Answered By Library Staff
Last Updated: Dec 15, 2022     Views: 24

An ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. This number is used by publishers, book sellers, and libraries to track information about books. ISBNs can help differentiate editions and find exact versions of published material (even electronic). This can be very useful to researchers as well. Many library catalogs and databases will take ISBNs as part of a search to retrieve results for the exact item you're searching for (here's an example, also used below). Sometimes, even films will have ISBNs. 

There are two types of ISBNs an item might have: An ISBN-10 or an ISBN-13. The ISBN-13 is one that typically starts with "978" and is the newer version of ISBNs. Both or either should work in most scenarios when searching for material. An ASIN number is not an ISBN number, and is related to an Amazon product. Ebooks on Amazon might only list the ASIN number in some cases, especially if the publisher is Amazon. An ASIN number will not likely work in library catalogs, databases, or interlibrary loan requests. 

The quickest way to find an ISBN for a book or item that you know about is to use a web search like Google, searching by the title. An Amazon or Google Books or publisher website result should all have the metadata about the book, including the ISBN. Goodreads or LibraryThing results might be another good option to retrieve an ISBN. (Links have same book example used below). 

book title search example

Here's an Amazon result example. If you scroll all the way down to the "Product details" you can then find the ISBNs for the material. 

ISBNs on Amazon

Here's an example search for this exact book, to see if we hold it, in our TCC Library Discovery catalog. Notice that it brings up the book by the ISBN. When you click on an item result in the catalog, you can also find the ISBN of a book in the metadata: