Continuing our series of Kitchen Essentials interviews with leaders of scholarly infrastructure organizations, today we hear from Gaelle Bequet, Director of the International Standard Serial Number International Centre (ISSN IC). This intergovernmental organization, based in Paris (France), manages the identification and description of serial publications and other ongoing resources, print and online. Most Scholarly Kitchen readers will be familiar with ISSNs but, as you’ll hear from Gaelle, there’s a lot more to the work of the ISSN IC.

line drawings of various cooking and eating equipment

Please tell us a bit about yourself — your role at ISSN IC, how you got there, and why you embarked on a career in research infrastructure?

I studied in Nantes and Paris, France. I have a Master’s degree in International Relations and an MLIS. In 2011, after defending my PhD, which analyzed the emergence of digital libraries in Austria, France, and the UK, I was looking for a position where I could combine my technical skills and my passion for international cooperation. The ISSN International Centre is an intergovernmental organization whose mission matched my expectations. I started working there as Executive Director in 2014.

What do you like most and least about working in research infrastructure?

The ISSN is an identifier used globally, and it is very safisfying to cooperate with colleagues from different cultures who share the common goal of building a global database to identify serial publications. The ISSN Network provides a valuable service to publishers, content providers and libraries. This task of identifying publications has long been invisible to researchers, students, academic decision-makers and the general public, which can be frustrating. Fortunately, this is changing, and our action is now gaining in importance, thanks to the opening up of scientific outputs and the associated issues of quality, integrity, provenance, and long-term preservation, as seen, for example, in the construction of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC).

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give someone starting, or thinking of starting, a career in research infrastructure?

It seems to me that you need an interest in standardization, e.g., in the area of information and documentation, a familiarity with a range of IT tools, and the ability to acquire new knowledge in your field. Curiosity is paramount. Research infrastructures are global, and the good command of several languages is very helpful. The ability to communicate online, conduct webinars, and present at trade shows are also useful skills.

What sort of infrastructure does ISSN IC provide, and who are your users?

ISSN IC manages an infrastructure for the production and distribution of identifiers and associated metadata for the identification of journals, newspapers, blogs, websites, and all other categories of serial publications. Metadata production is centralized in the ISSN+ tool, which launched in 2022 and is made available to the entire ISSN network. Distribution is handled by the ISSN portal, which is based on a freemium model: basic identification data can be consulted free of charge, while full data can be downloaded by subscribers in various formats. An OAI-PMH server and API allow subscribers to easily reuse our data.

At the end of 2023, the ISSN portal contained 2,344,415 confirmed ISSNs, an increase of 2.5% on 2022. The overall number of continuing resources identified by the network has increased compared to 2022, with around 56,000 new ISSNs assigned, of which 2,865 were assigned by ISSN IC. Overall, as of January 2024, 372,404 online only serial resources were identified in the ISSN portal, representing 16% of total records.

We offer additional services such as the Directory of Open Scholarly Resources (ROAD) and the Keepers Registry, which lists journals preserved by some 20 partner archiving agencies. Our Submit.Retrieve.Reuse service allows libraries or bibliographic database managers to retrieve archival status data for journals and check the quality of ISSNs in their local database. We also work with NISO’s TRANSFER working group to report journal titles that change publishers.

Our users/subscribers are mostly academic libraries, ILS vendors, and library consortia. We also supply data to partners such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Mirabel, and Latindex to name a few. The ISSN portal is our showcase: in 2023, we recorded 3,624,085 visits, with an average visit duration of 3 min 4s. Our visitors are mostly based in the USA (12.4%), India (12.3%), Brazil (5.7%), Indonesia (5.2%), and China (4.6%).

How is ISSN IC sustained financially?

ISSN IC is an intergovernmental organization based in Paris. It is supported by contributions from the French government and member countries (94 as of April 2024).

ISSN IC is also the Registration Authority for ISO 3297 – International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), appointed by the International Organization for Standardization to manage the implementation of the ISSN standard. The sale of portal subscriptions and services represents one third of our annual budget.

As one of the leaders of a research infrastructure organization, what do you think are the biggest opportunities we’ve not yet realized as a community — and what’s stopping us?

Scientific production is growing exponentially around the world. I’m not convinced that the majority of researchers and research organizations are aware of, or have access to, the tools that would help them maximize the dissemination of their work in the sciences and humanities. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of the cost of access/use. National and regional open science policies are a great opportunity to promote knowledge sharing at the international level, for example, by funding academic repositories and high-quality machine translations. But the ideal of open science is currently being undermined by geopolitical tensions and conflicts. You see how research infrastructures located in Western countries become inaccessible to certain researchers due to international sanctions against their home countries. International politics and economic factors are holding us back.

Looking at your own organization, what are you most proud of — and what keeps you awake at night?

All ISSN network members are proud to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the ISSN network in 2025! This anniversary shows that ISSN is relevant, resilient, and still young! The ISSN IC team is also proud of the modernization of our infrastructure, the visibility gained thanks to the opening of our portal, and the improved data quality thanks to our new production tool. We have created a virtuous cycle of innovation through our strategic plans and we want to keep up the momentum.

We are all concerned about the increasing number of intellectual property disputes between journal publishers. Take the case of two publishers who have signed a distribution agreement for a title. They may have a dispute that results in the creation of two journals with the same title and ISSN, but with different content. In such cases, we must intervene to distinguish the two new journals by assigning two new ISSNs and adding a qualifier to each title. Although ISO 3297 stipulates that an ISSN is not the property of the publisher of a journal, we encounter reluctance from some publishers who do not want a new ISSN, because the previous one is used as a reference in content quality assessment databases. It is worth repeating that the assignment of an ISSN to a continuing resource does not imply any meaning or legal evidence regarding the ownership of rights to that publication or its content. The ISSN itself does not belong to the publisher.

Our other concern relates to the development of journals with low quality or even misleading scientific content. Again, ISO 3297 is very clear. The assignment of an ISSN to a continuing resource does not imply that the ISSN network endorses the content of that continuing resource, nor does it imply any quality endorsement of the continuing resource. These publications can be identified by an ISSN and be indexed in the ISSN Portal. However, for open access publications, we have established restrictive criteria for indexing them in ROAD. Our friends at Latindex do the same, distinguishing quality journals in their Catálogo 2.0.

What impact has/does/will AI have on ISSN IC’s work?

We already assign ISSNs to publications created by artificial intelligence such as content aggregation sites on the Web!

We are currently defining our strategic plan for 2025-2029 and exploring the relevance of AI-based tools for improving interface translations and metadata quality. ISSN IC has an international mission and strives to provide information and tools in the six official languages of the United Nations. Translation is a costly task in terms of human and financial resources, and we want to automate it as much as possible while maintaining good information quality.

We have set up dashboards in our production tool that allow each National Centre to modify its data to improve quality. But some tasks are extremely time-consuming, such as correcting URL links for online publications or adding missing fields to records. Could we use an AI instance trained on our data, using our bibliographic description standards, to locate an online resource and suggest additional data that can be inferred from existing fields? This would be an invaluable aid to our metadata specialists.

What changes do you think we’ll see in terms of the overall research infrastructure over the next five to ten years, and how will they impact the kinds of roles you’ll be hiring for at ISSN?

Like any other organization, research infrastructures are responsible for reducing their overall impact on the climate, notably by exhausting less energy, offsetting their polluting activities, and favoring service providers committed to sustainable technical choices. ISSN IC has made this a priority in its 2025-2029 strategy and will seek the support of professional associations in this field. We have started and will continue to provide training to raise awareness of climate issues among staff.

In the ISSN portal, we manage unique identifiers and metadata that could be exploited to produce an annual international overview of serial publications worldwide for libraries and publishers. For the moment, we lack the necessary data analysis and visualization skills.

Training on a global scale is also very important. Professionals with excellent communication and professional skills could help us train our network colleagues wherever they are and whatever their level of expertise. We can rely on our network to enhance our professional cohesion.

ISSN IC is an international organization and its diversity is a great asset! We regularly communicate on our multicultural profile by posting portraits of ISSN Centres colleagues on our social networks. We also take care to provide information in several languages on our website. However, we find it difficult to promote our services outside of Europe and North America. We’ll try to improve our outreach by making better use of social networking and structuring our narrative.

Alice Meadows

Alice Meadows

I am a Co-Founder of the MoreBrains Cooperative, a scholarly communications consultancy with a focus on open research and research infrastructure. I have many years experience of both scholarly publishing (including at Blackwell Publishing and Wiley) and research infrastructure (at ORCID and, most recently, NISO, where I was Director of Community Engagement). I’m actively involved in the information community, and served as SSP President in 2021-22. I was honored to receive the SSP Distinguished Service Award in 2018, the ALPSP Award for Contribution to Scholarly Publishing in 2016, and the ISMTE Recognition Award in 2013. I’m passionate about improving trust in scholarly communications, and about addressing inequities in our community (and beyond!). Note: The opinions expressed here are my own


Leave a Comment