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The URN field on a publication

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The information in this blogpost may now be out of date. See the current GOV.UK content and publishing guidance.

I’ve been asked what the URN (unique reference number) field is for on publications and whether there is any guidance for its use.

There is guidance, in a dusty old document from before the beta which I have completely failed to share until now. Oops.

Better late than never, so here goes…

URNs are unique reference numbers to help you catalogue and retrieve your publications reliably.

Some departments already have a system of allocating URNs to publications, some don’t. Some departments use ISBNs instead of, or in addition to an internal URN system. Some don’t. Some publications have Command or House Of Commons paper reference numbers. Some don’t.

We think it’s good practice to have at least one reference number to help you and your users identify your documents specifically, eg when requesting alternative formats, ordering print copies or digging stuff out of the archives.

So we recommend that:

  • You allocate either an ISBN or URN or Cm or HoC paper reference to every publication as a minimum (or multiple of these reference numbers if that suits your internal processes)
  • If you don’t have a URN system, or if you want to change the one you have, adopt the following Inside Gov system and record it in the URN field for each publication. You will need to manage the unique number allocation internally.

Org acronym-year-incremental 4-digit number number
eg BIS-2013-0001 for the 1st publication BIS publishes in 2013

  • If your department has an existing URN system that you want to keep, then feel free to continue to use it. To ensure it remains unique alongside 300+ other organisations’ publications on GOV.UK, we might want to consider prefixing it (for all newpublications) with your org acronym and a dash eg DFT-A1234.

Sound alright?

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