Aix sponsa and the mystery of the ISBN


Our local supermarket is now accessible by a splendid new bridge over the Cam (they paid for part of it – and every little helps). There’s lots of exciting things here – the Museum of Technology (Victorian sewage pumping station – well worth a visit), the boaties, some classic 1960’s industrial architecture, our mediaeval church (St Andrews), etc. Here’s my mobile phone photo:

But the reason for this post is the duck at (0.5, 0.1) – It’s a Wood Duck (aix sponsa) and they are extremely rare in Britain. (Before you get excited I suspect it’s an escape – see from about 3 years ago). Here’ my best photo – confirming the identification, I hope.

So I turned to a wonderful book published 34 years ago. Here’s a photo of my copy. (I am claiming “fair use” – not that that is relevant in the UK – for having photographed the cover as I want to make a relevant point).


It’s got records for every 10 km square in the UK for all breeding birds (the one shown is a Stonechat (Saxicola torquata)). You can see how it’s clustered round the West of the country. So, is this book in the BL’s bibliography? Its ISBN is 0 903793 01 6 as printed in the front matter. It’s © British Trust for Ornithology and was First published in 1976. Can I confirm the ISBN?

One Wikpedian agrees ( . I can also find it on this site ( ) which gives this ISBN, but also has several others for the same book:

(ISBN: 0856610186 / 0-85661-018-6) [Date 1976] and (ISBN: 9780856610189) [Date 1980] and

    The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland (ISBN: 9780856610189)

J.T.R. Sharrock

Book Description: British Trust for Ornithology, Tring, 1976.

If I search for it on Bibliographica I get 6 entries all pointing to 0856610186:

The atlas of breeding birds in Britain and Ireland

by Sharrock, J. T. R. (John Timothy Robin)
Includes bibliographies and index.

I can understand that a 1980 reprint could have a different ISBN. (And I am not confusing this with the later study:

by a different author).

So my book has a different ISBN from the one in the BL’s entries in JISC Openbib. And there are at least 4 identifiers for the “same book”.

Any enlightenment welcomed.


My physical book has a different ISBN from the British National Bibliography. My guess is that the BNB has a pre-publication one. I’ve also learnt that there are ISBN-10 (10 digits) and ISBN-13 (13 digits). The 10-character string seems similar but not always identical between the two. And, As I am told, Welcome to the world of ISBNs.

Maybe the world can help…



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5 Responses to Aix sponsa and the mystery of the ISBN

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Unilever Centre for Molecular Informatics, Cambridge - Aix sponsa and the mystery of the ISBN « petermr’s blog [] on

  2. David Jones says:

    and I thought you were going to ask if the data to draw that lovely dotty map on the front cover was Open Data. 🙂
    When is a book “the same book”? I’m not sure I have any real insight, but it clearly differs according to use. If I’m just recommending a book to someone, I probably don’t care whether they get the hardback or the paperback, or the North American edition; if I’m doing scholarly research, I probably have to specify the exact edition and printing; if I’m trying to get my friend to return my signed copy of “Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs” with my marginal notes in, then I want exactly that physical instance and no other will do.

  3. Ed Chamberlain says:

    On behalf of all Librarians, welcome to our world. No specifics for this one, but some general pointers:
    As I see it, and I’m sure its not the whole story, ISBNS can be issued for reprint runs or re-issues if they contain a minor fix, and changes of edition and for hardback or paperback versions of a work. In short whenever a publisher feels like it.
    Assuming they are accurate, Some records will also have ISBN-13 identifiers retro-applied (the numbers begining with 978). Many catalogue records contain ISBN’s for other versions of a work, often with good intentions but a practice that usually ending up misleading the reader. MARC /AACR2 cataloguing (the original form of creation for the Bl records) does not help, the MARC 21 standard has no means to qualify what an ISBN relates to.
    This is one of the reasons why Library of Congress Control Numbers and OCLC numbers are a lot more useful at identifiying the version of a work you have. Of course, these may not be written in the book …

  4. ISBN is very confusing i don’t know any good way of doing it i use amazon though and the pictures help

  5. Pingback: Library of congress isbn | CatalogIx

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