This short article contains a helpful discussion with Laura Dawson about the ISNI (International Standard Name Identifiers, pronounced to rhyme with Disney). ISNIs identify people the way that ISBNs identify books. Assigning unique numbers to writers, artists, and other public figures makes it easier to distinguish between different people with similar names. This can also be very helpful in collecting all the different spellings of a non-English author’s translated name under one number to make it clear that these refer to the same person. ISNIs are overseen by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization), which also oversees ISBNs, ISSNs, and DOIs. Under ISO’s governance, the ISNI International Agency sets ISNI policies. Using these policies, the ISNI Assignment Agency (which is currently the OCLC, interestingly enough) assigns the actual numbers to names. Registration agencies act as go-betweens for the OCLC and those wanting ISNI numbers.
Dawson’s answers gave me a good basic knowledge of the purpose and structure of ISNIs. Knowing more about how these are determined and governed seems likely to help me use ISNIs more effectively in creating metadata records in the future (both in identifying when they are used and possibly putting in my own metadata records).