What can you do with an ISBN?

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Suppose you have the ISBN for a book – what can you do with it?

You can look it up in WorldCat, the free catalog of the world’s libraries. You can look it up using Google Book Search, or the Internet Book Database, or the Internet Book List. You can check LibraryThing to see how the book has been tagged, and to find a list of similarly-tagged books.

You can find the book on search engines. You can do a citation metasearch. You can access the bibliographical information in MLA or APA format

You can find the catalog entry for the book at numerous libraries worldwide, whether famous (such as Oxford University) or obscure (such as the Waikato Institute of Technology).

You can find this book at online booksellers such as Amazon, or perhaps half.com. Or maybe you want it for free, in which case you could check BookMooch, or perhaps you can swap it at BookHopper. If you want to know where your copy has been before you bought it, you could find the book at BookCrossing.

You could look up the book at a price comparison site, or you could see if it’s listed by sellers of rare books. Or perhaps it’s a technical book that’s available in the online reference library at Safari Books?

How do you do all these things? I could give you a long list of links, but I don’t need to. Those good wikipedians have set up a wonderful page for this.

Visit Wikipedia’s Book Sources page and enter your ISBN. In return you’ll get a page full of links, all customized to that ISBN, with which you can access that book at all the services listed above and many more too.

Wikipedia warns that possession of an ISBN doesn’t prove that a book was necessarily issued, as the publication may have been cancelled after the ISBN was assigned. Also, an ISBN identifies one specific edition of a book, so a single book might have multiple ISBNs (paperback, hardcover, second edition, etc). Wikipedia even comes to the rescue here – the Book Sources page also generates links to thingISBN and xISBN, services that will help you find different editions of the same book.

And if you want the same service for sites in upteen other languages including Slovenian and Persian, that’s available too. Book Sources is truly a comprehensive service.

Oh, and see this page if you don’t know your ISBN from your ICBM.

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