before reading it, however, note that since his post in December 2013 the Agency has addressed some of the issues: they now respond promptly to author updates, one can now link to a personal website or public author page such as those found on Amazon, and it is now possible for authors to apply for a number via an application form, which you will be sent when you send Bowker the aforementioned email query (though they do not tell you this).

At time of writing, an online submission form was being developed but has not yet been implemented. The fee to register is USD $25.00, which is another contentious issue: by primarily mining ISBN data, anyone who has never purchased (or received from a national literary agency who paid for) an ISBN is forced instead to pay a registration fee to Bowker, who in turn pay to be an official registrar for ISNI. There is no indication yet whether there will be a fee to add future publications to your record, or how that will be done.

If you have published before and find yourself in their database, note that artistic works are always spelled in lowercase unless the word is a proper noun; the second edition of The Global Indie Author would be “The global indie author : how anyone can self-publish in the U.S. and worldwide markets, second edition, 2012.” Please do not bombard the Agency with requests to update due to lack of capitalization.

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2 thoughts on “Do you have an International Standard Name Identifier?”

  1. Hi Mary:

    Thanks. I agree about the ease of traditional sources. One wonders if this number will prove a truly valuable asset or just another money-making machine for the people who created it. A while back the International Standard Text Code was supposed to be the new solution, but it has all but died. Even Bowker, who was one of the first to sell it, has abandoned it. Guess it didn’t prove profitable.

  2. They’re probably starting with the traditional sources for names because they’re large and easy for them to access: the ‘low hanging fruit’ theory of success metrics. Indie titles are still a wild frontier (especially from OCLC and Bowker’s worldview) and would require a great deal of effort for a small return. It will be interesting to see how this develops. Great post!

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