Researching the United Nations: Finding the Organization's Internal Resource Trails
by Linda Tashbook
Linda Tashbook is the Foreign International Comparative Law Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law’s Barco Law Library, a Fulbright Senior Specialist, and an attorney in private practice. Prior to becoming the foreign and international librarian, she was the Barco Law Library’s Electronic Services Librarian. Before law school, she worked as a public librarian. Her Juris Doctor and Master of Library Science degrees are from the University of Pittsburgh. Her Bachelor of Science degree is from Texas Woman’s University.
Published October 2005
Table of Contents
Types of research tools
Locate or investigate someone involved with the UN
To investigate an issue that the U.N. works on
To find out about the work of a particular U.N. entity
To research a treaty deposited with the U.N.
Glossaries for UN functions
Finding Official Operating Documents of UN entities
Topical research guides & resource collections compiled by UN entities
Guides to U.N. Research made by non-U.N. entities
Databases of information from throughout the U.N. system
Database Training Manuals
Directories of UN staff and components: (a list in order by location, topic, and entity)
The United Nations is such a massive organization that its wide
array of processes and products require enough reference sources to warrant a
map and compass for navigation. As a map, here are suggested search
techniques for several standard types of queries and, as a compass, here
are the U.N.'s many diverse search tools organized into resource types.
For more information about the search tools and primary sources that are published by the U.N., peruse some research guides by non-U.N. entities.
- Use a directory.
- Look for speeches given by that person.
- Search for publications authored by that person or referencing that person's work.
- Search through U.N. press releases.
- Use the document research guides for each of the UN's broad categories of UN work:
· Peace & Security Documents Research Guide
· Economic & Social Development Reports & Databases
· Human Rights Documents Research Guide
· International Law Documents Research Guide
- Select from the list of Issues on the U.N. Agenda. Once you are in the Web page for the particular issue, you will see tabs at the top of the screen for research tools including "documents", "events", "learning", and "speeches" which all have important information.
- Use your browser's edit and find functions to jump through the alphabetical list of U.N. organizations using the names of places or subject words. Once in any of those organization pages, click on the link to publications.
- Look through the list of U.N. news outlets to find any that follow the topic you are investigating.
- See if there is specialized topical research guide produced by a unit of the U.N.
- Look in UNBISnet using the name of the committee, office, organization, council, etc... as a keyword phrase. Using the committee's name as author does not usually yield thorough results in this particular database.
- Browse through the alphabetical list of U.N. organizations. The committees are usually components of the organizations in this list. So, you will have to navigate.
- Use the index to the U.N. Website to search for the committee by name or else by the main areas of its work.
- Follow the leads on this page for locating U.N. documents and use words from the committee name as search terms.
- Subscribe to the U.N. Treaty Collection which "contains the texts of over 50,000 bilateral and multilateral treaties and subsequent treaty actions in their authentic language(s), along with a translation into English and French, as appropriate." The subscription costs a relatively minimal fee, depending on what type of institution is subscribing, to offset database maintenance expenses. Full subscription information is available here.
- Select a topic on the Documents by Global Issue page to get to the main international agreements involved with that topic.
- Read the decisions of the International Court of Justice interpreting the treaty that interests you.
- The International Law Commission has drafts of related conventions and helpful explanations about the work of codifying international law.
- The U.N. Office of Legal Affairs provides technical assistance and general information about treaties: stages in the treaty-making process, instructions for joining into an agreement and registering it, a treaty reference guide, and U.N. requirements and practices for treaty making.
- Search for press releases about the treaty.
- Childbirth Terms
- Criminological Thesaurus (really a dictionary with excellent cross-references)
- Debt & Financial Management Terms
- Development Terms (economics & sociology)
- Drug Abuse Terms
- Economic and Social Classifications
- Education Terms
- Environmental Terms
- Gender Studies Terms
- Integrity Terms (white collar crime)
- Land Degradation Terms
- Money Laundering Terms
- Pollution Terms
- Treaty & International Agreement Definitions
- Urban Management Terms
- World Investment Terms
- Research Guide - tells about the types of documents produced by the U.N. and any symbols or techniques necessary for understanding those documents.
- Official Document System - a collection of parliamentary writings and other administrative records.
- U.N. Documents Centre - a browsing table showing the main bodies of the U.N. with hyperlinks to all of the records, decisions, press releases, etc... produced by each.
- Landmark General Assembly Documents - digitized versions of prominent documents from the organization's history.
This list is only intended to contain true finding aides that
point to assorted information sources in a subject area. An alternative way to
find subject-based resources is to click on the ‘Publications’
link on the home page of any U.N. department or other office
- ReliefWeb- Natural disasters and complex emergencies from OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs).
- Refugees - demographics, health issues, national policies, livelihoods...from the UNCHR (Commission on Human Rights).
- Food & Agriculture - descriptive alphabetical listing of more than fifty databases about planting, growing, and producing food (From FAO the Food and Agriculture Organization).
- Nutrition - country studies, policy papers, news from SCN (the Standing Committee on Nutrition).
- Nuclear Science - access to databases, statistics, and information services from IAEA (International Atomic Energy Association).
- Labor & Employment- conventions, journals, statistics, studies, etc... from the ILO (International Labor Organization).
- Labor Law - child labor, comparative national laws, international law pathfinders from the ILO
- Women- Women Watch guide to resources on gender equality and empowerment.
- Children- studies, statistics, and numerous databases about child welfare from UNICEF (the UN Children's Emergency Fund).
- Globalization & Sustainable Development - a browsing database of reports about employment, technology, globalization, and other economics issues from the Global Program.
- Economics & Development - research, prospects, and data about education, business, and sociology in individual countries and regions from the World Bank.
- Investment Disputes - reports, treaties, cases, and bibliographic references from the World Bank.
- Financial Management - research about investments, banking, currency control, and other fiscal matters from the International Monetary Fund.
- World Trade - digital library of primary and analytical sources from UNCTAD (Conference on Trade and Development).
- Environment - resources organized for categories of researchers: governments, businesses, scientists, children, & journalists from UNEP (Environmental Program).
- Climate- national reports, primary documents, "issues quickfinder," technology from UNFCCC (Framework Convention on Climate Change).
- Maritime issues - (click on link to information and then Infogate) resources about shipping, marine safety, piracy, ocean pollution...from the IMO (International Maritime Organization).
- Illegal Drugs - trends, country reports, criminal law enforcement data and analysis from UNODC (Office of Drugs and Crime).
- U.N. Public Information - answers to the most commonly asked questions about U.N. programs and services for schools and public visitors.
- Columbia Law School Library
- American Society of International Law
- Yale University Library
- Emory University Library
- New York University School of Law Library
Databases of information from throughout the U.N. system: (each listed by name, annotated, and with a link to instructions for searching it)
- Index to Speeches (Library)
- Press Releases (public information)
- UNBISnet - The U.N. Bibliographic Information System serves as a portal as well the catalog of all U.N. publications and other holdings in the U.N. library. All Web versions of U.N. publications can be accessed from this site.
- UN-I-QUE - (U.N. Info Quest) searchable index database of regularly published reports. Search results show proper titles, publication dates, U.N. classification numbers and, occasionally, hyperlinks for documents.
- Infonation- Comparative and collective statistics for all U.N. member countries on many issues.
- Introduction to the Official Document System (ODS)
- Introduction to UNBISnet - The U.N. Bibliographic Information System Network is the catalog of the U.N.'s library. The manual is a power point presentation that shows effective searching techniques.
These directories primarily list national representatives who participate in the named entities. Where possible, staff directories are also linked. Generic "contact us" links are purposely omitted because those are not informational in themselves and they can already be efficiently located.
- Frequently called numbers at the U.N. New York Office.
- U.N. Information Centre Service Directory.
- Home pages of Permanent Missions to the UN.
- Current members of Principal U.N. Organs. List of previous members.
Units subsidiary to the General Assembly:
- UNICEF Executive Board.
- U.N. Development Program Executive Board.
- World Food Program Executive Board.
- Advisory Board on Disarmament.
- Members of the International Civil Services Commission.
- Members of the International Law Commission.
- Members of the Committee Against Torture.
- Members of the Committee for Programme & Coordination.
- Bureau of the Committee on Information - see also members.
- Chairpersons of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women - see also members.
- Members of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination .
- Members of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
- Members of the Human Rights Committee.
- Members of the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.
- Members of the Special Committee of Twenty-Four on Decolonization.
- Council of the U.N. University.
- Members of the U.N. Environment Program.
- Governing Council of U.N. Habitat.
- Members of the U.N. Board of Auditors.
- Panel of External Auditors.
- Members of the U.N. Joint Inspection Unit.
- Members of the International Law Commission.
Units under the Security Council:
- Members of the Security Council.
- Counter Terrorism Committee.
- The 1540 Committee (chemical, biological, & nuclear weapons)
- Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission - principal staff.
- International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia - judges, prosecutors, defendants.
- International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda - judges .
Units under the Economic and Social Council: (This list only includes the units that have online directories.)
- Members of the Economic & Social Council including a list of the Bureau.
- Statistics Division- employees
- Commission on Human Rights and its Bureau.
- Bureau of the Commission on the Status of Women.
- Commission on Narcotics & Drugs.
- Commission on Crime Prevention & Criminal Justice.
- Commission on Science & Technology for Development.
- Commission for Sustainable Development and its Bureau.
- Forum on Forests and its Bureau.
- Economic Commission for Africa headquarters staff and contacts at other components.
- Members of the Economic & Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
- Members of the Economic Commission for Europe
- Members of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and its offices
- Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia staff
International Court of Justice
- Members of the court (judges)