Ah, the glorious years of the 2000s. For the publishing world, probably the next big event on the horizon after Y2K was the introduction of the 13-digit ISBN (International Standard Book Number) on January 1, 2007. From roughly 1970 until 2007, ISBNs were 10 digits in length, having evolved from the 9-digit Standard Book Numbering (SBN) code. Since each edition or variant of a book published between that period was assigned a (mostly) unique ISBN, the supply of available 10-digit numbers was destined to run out.
The solution in 2007 was the introduction of the 13-digit ISBN, with prefix 978. Why did we start with 978, you say? Because the new format was meant to be compatible with the “Bookland” European Article Number (EAN), which also used 978. And you guessed it: there were only so many 978- ISBNs to go around as well, particularly in the burgeoning e-publishing environment.
All of which leads to … the 979 ISBN prefix! The first 979- ISBNs were actually issued in France in 2009, but my library saw its first print materials with this 13-digit format just this year. A strange thing we noticed was that, when upgrading the MARC record in our shared cataloging “client” (ahem), inputting the 979- ISBN did not produce a 10-digit (shorter) equivalent as usual. A little research led us to understand that this is perfectly normal: 979- ISBNs are not convertible to a 10-digit format and exist only in a 13-digit format.
So don’t be too surprised when the ISBN odometer flips for your materials. It’s probably OK to keep driving.
— Michael Christian-Budd