The E World of United Nations Documents
in the Spring of 2012
Susan Bennett White
Princeton University Library
Revised edition of materials prepared for 2007 Conference on
International Documents in an Electronic Age
held at the World Bank in Washington DC
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In January 2012, a partnership between the UN Library in New York and the UN Office in Geneva to digitize pre-1993 UN documents was announced. This followed the change in January 2010, when the United Nations went green and stopped distribution of documents in paper within its own Secretariat – at a savings of seven tons of paper each year. This move provided a major milepost in the inexorable shift onto the web of most international government documents - especially those of the United Nations. At the same time, give anyone in the world with Internet access a front row seat for - well - the making of history. As well, these sites provide ready access to critical measures of international law, business, the production and distribution of money, education, food, energy, and water, the condition of entire populations, and certainly most important if such things can be measured, the children of the world. .

The number of sites, and their breath and scope, along with the current news overlay that occupies the top layer of many, can make access daunting. Many are provided by the United Nations itself. Others have been prepared at reliable sites outside the United Nations. This page contains a highly selective listing of a few that seem especially interesting. But more important, the technique suggested here, of identifying key sites for international documents or for reference to those documents and then approaching them in a systematic way, drilling down for publications, then standards, then statistics and so on, can open a rational portal to this broad "E World of United Nations Documents."

I.  League of Nations.  Read here the actual documents of a world community failing at the political process and plunging into war, but leaving behind a curious legacy of how they failed, and some key statistical measures not found elsewhere.

Full Text
Research Guide to League of Nations Publications from Northwestern
League Documents and Sales Publications Includes League Statistical Yearbook - f rom Northwestern
Select League documents: from Yale
Versailles Treaty from Yale
League of Nations. Official Journal, Vols. 1-21 (1920-1940) All Published.By subscription th. Hein Online

II.  United Nations Documentation.  Here are found indexes and for some items, the actual full text of working documents, reports, speeches, and resolutions actually generated and used by the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, Security Council, and other parts of the U.N. 

1.  The HomePage of the United Nations (  This page is a portal to international information about the UN and international issues on a grand scale, with excellent functionality and great content.  It is so rich in information that some elements can seem buried, but becoming very familiar with this page is very much worth the effort. 
2. UNBISNET ( 1985 to present, few earlier  Superb index to U.N. documents, speeches, sales publications, and  voting records. UNIQUE  ( index and full text for a few key documents 1946 to present.
3. ODS - Official Documents of the United Nations Full Text - 1993 to present ( and UN Treaty Collection , (
4. UN Depository Libraries ( Worldwide listing where all UN documents and publications can be accessed. Other research libraries often hold many years of UN documents which they acquired on subscription. Depository and these research libraries can provide full text of UN documents from 1946 to the present.
5. United Nations Documentation: Research Guide (  Excellent overall guide prepared by the staff of the Dag Hammarskjold Library at UN Headquarters, (
6. Document Symbols  ( )  UN Documents are identified by document symbols as shown here.  Symbols are organic, arising from the nature of the part of the UN issuing them and the function of the document.  They gather documents together in families which can be helpful in answering a reference question.
7.  UN System Pathfinder ( Identifies a comprehensive range of basic reference tools and includes key publications of historic value (i.e., dating back to the founding of the UN).  Also U.N. Documentation Centre  ( many UN official documents full text Including all Resolutions, 1946 to present, from the Security Council, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council.
8. U N Member States On the Record ( Contact information and documents from individual members states of the UN.
9.  CyberSchoolBus  ( Fantastic resource for younger kids on the UN and all sorts of international topics, very much age appropriate.  Fun and good educational value. Also found here Model UN site, comprehensive and age appropriate for teens
10. Yearbook of the United Nations. 1946-2005, Online ( An electronic full text of the quintessential reference book on the United Nations, published annually since 1946. Topics can be searched across years, names or events readily identified; easy printing.

III.  Documentation From Other UN Bodies.  Here are found many full text documents, especially for the last five to ten years.

UNData – formerly Common Database - UN's magnificent basket of statistics drawn from many UN agencies - some unique here. (
International Court of Justice  (
International Labour Organization Documents mirror site
ILO - Labor Statistics (
Permanent Court of Arbitration (
Project on Dispute Settlement in International Trade, Investment and Intellectual Property - UNCTAD (
United Nations Development Program, UNDP, includes Human Development Report (
UNESCO Statistics (
UNESCO Working Documents Index from 1946, full text from 1995, both to the present.. (
UNICEF, United Nations Children's Agency, includes annual State of the World's Children full text (
UNICEF - Innocenti Research Centre - significant publications on children's rights (
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, encyclopedic full text refugee information (
UNISPAL, United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine Online collection of full text United Nations documents on the question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict. ( )
World Health Organization WHOSIS, includes annual World Health Report full text, 1995 to present (
World Income Inequality Database, 1950 to the present, from Wider Institute at UN Univertsity ( )
World Trade Organization Working Documents Full Text 1995 to the present. (
WTO Legal Documents and Disputes Updates , World Trade Organization (

IV.  Web Sites of the UN Specialized or External Agencies  Many contain full text documentation for recent years, and useful indexes, sometimes for the entire history of the organization.
  • FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (
  • IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency (
  • ICAO International Civil Aviation Organization (
  • IFAD International Fund for Agricultural Development (
  • IFC International Finance Corporation (
  • ILO International Labour Organization (
  • IMO International Maritime Organization (
  • IMF International Monetary Fund (
  • ITU International Telecommunications Union (
  • UNCTAD United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (
  • UNIDO United Nations Industrial Development Organization (
  • UNESCO United Nations Educational,Scientific and Cultural Organization (
  • UPU Universal Postal Union (
  • World Bank ((
  • WHO World Health Organization (
  • WIPO World Intellectual Property Organization (
  • WMO World Meteorological Organization (
  • WTO World Trade Organization (Began 1995, formally GATT) (
  • WTO World Tourism Organization (

    V.  Regional Commissions  A wonderful amount of detail is found on the web sites of the five United Nations Regional Commission, including lots of country information and full text documents.
    • Africa (includes Egypt) (
    • Asia and the Pacific (includes many states of former Soviet Union) (
    • Europe (also includes many states of former Soviet Union) (
    • Latin America and the Caribbean is especially strong. (
    • Western Asia (the Arab countries of the Middle East, includes Egypt) (

    VI.  Useful Resources for UN Reseach From Outside the UN System.  The web is a wonderous place for sources on the United Nations.  Source and attitude must always be considered.  The following are especially useful.
  • Academic Council of the UN System - Scholars working on UN issues (
  • AccessUN - Subscription index for UN documents 1945 to present, unique in electronic form for for 1945-1985, from Readex. Full text documents on fiche 1945 to present also available.
  • ASIL Electronic Resources for International Law Index and Web Map (
  • Avalon Project at Yale Law School, Documents in Law, History and Diplomac (,edu/default.asp)
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (
  • Country Reportd- International Monetary Fund (
  • Country Reports on Human Rights US State Department (
  • Hague Conventions ( deposited with the Dutch Ministry of Forein AFfairse Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (
  • Non-Goivernmental Organizations (NGOs) from UC Berkeley (
  • United Nations System, Index and Web Map (
  • University of Minnesota Human Rights Library,  (

    VII. A Few Good Books. Especially in the age of the Internet, there are still a few key print titles – books – which are a great help for anyone – librarian or client – serious about understanding and accessing United Nations documents, publications, statistics, or treaties.

    Directory of Government Document Collections and Librarians, 8 th ed . Government Documents Round Table, American Library Association. Ed. Susan Tulis and Daniel C. Barkley, Bethesda MD. LexisNexis, 2003. 719 p, ISBN 0-88692-606-8 An essential reference to know where the documents collections in the U.S. – of all types – are located, and not just depositories. Libraries move and change over time, and contact information may be a little stale – but even without an update, this is still a vital source to help track down where documents are located and who can help untangle a problem with them. Especially useful for librarians looking for help with Internet access to modern documents, or trying to find heritage – pre-Internet - documents. Worth the price or a trip or call to a research library.

    International Information : Documents, Publications, And Electronic Information Of International Governmental Organizations. Ed. Peter J. Hajnal. 2nd ed. -- Englewood , Colo. : Libraries Unlimited, 1997 – Vol. 1; 2001, vol. 2. xxxvi, 528 p. / 402 p ; 24 cm. ISBN 1563081474 Encyclopedia coverage of modern international documents, especially useful in putting them into an overall context. These volumes with their Internet presence as an update for each agency, explain and make rational the world of international government documents.

    International Legal Materials. Vol. 1, no. 1 (Aug. 1962) to present. Washington , D.C. : American Society of International Law, Bimonthly. Available electronically in Lexis Academic Provides full text of treaties and other international agreements which are difficult or impossible to find in other sources. Especially useful for an English text where such was not issued with the original document. An excellent court of last resort.

    United Nations Handbook 2009-2010 . Available from the UN Bookstore or from the New Zealand Mission at the UN, on the web at <>. The UN Handbook has been prepared annually since 1961 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the government of New Zealand. It is the only comprehensive printed guide to the United Nations system and how it works. It listas and describes all UN bodies, and gives essential information about their “aims, structures and membership.” Inexpensive – current edition is $20, and well worth having on hand in any library trying to work with UN Documents.

    United Nations Yearbook , 1946-present. Annual publication from the UN summing up its work. Often provides answers to questions of what the UN did at a point in time, or how it responded to a crisis. Numerous references to documents providing details of work or action. Usually two or three years for publication of a year – worth the wait. Purchase from UN Sales. Useful in Paper. Also free on the web.

    World Treaty Index by Peter H. Rohn. -- 2nd ed. -- Santa Barbara , Calif. : ABC-Clio Information Services, c1983-1984. 5 v. ; 29 cm. Long out of print, and no update in sight, this title is worth knowing about and using in a research library where it is held. Remarkably comprehensive index to the world's treaties from 1900-1980, giving the citation to find the text of the treaty in standard treaty publication series. Unique source for treaty information in many cases.

  • Page last updated  16 April 2012 in the Princeton University Library.
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