ISBNs vs. Barcodes: The Pros and Cons of Different Library Identification Systems

When it comes to managing library collections, having an efficient identification system is essential for keeping track of resources and ensuring accurate record-keeping. But what is the best way to identify items in a library? Many libraries use both ISBNs or library barcodes as unique tracking identifiers, but there are advantages and disadvantages to both options. In this blog post, we will explore the pros and cons of ISBNs and library barcodes and the role each plays in your library system.

Library Barcodes

The Importance of Unique Identifiers in Library Systems

Having a unique tracking number for each item in your library collection is essential for the proper management of your resources. It allows you to keep track of your inventory and to identify specific items, enabling you to properly lend them out and recall them.

To accomplish this, many libraries use acquisition numbers, which are sequential numbers assigned to each new item added to the catalogue. Acquisition numbers are the best option for identifying individual items. If the number is higher, you can tell that it has been more recently added to the collection compared to an item with a lower number.


What is an ISBN?

ISBNs, or International Standard Book Numbers are assigned to one-off publications like books and pamphlets but they are not assigned to journals, newspapers, or other types of serial publications which are assigned International Standard Serial Number (ISSN). Any book made publicly available, whether for sale or on a gratis basis, can be identified by ISBN. Essentially an ISBN is a product identifier which is a numerical identifier. Used primarily by book publishers, distributors, librarians, and online sellers. The ISBN identifies the vendor as well as the specific title, edition, and format. ISBNs are very useful for cataloguing because you can download bibliographic records using the ISBN to identify the correct title, edition and format. So it’s important to add the ISBN to your catalogue records.


The Downsides of Using ISBNs for Tracking Individual Items

Using ISBNs as acquisition numbers may seem like a logical choice, but there are several downsides to relying on them as unique identifiers for individual copies or serial issues. When it comes to tracking the copies of a book, relying solely on ISBNs can create challenges and limitations in properly managing your library inventory because you may have more than one copy of a title. For example, in a school library, you may buy thirty copies of a textbook so every student can borrow one. You need unique tracking numbers for each of the thirty copies because the ISBN will be the same for every copy. Even if you don’t normally buy more than one copy of a title, if you use its ISBN as the unique identifier, the day you do buy a second copy of a title you have a problem because the ISBN number is not unique.

How Barcode Labels Can Be Used as Unique Identifiers

Ultimately, the use of a unique acquisition number which is applied to each copy or serial issue is recommended for the unique identification of each item. While the ISBN is stored in the Catalogue to identify the title, acquisition numbers are stored in the Holdings or Copies part of your library system and relate to the individual copies and serial issues.

Library management systems will provide an acquisition number automatically, which you may find convenient to use on items you loan out and you can write it on the item. Alternatively, you can use pre-printed barcode labels which come in rolls or sheets and have sequential numbers. If you are using barcode labels, stick a label on the item and scan the barcode into the item identifier field or acquisition number field overwriting the system-assigned number.

In short, you can have an ISBN in the catalogue which identifies the title, edition, and format AND a unique identifier for each copy of that title.

Benefits of Using Barcode Labels

Using barcode labels in your library has several benefits over writing numbers on items or printing your labels. Barcode labels will clearly show the unique number, the number as a scannable barcode, and the name of your company or school. The labels are coated so they are durable and smudge resistant.

Barcode labels also contribute to faster check-in and check-out processes. With a barcode scanner, library staff can quickly scan the barcode on an item, updating its status in the system in real-time. This eliminates the need for manual data entry and speeds up the circulation process.

By streamlining processes and reducing the manual workload for staff, barcode labels help to increase overall efficiency and accuracy in a library system. This not only improves customer satisfaction but also frees up staff time to focus on other important tasks, such as assisting readers.

If you’re looking to enhance your library’s efficiency and organization, don’t forget to check out our shop for barcode labels and scanners. They can make a significant difference in streamlining your library management system.