International Identifiers: A Few Words About ISNI With Laura Dawson

No disambiguation needed, Laura Dawson is one of the best-known identifier and metadata specialists in US publishing. And she has opened a new international ISNI agency.

Image - iStockphoto: rep0rter
Image – iStockphoto: rep0rter
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[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ost publishing industry players know the ISBN well — the International Standard Book Number is used to register book titles and establish a work’s unique characteristics for effective marketing, as Bowker’s site puts it, “by booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers and distributors.”

But many in publishing and other fields are still catching up to another identifier created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO): the ISNI.

The ISNI — it rhymes with Disney in conversation — is is the International Standard Name Identifier.

Laura Dawson
Laura Dawson

And Laura Dawson, a longtime specialist in world-industry identifiers and best practices in metadata, has been green-lighted by the ISO to open a new agency for one of the most interesting uses for the ISNI: “individual contributor.”

Dawson is giving a special session at the International Digital Book Forum’s (IDPF) DigiCon conference on the eve of BookExpo America in Chicago, May 10. Her presentation that day is called Be Who You Are: The International Standard Name Identifier.

Unlike the ISNI, Dawson making conference-session appearances is not new to publishing pros.

Called the “Queen of Metadata” by some in the past, Dawson for years was the informative voice of Bowker, the US agency for the ISBN. As a member of the international council on the identifier, and a steadfast advocate for proper and consistent use of rich metadata in a digitally complex supply chain, Dawson has spoken at most of the major venues of the publishing conference year, and now will be doing so to help explain and promote usage of the ISNI.

In her advance materials for the session, Dawson writes:

“The ISNI has been implemented by such organizations as Harvard Library, Macmillan’s Digital Science, and many national libraries and collective organizations all over the world.”

Publishing Perspectives: Laura, how does the ISNI differ from the ISBN?

Laura Dawson: It identifies people, not products, so it disambiguates people with similar or the same names, and collocates people whose names can be rendered in various ways, such as Russian authors, whose names are transliterated to Latin characters, so the spellings can vary.

PP: And is your consultancy’s agency,, assigned to handle only US applications for the identifer?

LD: No, unlike the ISBN, ISNI registration agencies are not determined by territory. They tend to form around types of intellectual property. Bibliotheque National de France, for example, registers French-related names. Ringgold registers the names of research institutions.

Numerical Gurus registers individual contributors — self-published authors, indie musicians, etc. — as well as bulk feeds of contributors from publishers, galleries, studios, streaming services, and other media companies.

PP: How does your consultancy come to be the agency for the ISNI in terms of individual contributors?

A slide from an informational presentation about the ISNI, created at Bowker by Dawson for the Book Industry Study Group (BISG).
A slide from an informational presentation about the ISNI, created at Bowker by Dawson for the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). In this slide, you see disambiguation questions around an author name, as would be of concern to a publisher.

LD: ProQuest (parent company of Bowker) decided not to continue as a registration agency for ISNI. I’d been involved with ISNI since my tenure at ProQuest/Bowker. I joined in 2012. So it was a natural fit for my consultancy to step in and fill the need.

PP: And even during your tenure with Bowker, we were hearing about the ISNI, right?

LD: Yes. I was brought onboard at Bowker to continue the work started by Beat Barblan: to develop policy and governance for ISNI on an international level, as well as evangelizing for ISNI and educating the book industry about it.

PP: Can you give us a good picture of what an ISNI is and who should have one?

LD: ISNI identifies you as a public entity. It says, “This person is not this other person” or “This person is also that other person.” So an author who also writes under a pseudonym would get two ISNIs, one for each name. An author from Eastern Europe or Asia whose name is not consistently spelled in our alphabet (Dostoyevsky vs Dostoevski, for example) would collect all the versions of his or her name under a single ISNI, indicating that these are indeed the same person.

PP: In terms of the ISNI, itself, how does it fit into the broader world of identifiers?

LD: ISNI is part of the same family of identifiers as ISBN, ISSN, and DOI. All are overseen by the single International Standards Organization committee, dedicated to identifiers and standards used in the exchange of information.

PP: Are there any stats on how many ISNIs are out there? And is the international governing body on the ISNI the same group that handles the ISBN? Or someone else?

Another slide from an informational presentation about the ISNI, created at Bowker by Dawson for the Book Industry Study Group (BISG).
Another slide from an informational presentation about the ISNI, created at Bowker by Dawson for the Book Industry Study Group (BISG).

LD: There are now more than 8 million ISNI numbers assigned. The way ISNI is structured, as an organization, is:

  • The ISNI International Agency sets policy and governance;
  • The ISNI Assignment Agency does the actual assignment of numbers to names — currently that position is held by OCLC; and
  • Registration agencies act as liaisons between those who want numbers, and the Assignment Agency.

There’s more: Read the full story at Publishing Perspectives

By Porter Ander­son

Originally published at

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