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
Read the update!
Table of Contents
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.
for UN functions
Finding Official Operating Documents of UN entities
Topical research guides & resource collections compiled by UN
Guides to U.N. Research made by non-U.N. entities
Databases of information from throughout the U.N. system
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.
Types of research tools
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.
To locate or investigate someone
involved with the UN
To investigate an issue that the
U.N. works on
- 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
- 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.
To find out about the work of a particular
- 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.
To research a treaty deposited
with the U.N.
- 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.
Glossaries for UN functions
Finding Official Operating
Documents of UN entities:
- 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
Topical research guides &
resource collections compiled by UN entities
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
- Refugees - demographics, health
issues, national policies, livelihoods...from the UNCHR (Commission on
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Guides to U.N. Research made by non-U.N. entities
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
- 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.
Database Training Manuals
Directories of UN staff and
components: (a list in order by location, topic, and entity)
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
Units subsidiary to the General Assembly:
Units under the Security Council:
Units under the Economic and Social Council: (This list only
includes the units that have online directories.)
International Court of Justice