Yesterday I noted a blog mention that Bowker is selling access to “ISBN clusters.” Coincidentally, yesterday Jonathan Rochkind posted DLF Forum, Bowker Presentation, about a talk he saw at the Digital LIbrary Federation 2007 Fall Forum:
I learned about the plans for an International Standard Text Code (ISTC), sort of like an ISBN but applies at the FRBR “expression” level, grouping a set of ISBNs. (Although Bowker seems to call what it applies to a ‘work’, it is in fact meant to apply only to things that are ‘textually identical’, which is what we call the expression level. It is also only meant to apply to textual material, not audio, video, etc. She claimed that audio and video already had something similar, although it wasn’t widely adopted. I know nothing about this?) This would potentially be quite useful, of course, to have an expression level identifier from the ISBN people. It also makes me think of how it might harmonize or not with the library world’s plans for ‘frbrization’–it’s being done for the needs of the publishing and sales industry, like ISBN. Of course, right now there’s not much for it to harmonize to in the library world, just talk.
I’d never heard of this before, or if I had, I’d forgotten it, which is always a possibility. Turns out the International Standard Text Code has a web site. The about the ISTC page explains:
The International Standard Text Work Code (ISTC) is a numbering system developed to enable the unique identification of textual works.
… [A textual work is a] work comprised primarily of words; for example, an article; an essay; a novel; a poem; a screenplay; a short story. The ISTC identifies the text of the work itself. It does not apply to physical products or other manifestations of a work (such as an edition of a book; an article printed in a journal; a talking book; or the electronic versions of such products).
… How does a “work” differ from an “expression”?
An expression is the specific intellectual or artistic form that a work takes each time it is “realized.” Because the form of expression is an inherent characteristic of the expression, any change in form results in a new expression. Similarly, changes in the intellectual conventions or instruments employed to express a work (e.g. translation from one language to another) result in the production of a new expression…”
For the purposes of assigning ISTC, this relationship is covered by the term derivation. For that reason and to prevent any confusion, the term “expression” is not used in the ISTC standard.
There will be charge to register a textual work and get a number, and note this approach to finding out if a number already exists for an expression:
How does someone know if an ISTC has been issued for a given text?
As soon as an ISTC has been assigned to a work, the Registration Agency will notify the interested parties involved. If there is delay due to questions arising from the registration process, an acknowledgement of the ISTC request will be sent. A central database of assigned ISTCs can be queried to determine if an ISTC has been previously established for a textual work.
Some dates on that web site show that approval of the ISTC as a standard got delayed, but it looks like it just happened a couple of months ago.
Who’s writing the standard? Well, it’s Project 21047 of Working Group 3 of ISO TC 46/ SC 9, a cryptic name for a working group of a subcommittee of the Techinical Committee of the International Standards Organization. (You know how international standards bodies are, or if you don’t, that’ll give you an idea.)
Final Report of Voting on ISO Draft International Standard 21047, International Standard Text Code (76 KB PDF) is from 14 September 2007 and says that the standard has been approved and “should proceed directly to publication as an ISO International Standard.” So we should expect to hear more about this over the next few months.
It will be interesting to see how well a central, commercialized service works, and how it can be used with other open expression-level identifiers, when they arise. If it helps FRBRize everything, it’s good.