Doc Martyn’s Soul: Saying Goodbye to Your ISBN Prefix

An end of an era brings many things to light. People shed tears, metaphorically or literally. Remembrances are uttered. Songs are penned. Quotes sought. Many things occur, all as a way of marking the passing of something beloved. Perhaps weirdly this clamor of reminiscing occurred at UNP last week. In this year, the Press’s 75th anniversary, it seems strangely fitting that we are closing the door on an era and starting a new one. What better time to say goodbye to an old friend and welcome a new one.

But what era can end at a university press that brings such heartfelt emotion? Our ISBN has reached its limit. 10,000 titles have been assigned the prefix 0-8032. All the above for an ISBN? Surely only at a university press can such a scene play out.

An all-press email fluttered into our inboxes last week. Many such emails are sent and almost all are read, filed, probably ignored, and the recipients move on. Not this one. Emails flooded back and forth as members of all departments, business and IT included, shared their sadness that our trusty friend’s end had come too soon.

Many readers pay no attention to an ISBN. It serves no benefit to the reading experience. But once you pass from reader to reader/producer of books ISBNs become part of your understanding of a book. Few readers spend time on the copyright page. But once you take a seat at the table making the books you cannot help but check that page as part of your reading experience of any book. And there resides the ISBN. It has other homes, too, of course: the back cover, the metadata, the website, and so on. But those places are mere lake cabins and city pads, not the family home.

From spring 2018, the family home will feature a new offspring, 10,000 slots ready to be filled. Grandpa’s rocking chair will have been vacated, the old blanket left hanging on its back. The new generation seeking its own spot to claim and sit, knowingly watching the Press from its vantage point of origin.

UNP has published many classics under its original ISBN, Black Elk Speaks, The Home PlaceSaga of Chief Joseph, just to name a few, and so we mourn its passing. We send memories of those books to each other. We wonder what the future will look like. And yet, it is wonderfully fitting that we celebrate 75 years and say goodbye to our trusty companion. 0-8032, you served us so well. Welcome to the family 1-4962.

Oh, and here’s the song based off of Shangri-Las / Remember (Walking in the Sand) written by a UNP staffer:

Remember (zero eight o three two)

I learned just yesterday

My ISBN went away

It went away, ‘way from me

Been 75 years or so

Why’d my ISBN have to go

And then this email it came to me

It said a new number would do

1…1…four nine six two oo

Oh, let me think, let me think, what can I do?
Oh no, oh no, oh no no no no no

 

(Remember) zero eight o three two oo
(Remember) zero eight o three two oo
(Remember) it rolled off your lips
(Remember) flowed from your fingertips
(Remember) looked good in any font
(Remember) what more could you want?
Always, always it worked in a barcode

 

Whatever happened to

The ISBN I once knew

An ISBN oh, oh so true

Oh, what am I to do?

Stuck with four nine six two

What will I do with it now?

 

Remember) zero eight o three two oo
(Remember) zero eight o three two oo
(Remember) it rolled off your lips
(Remember) flowed from your fingertips
(Remember) looked good in any font
(Remember) what more could you want?
Always, always it worked in a barcode

 

Martyn