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. Her book, Family Guide to Mental Illness and the Law (Oxford, 2019) won the 2020 Publication Award from the Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries and the 2019 Reynolds and Flores Publication Award. 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 November/December 2022

(Previously updated in December 2006, June 2009, May/June 2011, October 2012, June/July 2013, and November/December 2016)

See the Archive Version!

1. Introduction

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.

2. Standard Queries

3. Types of Research Tools

For more information about the search tools and primary sources that are published by the U.N., use research guides by non-U.N. entities

3.1. Persons Involved with the U.N.

3.2. Issues that the U.N. Works On

3.3. Works of a Particular U.N. Entity

  • Look in the Dag Hammarskjold Library Catalog 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 database.
  • Browse through the UN System roster. The committees are usually components of the organizations in this list. Therefore, 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.
  • Search the U.N. Official Documents System database and use words from the committee’s name as search terms.

4. Handbooks, Toolkits, and Other Instructional Sources from U.N. Entities

Public Administration Network – Handbooks and Manuals for capacity development

5. Researching Treaties Deposited with the U.N.

  • Search in 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.”
  • Find treaty signatories, ratifications, and accessions in the Status of Treaties tool.
  • Find very recent treaties and related writings by browsing through the Monthly Statement.
  • 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 a particular treaty.
  • Check the Journal of the UN daily news about treaties.

6. Glossaries for U.N. Functions

7. Finding Official Operating Documents of U.N. Entities

8. Topical Research Guides & Resource Collections

This list is only intended to contain true finding aides that point to assorted information sources in a subject area. The Dag Hammarskjold Library has a comprehensive list of UN entity research and reference materials. An alternative way to find subject-based resources is to click on the ‘Publications’ link on the home page of any U.N. body or organization.

General Matters:


  • Intellectual Property – Digital library of patents, trademarks, etc. (WIPO World Intellectual Property Organization).
  • Labor & Employment – conventions, journals, statistics, studies, etc (ILO International Labor Organization).
  • Labor Databases – child labor, trade union complaints, comparative national laws, Triblex case law, etc. (ILO).
  • Investment Disputes – treaties, cases, publications, manuals, etc. (World Bank).
  • Financial Management – research about investments, banking, currency control, and other fiscal matters (IMF International Monetary Fund).
  • World Trade – digital library of primary and analytical sources (UNCTAD Conference on Trade and Development).


  • Refugee Law and Protection Policy – the UNCHR’s policy papers and expert meeting proceedings.
  • Food & Agriculture – descriptive alphabetical listing of databases about planting, growing, and producing food (From FAO the Food and Agriculture Organization).
  • Economics & Development – research, prospects, and data about education, business, and sociology in individual countries and regions from the World Bank.
  • World Bank Documents & Reports – topical listing includes social & economic issues.
  • Social Development – the vast resources of the UN Research Institute for Social Development.
  • Agricultural Life and Business – food security, climate adaptation, animal and crop management, technology, poverty, and more. (International Fund for Agricultural Development).


  • Health Research – WHO statistics and other research publications.
  • Nutrition – country studies, policy papers, news from SCN (the Standing Committee on Nutrition).
  • Illegal Drugs – trends, country reports, criminal law enforcement data and analysis from UNODC (Office of Drugs and Crime).


  • Women – portal to resources on gender equality and empowerment.
  • Children – studies, statistics, and numerous databases about child welfare from UNICEF (the UN Children’s Emergency Fund).
  • Population – data reports about population characteristics and behaviors. 

Safety and Security


  • Climate – national reports, primary documents, “issues quick-finder,” technology from UNFCCC (Framework Convention on Climate Change).
  • Nuclear Science – access to databases, statistics, and information services from IAEA (International Atomic Energy Association).
  • Maritime issues – resources about shipping, marine safety, piracy, ocean pollution, etc. from the IMO (International Maritime Organization).
  • Flight Safety – national regulations, safety management data, airworthiness information, etc. (International Civil Aviation Organization). 

9. Guides to U.N. Research from Non-U.N. Entities

This list has a small sample of the many UN research guides online:

10. U.N. Entities’ Compilations of National Laws

  • FAOLEX, from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, links to national agricultural laws.
  • NATLEX, from the International Labor Organization, collects national labor and employment laws.
  • ECOLEX has environmental laws.
  • UNESCO compiles national laws about cultural heritage.
  • WIPO links to patent, trademark, design, and copyright laws.
  • The WTO has summaries of countries’ trade policies.
  • UNODC has a database of cybercrime legislation and counterterrorism laws.
  • The Division of Ocean Affairs & Law of the Sea collects national maritime laws.
  • UNCHR’s Refworld links to national laws about immigration and asylum.
  • UNCTAD Data Protection & Privacy Laws Worldwide

11. Databases from Throughout the U.N. System

11.1. Case Databases

12. Directories of U.N. Staff and Components

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. 

UN Libraries: