13 The United Nations and Intergovernmental Organizations

Gwen Sinclair

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the basic organization of the UN

  • Become familiar with agencies of the UN and IGOs affiliated with the UN

  • Learn about non-UN affiliated IGOs and what kind of information they publish

  • Become familiar with the most important reference works related to the UN and IGOs


This chapter introduces the most well-know intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), especially the United Nations and its affiliated organizations. IGOs are important sources of statistics, especially for developing countries that do not have the means to collect, compile, and publish data on their own. In addition, they publish numerous reports about their members and the issues of greatest concern to the organization.

IGOs can be distinguished from NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) using these characteristics:

  • IGOs are formed through treaties and have a charter, which is a foundational document that states the purpose and aims of the organization.
  • Members of IGOs are sovereign nations or recognized states.
  • NGOs are generally independent organizations founded around a theme or established to perform a particular function. Examples of well-known NGOs include Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Oxfam, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

We can categorize reference questions related to the UN and other IGOs into two groups: questions about a particular IGO, and questions that can be answered by using IGO-produced information. As with any type of government information, it’s important to remember that the government or in this case IGO may not be the best source of information about itself. For example, a patron looking for the text of a particular resolution would need to consult the official records of that organization, but a patron who wants analysis of the IGO’s peacekeeping activities in a specific country might want to consult both IGO and external resources.

The United Nations (UN)

Although it may be the most well-known intergovernmental organization in the world, the UN is not the oldest. It was formed in 1945 as an organization dedicated to promoting peace and international cooperation. Representatives from each of the 193 member states form the General Assembly (GA), which is the main policymaking body of the UN. The UN Security Council, composed of 15 member states, is responsible for “the maintenance of international peace and security.” Five of the Security Council members are permanent: China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The remaining 10 members are elected for two-year terms by the GA.[1]

The UN is financed through assessments on each member country, based on several factors including debt burden, national income, and an adjustment for low per capita income countries like Burkina Faso. The U.S. is assessed the maximum, 22 percent. In contrast, Japan’s assessment is 8.56 percent and that of Burkina Faso is .003 percent.[2] No other country comes close to paying as much as the U.S., so it is understandable that politicians complain about other countries’ relying too heavily on the U.S. to fund the UN. However, for many years the U.S. has withheld part of its dues as a way of demanding reforms at the UN, and as of 2017 the U.S. was $883 million in arrears.[3]

The UN is organized into a number of departments and subagencies, referred to as organs. The main organs are the General Assembly, the Secretariat, the Economic and Social Council, the Security Council, the Trusteeship Council, and the International Court of Justice. The UN has offices in New York (headquarters), Geneva, Nairobi, and Vienna. Furthermore, the UN comprises many funds and programs, such as the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF, and the World Food Program.

Types of Documents and Publications

It’s important to understand the terminology used for categories of UN publications. The term mimeo refers to a reproduction technology called that was once used to cheaply reproduce documents. These documents are also referred to as masthead documents. Mimeos consist of text submitted to a principal organ or a subsidiary organ of the United Nations for consideration, usually in connection with items on the agenda. An example is Creation of Employment and Income-earning Opportunities for Vulnerable Groups in the Pacific.[4]

The Official Document System (ODS) was developed to replace the need to maintain these collections of paper mimeos. However, it does not yet include all of the retrospective masthead documents, so librarians must rely on other sources to obtain copies of many older documents. Libraries that once had hundreds of shelves filled with single-sheet mimeo documents stuffed into magazine files have mostly turned to online access or rely on the UN microfiche set from Readex (discussed below) due to space issues.

Official records are a series of printed publications relating to the proceedings of the principal organs of the United Nations or certain United Nations conferences; they include verbatim or summary records of the meetings of the organ concerned, annexes and supplements.”[5] An example is Verbatim Record of the 1694th Meeting of the Trusteeship Council.[6]

Press releases are an important source of information about the actions of various committees and bodies. When you look at the text of a resolution, you may find that it is written in a bureaucratic style that is not very easy to follow, so press releases provide a kind of layperson’s summary. For instance, a General Assembly resolution entitled Modalities for the High‑level Review of the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway provides no background information, and one must look at the resolutions to which it refers to make sense of the revision.[7] However, a press release places the resolution in context, noting that, “the [General] Assembly called for the full and effective implementation of the commitments, programmes and targets adopted at the third International Conference on Small Island Developing States.”[8]

UN publications are, as the name implies, any written material that is issued by or for the United Nations to the general public, in contrast to the internal documents mentioned above. Papua New Guinea Trade Policy Framework is an example of a publication.[9] Part of the body of publications issued by the UN is periodicals. Many periodicals are statistical publications, but there are also general interest periodicals such as the UN Chronicle, a magazine that reports on the activities of the UN in layperson’s language.

Selected Research Guides

The UN headquarter’s library, the Dag Hammarskjöld Library (DHL), has produced a number of very helpful guides to different aspects of the UN using the LibGuides platform. For example, the guide to Small Island Developing States covers conferences that have been held to examine the issues faced by member states on small islands. Other guides explain UN documentation and operations and various other subjects.

UN-I-QUE (United Nations Info Quest) is a ready reference database, a sort of frequently asked questions for DHL that provides access to the most frequently requested documents.


The UN Digital Library (UNDL) provides access to Official Records, votes, maps, speeches, and public domain material. Full text is available for born-digital content and bibliographic records are included for print UN documents from 1979 forward. UNDL incorporates the former online catalog of DHL, known as UNBISnet. The UN uses a thesaurus rather than subject headings for its subject classification.

AccessUN, published by Newsbank, is a comprehensive index to UN publications and documents, but it is far from complete. It covers Official Records, masthead documents, draft resolutions, meeting records, UN sales publications, and the UN treaty series citations. Some documents are available in full text, but most records are bibliographic citations that can be used to retrieve documents in ODS or other databases or catalogs. One may search by title, subject, UN document symbol, sales number, and full text (bear in mind that the full texts of most documents are not in the database). Documents listed in the database are available in the accompanying microfiche set to which libraries may subscribe separately.

The UN iLibrary is a subscription database that contains selected full-text publications covering international peace and security, human rights, economic and social development, climate change, international law, governance, public health, and statistics. Most titles were published between 2010 and the present. It is the replacement for the distribution of printed sales publications and is available on the OECD iLibrary platform, so libraries that already subscribe to OECD iLibrary do not have to pay an additional subscription fee for the UN iLibrary.

ODS, the Online Document System, is the replacement for printed mimeos, as mentioned above. ODS includes full text official UN documentation from the UN office in New York (beginning 1993), the Geneva UN office (beginning 1997), and from various UN organizations. Prior years are being added retrospectively. Note that ODS does not include content such as treaties, press releases, or sales publications. Furthermore, older documents are scans that apparently were not processed through an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) system, so they may not be full-text searchable.

WorldCat has a great many records for UN documents and publications, but a significant number of documents are not represented in WorldCat, especially those from the first decade of the UN’s existence. Not all bibliographic records in WorldCat contain the document symbols, which are needed to locate the documents in many library collections.


The UN has several outreach activities that libraries can participate in or use. The UN offers its own web TV channel which broadcasts meetings, conferences, press briefings, and other proceedings. The videos are available in one or more of the UN’s official languages.


Figure 1. Screen shot of UN Live Web TV

Model UN is an educational program for high school students that simulates what it’s like to serve in the GA, Security Council, or other UN body. Years ago, students used to visit libraries to do research for model UN scenarios, but today most students rely on online resources.

The UN designates international years or decades to bring attention to various issues, and many institutions build programming around these themes. For instance, International Women’s Year was 1975, 1983-1992 was United Nations Decade for Disabled Persons, and 2019 was the International Year of Indigenous Languages. United Nations Day (October 24) commemorates the date on which the UN Charter came into force. Libraries and other organizations celebrate UN day with exhibits, speeches, and other observances.

UN Depository Libraries

DHL is located in UN headquarters in Manhattan and serves member nations and the various administrative divisions of the UN. It is not open to the general public. It also runs the depository program, indexing services, and outreach. The UN also has a separate archives that primarily serves UN researchers but is open to others. The UN established a depository library system in 1946 to disseminate its official publications. Currently, there are 356 UN depository libraries in 136 countries throughout the world, of which 45 are in the U.S. In addition, many libraries have selectively collected the publications of the UN without participating in its depository program so that they can pick and choose what they receive and discard unneeded documents.

United Nations depository libraries are required to:

  • Place the material received in the care of qualified library staff;
  • Keep the material received in good order at their institutions;
  • Make the material received accessible to the general public, free of charge, at reasonable hours;
  • Make the material received available through interlibrary loan, photocopying or other means to users who cannot easily visit the depositories concerned;
  • Pay the annual contribution, if applicable, promptly.

The UN depository system is now in question. In 2013, the UN’s printing plant was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. As a result, the UN ceased distribution of most printed documents. They originally intended to make documents available for free through a portal similar to govinfo.gov. However, what has happened instead is that they have put selected sales publications into the UN iLibrary, a subscription to which costs about $12,000 per year, far more than the fee depositories were paying for printed documents. This means that depository libraries now receive very little material in print.

Today, UN depository libraries perform two main functions: one, to provide access to the legacy print and microform collections, and two, to lend expertise to patrons who are looking for UN information wherever it resides. Of course, a library can perform these services without being a depository, which brings into question the value of continuing to maintain depository status if little is actually being deposited. Still, many libraries, especially large research libraries and national libraries, hold extensive retrospective collections of UN materials. Many UN depository libraries and other libraries with substantial collections of UN and other IGO publications have created guides to their holdings. Using other libraries’ guides can be a helpful approach when you’re researching an intergovernmental organization for which your library does have coverage.

Bibliographic Control, Classification, and Shelving Arrangements


The Index to Proceedings is the most comprehensive set of indexes to UN documents and is essential for identifying documents produced prior to 1979. Indexes cover the Economic and Social Council, General Assembly, Security Council, and Trusteeship Council. Fortunately, DHL has digitized the full run of indexes from 1946 to the present. DHL also produces indexes to speeches and votes.

Many libraries rely on Index to Proceedings or the databases mentioned above for access to their UN collections and do not add bibliographic records to their online catalogs. This is especially true for non-U.S. libraries. Other libraries selectively catalog their UN holdings, and a few have fully cataloged UN collections.

Sales Numbers

Publications may be issued with document symbols, sales numbers, or both. A sales number is a unique identifier composed of a combination of letters and roman and arabic numbers. Sales numbers are broad subject categories developed to facilitate the sale of UN publications of general interest and are assigned to both monographs and periodicals. In sales catalogs and other descriptions, the order of the elements is the language code (e.g., E for English) followed by the year, then the roman numeral for subject, and a sequential number. The language code is not always included. For instance, The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2012 carries the sales number 12.II.F.14 (12 = 2012; II.F = Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; 14 = sequential publication number). Libraries may choose to purchase all publications issued under a particular sales number to receive comprehensive coverage for a regional commission like the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Document Symbols

Document symbols are unique accession-type numbers assigned to each document. They can be useful if, for example, you find a citation to a document and want to retrieve the full text in ODS. It is also recommended to use the document symbol in bibliographic citations. The symbols are based on letters representing each UN body, followed by slashes separating the main body abbreviation from the subsidiary body, session number, and document number.

The first component of the document symbol is the UN issuing body. The secondary and tertiary components represent subsidiary bodies. Subsequent components indicate special series (if any). These initial components are followed by a number for the session and a document number and may include another component reflecting the type of document. Common components include:

A/- General Assembly

S/- Security Council

E/- Economic and Social Council

ST/- Secretariat

-/PV. … Verbatim record of meeting

-RES/- Resolution

-/Summary Summarized version

For example: A/HRC/10/30 represents General Assembly, Human Rights Council, 10th Session, document number 30.


Cover of Compendium of human settlements statistics 1995 showing a building and road.
Figure 2. Compendium of human settlements statistics 1995. New York: United Nations. ST/ESA/STAT/SER.N/5th issue

While document symbols can be used to shelve UN documents, many libraries choose to intershelve their UN documents with the rest of the collection. The main reason for using UN symbols and other schemes is that documents can be shelved immediately and do not need to go through subject classification. Some libraries have also created their own accession-number systems for IGO publications. Libraries that use document symbols can refer to United Nations Document Series Symbols, 1946-1996 to devise symbols for documents that lack them so that they may be shelved with other UN documents. Some libraries also uses sales numbers to shelve publications that do not have document symbols. A best practice for libraries is to record all numbers that appear on a publication, including document symbols or sales numbers, in each bibliographic record so that they can be searched in the online catalog.

UN Treaties

Chapter 5 covers U.S. treaties, their indexing, and some of the main publications in which we can find them. Now, let’s turn to the United Nations Treaty Collection. The UN is a depository of over 560 multilateral agreements, meaning that signatories can deposit copies of agreements with the UN. As a result, the UN holds the official document and can certify its authenticity. The UN Treaty Collection website includes a database of treaties and agreements. Using the advanced search option, you can search for treaties by a number of different fields including title, registration number, party, or date. Each entry lists the registration number, title, name of sponsoring agency, United Nations Treaty Series volume number, and the list of participants. It also indicates status: accession, ratification, and acceptance. The glossary can help to explain treaty terminology. Acceptance is generally the term used when a head of state signs a treaty but the constitution of the country prohibits the head of state from ratifying a treaty. Accession sometimes occurs after a treaty has gone into force and the country wishes to join it. Some treaties only involve certain countries, which accede to the treaty when it goes into force. Ratification is a process used by some states to enable them to become parties to a treaty. In the U.S., the president can negotiate and sign a treaty, but until it is ratified by the Senate, it is not in force. The United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, known as UNCLOS, is an example of a treaty that was signed in 1994 but never ratified by the Senate, so the U.S. is not a participant.

Like laws, treaties may be known by popular names or acronyms. For example, MARPOL is the common name for the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, and the Marrakesh Treaty refers to Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.

United Nations Specialized Agencies

In the next section, we will review the main UN specialized agencies and their most important publications. A complete list of UN-affiliated programs, funds, and agencies is on the UN website.

World Bank

The World Bank Group includes the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Finance Corporation, and other agencies. It produces economic statistics about member nations and publications on economic subjects. Many of its publications are related to economic development topics, such as poverty reduction and public health.

World Bank Open Data is the main gateway for statistics maintained by the World Bank, including World Development Indicators, which includes indicators like poverty, child labor, debt, and health status for member countries. World Bank also offers microdata that can be downloaded to allow researchers to create their own tabulations.

Recent World Bank monographs can be found in the ProQuest subscription database Ebook Central. Many other World Bank publications are available for free in the World Bank Open Knowledge Repository.

International Monetary Fund (IMF)

The IMF’s main purpose is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system. The IMF provides loans to countries that are experiencing balance of payments difficulties and it monitors and makes recommendations for improvement of countries’ monetary policies.

Like the World Bank, the IMF publishes primarily on economic topics. It produces a number of highly used databases that are freely available. Primary among these is International Financial Statistics, which includes time series for data like GDP, inflation, balance of payments, exports, and imports. Other databases cover commodity prices, exchange rates, and other indicators. IMF also publishes research reports, analytical papers, and periodicals, many of which are available in the subscription-based IMF eLibrary. Free access is available for academic, non-profit, and government institutions in developing countries. Print copies of publications may be ordered from the IMF Bookstore.

International Labour Organization (ILO)

As its name implies, the ILO produces research on labor topics such as labor migration, child labor, wages, unemployment, social security, etc. Although the ILO is affiliated with the UN, it has existed since 1919, so its publications go back much farther than most other UN agencies.

Its primary database, ILOSTAT, allows researchers to find data such as employment by sector, wage inequality, unemployment and underemployment, working conditions, trade union activity, and so forth. ILO offers several other specialized databases that cover topics such as social security, labor laws, disabilities, and occupational health and safety. You can also search the ILO Library’s catalog, Labordoc. Like DHL, the ILO Library has created a number of research guides to point researchers to frequently requested material. Subject guide to publications of the International Labour Office, 1919-1964 and 1980-85 are useful guides to sales and other publications of the ILO.[10]

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

You might be most familiar with UNESCO through its recognition of world heritage sites, of which there are currently 1,073. UNESCO’s mission is to promote international cooperation in education, science, culture, and communications. Its publications and statistics focus on areas like educational attainment, literacy, cultural heritage, telecommunications infrastructure, and publishing. The UNESCO Courier is a glossy magazine that highlights the organization’s activities around the globe. UNESCO also offers a statistics and data portal that provides a number of indicators for member countries in four broad subject categories: education and literacy; science, technology, and innovation; culture; and communication and information.

The UNESDOC digital library offers full-text access to 146,000 UNESCO publications from 1945 to the present. If you are accustomed to thinking of SIDS as an acronym for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, it also stands for Small Island Developing States, and UNESCO publishes quite a bit related to SIDS, disaster preparedness, and climate change.

UNESCO’s library and archives in Paris serve UNESCO staff and the public who are researching UNESCO and its areas of interest. UNESCO also has several information centers in cities throughout the world, each specializing in different resources (none, however, are located in the U.S.).

The U.S. suspended its membership in UNESCO between 1984 and 2003 because it was seen as being too left-leaning. During that period, U.S. libraries did not receive UNESCO publications through the UN depository and had to purchase all UNESCO documents they wished to acquire. In 2011, the U.S. lost its voting rights in UNESCO because it stopped paying dues when the State of Palestine was admitted. Most recently, the U.S. again suspended its membership effective December 31, 2018.[11] In addition to Palestine, the Cook Islands and Niue are also members of UNESCO, but they’re not members of the UN because they are non-self-governing territories. The issues of independence, colonialism, self-government, and self-determination have been prominent throughout the history of the UN and its affiliated agencies.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The goals of the FAO are eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition; elimination of poverty; and sustainable management and utilization of natural resources. The FAO produces statistical publications on forestry, fishing, and other agriculture topics such as FAO Yearbook of Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics. Its publications also cover food security, nutrition, pest control, animal husbandry, soil conservation, rural development, and a host of other topics. FAO is a particularly important producer of information about agriculture in small developing countries that do not have the infrastructure to do their own research and publishing. As a result, libraries rely on FAO documents for much of our information about fishing and aquaculture in Asia and the Pacific, for example.

The FAO document repository contains the full text of tens of thousands of technical reports and periodicals going back to 1970. FAO publishes a number of periodicals such as Unasylva, concerning forestry and forest industries, and Tigerpaper, which covers wildlife and natural resources management for the Asia-Pacific region.


Cover of Unasylva, showing a tree-like hand holding a globe
Figure 3. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Unasylva 1(1), July-August 1947.

FAO conducted a world census of agriculture in 2000. It also provides guidance to countries on the conduct of agricultural surveys.[12]

International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

ITU is the UN agency responsible for global telecommunications. Among other coordination functions, it develops technical standards for telecommunications, maintains the international radio frequency register, and allocates global satellite orbits. ITU issues numerous publications about telecommunications standards and statistics. While some ITU publications are free, others may be purchased through the ITU catalogue.

World Health Organization (WHO)

You may have heard about WHO in connection with disease outbreaks like Zika or Ebola. In addition to providing guidance and expertise on public health matters, WHO conducts research and produces statistics about diseases, conditions, public health, and sanitation. WHO is also concerned with mental health and socioeconomic factors in health status. Its Global Health Observatory provides access to hundreds of health indicators for WHO’s 194 member countries.

WHO’s work is done by a number of working groups and committees dedicated to addressing specific health issues like tuberculosis, maternal and child health, or tobacco use. IRIS, the WHO digital library, contains the reports of many of these expert committees and working groups. Librarians should be aware that often, distribution of these groups’ output is limited.

WHO publishes annual statistical reports like Global Tuberculosis Report and a monthly Bulletin with peer-reviewed articles focusing on public health in developing countries. In addition, it produces monographs on a wide variety of health topics. Most of its publications are freely available in IRIS.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

WTO is concerned with establishing rules of trade and settling of trade disputes between member countries. What is the difference between the data available in UN Comtrade (discussed in Chapter 6) and WTO’s databases? While UN Comtrade offers imports and exports of commodities and services, the WTO’s data tracks customs duties, tariffs, and trade barriers. WTO data only includes WTO member countries, so UN Comtrade covers more countries. The WTO statistics portal provides links to WTO’s regular statistical reports and mapping products.

All of the publications of WTO’s predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) are available online through the WTO website. In addition, Stanford University has scanned its GATT collection and created the GATT Digital Library 1947—1994.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO)

WMO originated in the International Meteorological Organization (IMO),  founded in 1873, and became a UN-affiliated agency in 1950. It monitors weather, climate change, and weather-related hazards. Among other resources, WMO produces a database of meteorological terms, Meteoterm. WMO’s E-library includes publications on weather, natural hazards, climate change, water, and other topics. Like the libraries of other UN agencies, the WMO E-library includes non-WMO publications.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

IOM’s mission is to promote the orderly and humane management of migration. The Migration Data Portal provides access to data on internal and external migration, migration flows, forced migration, and other indicators. The annual publication World Migration Report covers not only migration statistics but also public opinion, media coverage, and government policies. IOM publishes many topical research reports as well.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

You may have heard of IAEA in relation to inspection of nuclear reactors in Iran. IAEA was established in 1957 to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the midst of the Cold War, when nuclear annihilation was widely feared. IAEA produces data and statistics on nuclear power, security, waste, health safety, and peaceful uses of nuclear technologies. Most of the agency’s publications, covering topics like radiation exposure, nuclear power plants, and nuclear safety, are available online for free.

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

IMO is primarily concerned with safety and security in maritime shipping and prevention and response to marine pollution. It maintains statistics on international shipping and piracy (see Piracy Incident Reports). IMO publications are available online by subscription. Print or DVD copies may be purchased from IMO or one of its distributors. Its publications cover subjects like best practices for passenger ship safety, safe transportation of petroleum, and guidelines for oil spill response.sWorld Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

The emphasis of UNWTO is on sustainable tourism development for economic growth. It publishes several statistical compilations on tourism, including the Yearbook of Tourism Statistics. In addition to having depository libraries, UNWTO has embraced the concept of a knowledge network that links research and information exchange. The subscription-based UNWTO E-library provides access to many of its publications, some of which are also available online for free. The Tourism Statistics portal allows retrieval of the number of arrivals, employment, and tourism establishments for reporting countries.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

WIPO was established by the 1967 WIPO Convention to promote cooperation in the protection of intellectual property (IP). Instruments of its work include several IP systems:

  • The Patent Cooperation Treaty allows applicants to apply for patent protection in multiple countries through a single application.
  • The Madrid System provides a unified method of applying for trademark protection
  • The Hague System for the International Registration of Industrial Designs offers design protection in many countries.
  • The Lisbon System for the International Registration of Appellations of Origin offers protection for geographical indications of origin.
  • The Budapest System covers IP protection for biological material. Each of these systems has a corresponding database that allow searching for registrations.

International Court of Justice (ICJ)

ICJ, established in 1946, is the primary judicial body of the UN. It settles legal disputes between states and gives advisory opinions on legal matters as requested by UN bodies and IGOs. Researchers can find all of the judgments, opinions, and orders issued by the Court from its inception to the present on the ICJ website. In addition, press releases from 1946-present are posted online. The Permanent Court of International Justice, ICJ’s predecessor, began in 1922. 

International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals

The UN establishes ad hoc criminal tribunals to hear cases brought against individuals accused of crimes against humanity. Access to the judicial records of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia are available in the Mechanism’s Unified Court Records database.

Copyright and UN Publications

The publications of the United Nations and its affiliated agencies are copyrighted. The UN’s Rights and Permissions page and similar pages on UN agency websites explain how to obtain permission to reproduce portions of UN publications. Some publications are in the public domain, but librarians should not make assumptions about the copyright status of UN publications or documents.


Here are some of the better-known non-UN affiliated IGOs. Libraries typically collect selected publications from the IGOs that cover their areas of interest. In addition to IGOs based on regional interests, there are also IGOs related to industries, economic interests, and trade partners. Some IGOs, like the European Union, have depository library systems.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

OECD was formed in 1961 to promote economic cooperation to further development and promote peaceful interactions between nations. While most of its members are in Europe, the United States, Japan, Chile, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Israel, Korea, and New Zealand are also members. OECD maintains data about countries throughout the world, not just member countries, in OECD.stat that is similar to what is available in UN Data, such as GDP, demographics, development data, and industry statistics. OECD also publishes books and periodicals, many of which are available for free, and it offers the OECD iLibrary to subscribers.

Development Banks

There are many regional development banks. Below are listed some of the largest and most important for library collections.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

ADB provides loans, technical assistance, grants, and equity investments to promote social and economic development in Asia. Most of its 67 members are Asian and Pacific nations, but its membership also includes several developed nations in Europe and the Americas. It publishes indicators and development statistics about its members.

African Development Bank (AFDB)

Like the Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank strives to promote economic development in member countries. Its membership includes both African nations and countries outside of Africa. AFDB produces a number of statistical publications, most importantly African Statistical Yearbook. Other publications cover subjects similar to World Bank publications such as sustainable development, agriculture, and poverty.

Development Bank of Latin America (CAF)

CAF promotes sustainable development in the Latin America and Caribbean region. Its members are mostly from Latin America and also include Spain and Portugal. CAF’s digital library (in Spanish) offers access to publications mostly relating to sustainable development.

European Union (EU)

The EU began in 1957 as the European Economic Community, created to foster economic and political cooperation among member nations. Most of the EU member countries share a common currency, the Euro. Like the UN, the EU has a structure similar to that of national governments with executive (European Commission), legislative (European Parliament and Council), and judicial (Court of Justice) functions. The EU publishes statistics and reports on issues of interest to its members such as immigration, agriculture, the environment, transportation, trade, and energy. Because the EU provides aid to many non-European nations, it also publishes data about countries outside the EU. In addition, the EU issues legislative and regulatory materials. The European Commission Library offers access to many of the publications through its e-library. A number of libraries in North America are depositories for EU documents and maintain informative guides about the EU and its information products, such as the one by the library at the University of California at Berkeley.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

ASEAN was founded in 1967 to promote regional peace and stability through mutual cooperation in economic, cultural, and social endeavors. Like other IGOs, it publishes an annual statistical yearbook and offers downloadable data covering demographics, trade, transportation, and economics. The EU is one of ASEAN’s most important partners.

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)

Twelve nations in the Asia-Pacific area formed APEC in 1989 to promote economic cooperation and prosperity. It now has 21 members in the Pacific Rim, including the U.S. APEC’s annual meetings have attracted thousands of protesters who oppose APEC’s policies, which are viewed as detrimental by the protesters. Its publications mainly cover economic development and trade.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

NATO was formed at the beginning of the Cold War in 1949 to counter the power of the Soviet Union and its allies in eastern European countries. It has maintained armed forces throughout Europe and provides military training and guidance worldwide. Currently, it has 29 members, all in Europe except for the United States. Some eastern European countries that were formerly part of the Soviet sphere of influence are now NATO members.

NATO’s e-Library hosts official documents and treaties dating back to 1949. The NATO Library has also prepared a set of LibGuides that provide extensive information and resources about NATO’s activities. There are sixteen NATO depository libraries, mostly in Europe and the Middle East, with one in South Korea. Many libraries in the U.S. have collections of NATO documents, even though they are not depositories.

Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC)

Formerly known as the South Pacific Commission, the Pacific Community or SPC was established in 1947 to promote peace and prosperity among the Pacific territories and newly independent states in the Pacific. SPC’s digital library includes full text of SPC publications, which focus on fisheries and aquaculture-related publications, economic development, and sustainability.

Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)

In contrast to the IGOs based on geographic location, OPEC is an industry-based organization that coordinates the petroleum policies of its members, which are mostly oil-producing countries in Africa and the Middle East plus Ecuador and Venezuela. Membership has fluctuated over its 58-year history, with several countries having exited or left and rejoined (for example, Indonesia was once a member). OPEC produces statistics about oil reserves, production, prices, and taxes among other indicators. Its publications are freely available online and through an app.

African Union (AU)

AU began as the Organization for African Unity in 1963. Its 55 members are the nations in continental Africa. Like the UN, AU publishes books, conference proceedings, and statistics related to the economic, social, and cultural interests of its members.

Organization of American States (OAS)

The world’s oldest regional organization, OAS has its roots in the International Union of American Republics. Its membership includes the countries of Central and South America, many Caribbean nations, and the U.S. and Canada. Like the UN and EU, OAS maintains a network of depository libraries to house its publications. The Document Management System provides access to official OAS documents. OAS publications cover topics like good governance, migration, sustainable development, and drug trafficking.

League of Nations (LN)

Although it no longer exists, the League of Nations was an important early IGO and predecessor of the UN. It was established following World War I to promote the peaceful resolution of international conflicts. It ceased to exist in 1946 upon the establishment of the UN. Many research libraries have extensive collections of LN publications, some of which are in a microfilm collection, League of Nations Documents and Publications 1919-1946, originally published by Research Publications, Inc. and now available from Primary Source Media. A searchable guide to the microfilm is available online. The LN archives are located at the United Nations Archives in Geneva, Switzerland. A searchable catalog is available online.

Additional Resources

Stanford University Library has developed an IGO custom search engine that searches many UN and other IGO sites at once. Selected IGO statistical sources are covered in Chapter 6.

The INTL-DOC listserv is a discussion group for librarians who deal with IGO materials.

Librarian’s Library

Aufricht, H. (1951). Guide to League of Nations publications: A bibliographical survey of the work of the League, 1920-1947. New York: Columbia University Press.

The most comprehensive guide to the documents of the League of Nations and its affiliated organizations the ILO and the Permanent Court of International Justice.

Europa Publications. (2013). Europa directory of international organizations. New York: Routledge.

The Europa directory gives more in-depth information about a much smaller number of IGOs than the Yearbook of international organizations listed below. It is very expensive, so libraries must carefully consider its value compared to what is freely available online.

Gower, J. (2013). The European Union handbook. New York: Routledge.

The Handbook provides an overview of the EU’s history, politics, economic policies, organization, and legislative process.

Hajnal, Peter I. (Ed.). (1997). International information: Documents, publications, and electronic information of international governmental organizations. (2nd ed.). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

This work provides overviews of the publications of the main IGOs, including the UN, EU, OECD, League of Nations, and a few others. It also introduces collection development for IGO publications, the major commercial publishers, and reference work with IGO documents and publications.

Mango, A. (Ed.). (2003). Encyclopedia of the United Nations and international agreements. New York: Routledge.

As the title implies, this is an encyclopedia about the UN, consisting of over 6,000 articles about the various bodies, activities, history, and areas of interest encompassed by the UN. It’s especially useful for historical research given that it hasn’t been updated since the 3rd edition was published in 2003.

Mangoldt, H. von, Rittberger, R., & Knipping, F. (Eds.) (1997). The United Nations system and its predecessors. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

A compilation of documents related to the founding of the UN and its predecessor organizations.

New Zealand. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (2014). United Nations handbook. Wellington: New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Perhaps the best source of information about the UN is this handbook, which is not published by the UN but rather by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It covers the organization and protocols of the UN and its various bodies. It is available online for free and is also available as a smartphone app. It is more up to date and accessible than the official UN guide.

Nugent, N. (2017). Government and politics of the European Union. 8th ed. London: Palgrave, MacMillan Education.

The leading textbook on the EU, this book covers the history, institutions, member states, operations, and policies of the EU.

UNESCO General Information Programme. (1999). Guide to the archives of intergovernmental organizations. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000115937

This guide describes the content of the archives of several IGOs and their access policies. Unfortunately, it has not been updated, so researchers must contact archives to learn their current access policies and procedures. Nonetheless, it provides more information than what is available on many of the organizations’ websites.

Union of International Associations. (2019). Yearbook of international organizations. Brussels: Union of International Associations. http://www.uia.org/yearbook

The yearbook lists “over 37,500 active and approximately 38,000 dormant international organizations from 300 countries and territories.” It covers both IGOs and NGOs. There is an open online version that is free, but it doesn’t contain all of the information in the print or subscription online versions.

United Nations. Yearbook of the United Nations. https://unyearbook.un.org/

The Yearbook of the United Nations is the official publication that summarizes the UN’s activities during a given year. All of the yearbooks are available online for free, but they are published several years after the fact. The yearbook discusses peacekeeping activities, resolutions, treaties, and other actions and activities. It also covers the major activities of the UN specialized agencies. Chapters cover peacekeeping, human rights, economic and social policy, especially related to sustainable development, and other UN activities in various regions and countries. A particularly useful feature is the index of resolutions and decisions, a handy resource when a patron is looking for the text of a particular resolution or a list of signatories to an action.

United Nations. Department of Public Information. (2017). Basic facts about the United Nations. New York: United Nations.

This UN-published reference work provides basic information about the UN’s organization, structure, and activities. The English-language version is not available online and must be purchased, but you can download Arabic, Chinese, or Urdu volumes for free.

  1. United Nations. Main organs. http://www.un.org/en/sections/about-un/main-organs/index.html
  2. United Nations Secretariat. (2018). Assessment of Member States’ contributions to the United Nations regular budget for the year 2019. ST/ADM/SER.B/992. https://undocs.org/ST/ADM/SER.B/992
  3. Congressional Research Service. (2018). U.S. funding to the United Nations system: Overview and selected policy issues. R45206. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R45206.pdf
  4. United Nations. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Special Body on Pacific Island Developing Countries. (2006). Creation of employment and income-earning opportunities for vulnerable groups in the Pacific. New York: United Nations. E/ESCAP/SB/PIDC(9)/1
  5. United Nations. Dag Hammarskjöld Library. Official records. http://research.un.org/en/docs/or
  6. United Nations. Trusteeship Council. (1992, June 11). Verbatim record of the 1694th meeting. New York: United Nations. T/PV.1694. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N92/607/17/pdf/N9260717.pdf?OpenElement
  7. United Nations. (2018). Modalities for the high‑level review of the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) pathway. New York: United Nations. A/72/L.60/Rev.1. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/LTD/N18/210/80/pdf/N1821080.pdf?OpenElement
  8. United Nations. (2018). Adopting text on Samoa pathway, General Assembly stresses implementing commitments agreed at Small Island Developing States Conference, requests progress report. https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/ga12043.doc.htm
  9. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. (2006). Papua New Guinea trade policy framework. New York: United Nations. UNCTAD/DITC/TNCD/2003/10. https://unctad.org/en/docs/ditctncd200310_en.pdf
  10. International Labour Office, Central Library and Documentation Branch. (1967). Subject guide to publications of the International Labour Office, 1919-1964. Geneva: ILO; International Labour Office, Central Library and Documentation Branch. (1987). Subject guide to publications of the International Labour Office, 1980-85. Geneva: ILO.
  11. Nauert, H. (2017). The United States withdraws from UNESCO. Washington, D.C.: State Department. https://www.state.gov/the-united-states-withdraws-from-unesco/
  12. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2010). 2000 World Census of Agriculture: Main results and metadata by country, 1996-2005 . Rome: FAO. http://www.fao.org/3/i1595e/i1595e00.htm


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The United Nations and Intergovernmental Organizations Copyright © 2020 by Gwen Sinclair is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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