The Finding Early United Nations Documents
Before 1985 / Before 1992

Prepared by Susan Bennett White, Princeton University Library



Since the United Nations began posting its documentation full text on the web though various instruments, identifying and locating the materials covered there became a straightforward task. In particular, the UN ODS System provides full text in all available languages of UN Documents form 1992 to the present. The UNBISNET System provides excellent modern indexing from 1985 to the present, with some documents and Sales Publications from 1979 to the present. Finally, the United Nations Yearbook Collection on the web covers 1946 through 2005.

However, documents detailing the work of earlier years in the United Nations remain largely shrouded in unnecessary mystery for the general public or even in the academic and research world. In a long established Depostiory Library which is also in a research setting such as the United Nations Collection here at Princeton, finding earlier documents is straightforward - really only a matter of using tools and documents files which are a mix of electronic and paper sources. This acces is outlined here.

I.  U.N. Working Documents Index 1945 to present - AccessUN.
Although the indexing provided in AccessUN is at a fairly general level, it does provide indexing for the period before 1985 when UNBISNET begins in earnest. 

II.  United Nations Yearbook Collection.  Also in paper format, located in the Social Science Reference Center in the UN Collection. Look in the right side of the wooden bookcase in the center of the Collection. The Yearbook provides a detailed summary of the work of the United Nations each year, and includes references to many documents. For the years before 1985, the Yearbook is a useful tool to identify documents as to their document symbol.

III.  Sales Publications. United Nations Sales P:ublications are a small but critial subset of UN Documents. Here will often be found, for exampkle, final reports for projects and initiatives. If something really mattered in the work of the UN over the years, it is well to check here to see if it is documented in this colledtion. Sales Publications are found in paper format, shelved in the part of the UN Collection on the right side facing the stacks behond the desk. They have numbers such as E.85.II.A.3, and are shelved first by the central element, the II.A in this case, then by the year which comes before the classification, and finally bgy the number folling the classification.

1. Index in Book Format, 1946-1978

Birchfield, Mary Eva
The Complete Reference Guide to United Nations Sales Publications, 1946-1978. Pleasantville, N.Y. : UNIFO Publishers, 1982. 2 v. ; 29 cm.
v. 1. Catalogue
v. 2. Indexes. Sales number index, title index, key wrod in context.
ISBN: 0891110119 (set) :
Location: Firestone United Nations Collection (UN)
Call number: Z6485.Z9 U52 1982

2. Index in Electronic Format, UNBISNET. The electronic index UNBISNET includes Sales Publications from 1980 to the present.

IV. Full Text of Documents 1946-1991. The vull text of United Nations Documents from 1946 to 1991 is found in microformat. Years 1946-1981 is found in a format called MICROCARDS in the Microforms Library on C Floor of Firestone Library, just outside the main staircase. Document from 1981 to 1991 are found in Microfiche along the back wall of the Social Science Reference Center next to the Data Lab, where they have to be pulled and taken to the Microforms Library for reading. In both cases, documents are identified by a UN Symbol, made up of Letters and numers, connected by slashes, such as E/49/C.3/431. There is excellent equipment in the Microforms Library to read and to make copies from the UN documents in microformat. .

V. Official Records Offical Records from the United Nations are the parliamentay recoreds of meetings of major bodies of the UN, incluidng the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Secutiry Council, and for the years when it was active, the Trustee Council. These include the words said in sessions, and the documents presented at the highest levels, which are termed Supplements. These are found in paper format in the United Nations Collection, and there are excellent paper indexs, the Index to Proceedings of the General Assembly, Index to Proceedings of the Security Council, and so on.

VI. Special Materials A number of earlier UN documents are found gathered together on special UN web pages, such as :

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, including much historical materials going back well before the UN was organized. Note especially Map Collection found here.

VII. Maps While this is not a UN source, the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection on the web from the University of Texas at Austin is highly useful in finding maps related to UN activities and locaitons. i

Historical Maps - Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, UTexas-Austin.

  • Page last updated  12 February 2010 in the Princeton University Library.
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