CueCat: ISBNs and Barcodes

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ISBNs and Barcodes

Now you need a good barcode to start scanning into LibraryThing. Here’s short diversion to explain what to look for.

ISBNs (or International Standard Book Numbers) were derived from some stock codes first put on some books in the UK in the early 1960s. Over the last forty years they have spread to more countries, have taken on a standardised form and – on most books – are shown as a machine readable barcode. It’s this code that your :CueCat will read.

Various barcode schemes have been used and although most recently published books carry an international standard ISBN barcode some also carry other barcodes as well.

What you are looking for is a bar code that looks like one of these:

Barcode 1.jpg
Notice this barcode has an ISBN number across the top and the number below the barcode starts with 978 (though in the future this may also be 979).

Ideally this will be on the back cover of the book (known as Cover 4) though on some US paperbacks it may be on the inside front cover (Cover 2)*.

Barcode 2.jpg
This barcode includes a supplementary five-digit add-on code (usually used for pricing information). This format is mandatory in some countries including the USA and Canada.

Your :CueCat will read the extra five digits and LibraryThing knows to ignore them.

Notice that we still have a human readable ISBN above and the lower number starts with 978.

Barcode 3.jpg
This version has the new ISBN-13 at the top as well as the older ISBN-10. Books published from 1 January 2007 should show both.

Notice that the ISBN-13 is the same as the code below the barcode.

ISBN-10 and -13 are almost the same except that there is a 978 at the start of the ISBN-13 and the final check digits are different.

The example below looks more complex but you’ll see that the barcodes to the right are the ones that we want. The one on the left is a product code; your :CueCat should scan it OK but LibraryThing won’t have any idea what to do with it.

A more complex example.

Note: Barcodes like the one on the left are used on the back covers of US mass-market paper-backs. The ISBN barcode is then usually on the inside front cover.

Problem barcodes

Some stores, like Borders, Walmart and some others put stickers over the barcode on the back cover. The ISBN-13 barcode may still exist under the sticker or inside the front cover.

BINC barcode
This is an example of a Borders sticker. You can see the ISBN-13 below – 978 7801410 198865. Borders stickers peel off very easily and, if you like you can scan the ISBN as usual.

If the sticker doesn’t peel off then you may need to look for the barcode elsewhere and enter it manually.

BINC dialogue.
LibraryThing does understand the Borders BINC codes on their stickers (for US stores only) and, if you prefer, you can scan this. To let LibraryThing know that it should lookup the BINC code you need to check the Advanced Option on the Add Books page.

Other problem barcodes are those where:

  • the printing is fuzzy or too small and the bars aren’t distinct;
  • there is a surrounding box that is too close to the code so the :CueCat can’t decide where the code starts;
  • the cover and code are printed in red or pink so the :CueCat’s red light doesn’t reflect properly;
  • the barcode is too close to the spine so it is either distorted or there isn’t enough white space to let the :CueCat see that it’s ended; or
  • the barcode is damaged – scratched, over-stickered, mis-printed, etc.

Sometimes you can get a result with persistence but most of the time it’s better to give up and enter the code manually.

See also

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