Unique identifiers for specific volumes in a collection of books

(filename: BoID.htm)

The ISBN system... the International Standard Book Number... is a wonderful thing.

But it doesn't give a different number for every copy of a book.

My system for that want is as follows...

The first book I bought on the 2nd of January, 2000 was given the ID...


I said "book". It might have been better, if less immediately meaningful, if I'd said "volume".

Let's say that first "book" was Volume One in a first edition set of Churchill's "History of the English-Speaking Peoples". Volume Two would have had f00102b for its unique ID.

My system makes it quite easy to avoid ever giving two volumes the same ID. I only need to buy fewer than 25 books a day, and to stay on top of each day's book buying. (When assigning IDs, things I bought on a different day couldn't get the same ID as a book from the day in question.

(Why 25 books a day, not 26? I reserve the value "z" in the last position as a "rogue value" to say "something funny about this ID".)

The first character is an "f" for any book purchased in the 21st century. The first volume bought on 2 January 1900 would have the ID....


Two characters down... five... exactly five... to go. Well... apart from one more we'll come to

What about the five... and it is ALWAYS five in the middle?

When setting up IDs which are ever to go anywhere near a computer, it is a big "plus" if they stick to a rigid format. In my book ID system, for example, the 7th character always is the discriminator between different volumes purchased on a single day. (Well, almost always. We'll come to that. It is always involved!)

Another way of describing my ID is to say it is made up of...



A detail: Don't miss the trick I've used to force the information about the month into just one character. Remember: One of the design goals was a "fixed format" code. The month can't sometimes be one character (e.g. 3 for March), sometimes two (e.g. 11 for November). I don't want to type 01, 02, 03... i.e. a leading zero for the nine months up to October. So I settled on using a, b and c for October, November, December. My own "invention"! (I haven't seen it used by anyone else!) But once you get used to it... and that isn't hard... it "works".

Digression: There's an important extra benefit: On many computers... all computers, I believe, until Microsoft "got clever"... if you had a set of things datestamped by my system, if you sorted a list on that information, simple "alphabetical" order also resulted in chronological order.

Even under Windows, you can tweak your system to discard Microsoft's "helpful" muddying of the waters, make it return to having the computer just do what you tell it to do. A bit like turning off predictive text.

I lied

What I've described so far is indeed how I started my system. And it works. And books given IDs with it before I tweaked the system still have their old IDs, which work fine alongside my "Mark Two" version.

I said Churchill's History, bought on the 2nd of January, 2000 would be given the ID "f00102a".

The second volume, would, under that system, be "f00102b", the third volume "f00102c", and so on. (There are four volumes in that work, so the last would be "f00102d")

If I also bought a copy of his marvelous My Early Life... do read at least the early chapters about his entrance exams to his prep school, and to Harrow... that would be given "f00102e".

I came to wish that I'd done something in my code system to reflect the fact that the first four purchases of the 2nd of January, 2000, were all volumes of one work.

And my system gave confirmation of being well designed: It could be modified without great disruption.

If I bought a set of the Tolkein Trilogy today, 7 September 2020, the three volumes would get the IDs...


(Assuming that they were the first books I bought on this day!)

But apart from that tweak... and dropping a checksum character that used to prefix the code, which I dropped very quickly, early in the system's use... that system has stood the test of time for more than a decade.

It is generally useful

Those tricks for turning a date into...

... has proved very useful generally. I commend it to you.

And date plus time?

That's easy, of course. I often add a time to a "datestamp" made as above when doing backups of computer files.

I usually... gasp!... "waste" a character on a hyphen, and then just give hours, minutes, and (in some computer date-time-stamped files) second.

The only "twist"? Always 2 digits for hour, always two digits for minutes. And 24 hour clock, of course. So five minutes after three in the afternoon would be "1507"

Thank you

Thank you for "staying with me", reading this far. I hope I've deserved your time. Feedback always welcome, and if you were to mention this essay on social media, in forums, etc, it would be very welcome. I sometimes wonder if anyone reads what I write. It's a waste of my time, if not.... sigh.

Links to this page would, of course, be particularly welcome! (But I won't pay for links.... other than to consider a link to your page, if I find it has related good content.)

As you probably already know, this page is an appendix to http://wywtk.com/BoMa/BookBarcodesBother.htm, but of course is also useful in general discussions about creating unique ID designations.

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