IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

A Chronological Perspective of the United Nations Office at Geneva Library (1919-1995)

Nina Kriz Leneman, Chief, Readers' Services and Documentation Section, United Nations Office at Geneva Library, Geneva, Switzerland


This chronology was originally prepared in honour of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations and the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) Library, which was founded as th e League of Nations Library. This chronological perspective (1919-1995) is meant as a tribute to the UNOG Library which has served for the last 76 years as "a centre of international research" and " an instrument of international understanding". The UNOG Library is "the institutional memory of the League of Nations and of the United Nations" and as such has a leading cultural role to play withi n the United Nations system. It is involved in the preparation of bibliographies, publications, CD ROMs, audio CDs, videos and other productions that retrace United Nations historical legacies and i n the organization of commemorative exhibitions in its Museum of the League of Nations and the History of International Organizations. The UNOG Library is generally recognized as being one of the le ading social science libraries of Europe on account of its valuable collections in the fields of international economics, law, political science, statistics and social questions. In contrast with it s established traditional role, the UNOG Library has also forged ahead during the last few years to become a vibrant information and media centre. It offers modern technological facilities that enab le its user community to access CD-ROMs, audio CDs, documentation on optical disks, videos, on-line database hosts and Internet resources, and has itself become active in the creation of many innovat ive new products.



1919: Founding of the League of Nations and subsequent establishment of its Secretariat in London where its Library is officially opened on 25 June.

1919: The League Library adopts the Universal Decimal Classification system for the arrangement of its collections and opens its dictionary catalogue of interfiled author, subject and title cards.

1920: Transfer of the League of Nations Secretariat to its Headquarters site in Geneva, where its Library collections and staff of 20 persons are located in the Hôtel National on Quai Wilson until 1 936.

1927: The League of Nations Council and Assembly accept a two million dollar grant from the philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., for the construction of a new building as well as for the future endowment of the Library which he vows should "serve as a centre of international research and an instrument of international understanding".

1928: Initiation of the Library's publication Monthly List of Selected Books, which has been continued ongoingly but later renamed Monthly Bibliography: Part I: Books, Official Documents, Serials.

1929: Beginning of the Monthly List of Selected Articles, the still active periodical now entitled Monthly Bibliography: Part II: Selected Articles, which contains citations to periodical articles t hat have been indexed in leading worldwide economic, legal, political and social science journals (ST/GVA/LIB/SER.B/-).

1929: The League Library quickly gained a leadership role in the international library world and served from 1929 to 1938 as the headquarters of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA).

1936: 17 September: Inauguration of the new League of Nations Library building, the East Wing of the Palais des Nations, donated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

1938: The Library staff numbered twenty-five persons prior to the Second World War, but was severely scaled down during the ensuing period when budgetary restrictions forced it to cut down its activ ities to only the most basic programmes and to limit its collection acquisitions to only the most essential reference books and existing serial sets.

1940: A branch library of the League was opened at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J. where it functioned from 1940-1946 to fulfil the research needs of the relocated League Secre tariat Economic, Financial and Transit Department. During the war period, the function of the "Princeton Mission" was to ensure a continuity in the League's work programme and in the publication of its major reports, study series and yearbooks in the economic and social fields.

1946: 18 April: The League of Nations turns over its assets, including its Library and its historical archives, to the United Nations.

1946: Establishment of The Museum of the League of Nations and the History of International Organizations.

1948: 2-9 August: Meeting in Lake Success, New York of the International Advisory Committee of Library Experts at which it was recommended that the Geneva Library should be maintained as an "articul ate whole" to further the work of the United Nations in Europe.

1949: Secretary-General's report (May), endorsed by resolutions of the Economic and Social Council (6 July) and the General Assembly (25 October), which stipulated the mandate and regulations govern ing the Library of the United Nations European Office, now the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).

1956: The collections total 500,000 volumes and the Library is recognized as being one of the most complete and comprehensive in Europe in the fields of economics, statistics, law, political studies and the social sciences.

1958: The League of Nations Archives are transferred to the UNOG Library so as to ensure the consolidated management of this valuable heritage of historical collections which represents not only the roots and institutional memory of the League of Nations but also those of the United Nations Organization.

1965: The Carnegie Foundation for International Peace agrees to fund a three-year study for the development of a classification system for the League Archives and for the establishment of regulation s governing their use.

1966: Opening to the public of the League of Nations Archives which are comprised of official correspondence, personnel files, documentation and private papers covering the period from 1920-1946, as well as certain rare 18th and 19th century collections on peace and the history of international organizations.

1972: The first International Documentation Symposium for the training of library specialists in the usage of international documentation is organized by the UNOG Library, in co-operation with the U nited Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and under the auspices of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and the Federation of International Documentation (FID ).

1976: The Monthly List of Selected Books and the Monthly List of Selected Articles are renamed Monthly Bibliography: Part I: Books, Official Documents, Serials and Monthly Bibliography: Part II: Sel ected Articles.

1977: The collections total 820,000 volumes and the UNOG Library is considered to be the largest in the United Nations system.

1978: First automation project of the UNOG Library, whose periodical holdings are keyboarded into a computerized file that is published as a list in 1980.

1979: Creation by the Headquarters Dag Hammarskjöld Library of the United Nations Bibliographical Information System (UNBIS), which includes references for United Nations documents since 1979 (DOCFI LE) and citations for catalogued books, government publications and serials in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library since 1979 (CATFILE). Subsequently, the UNOG Library joins in this collective effort by ad ding references for its own books and by indexing United Nations documentation produced in Geneva for the shared UNBIS database.

1980: 20-22 June: The UNOG Library, UNITAR, IFLA, FID and the Association of International Libraries (AIL) are sponsors of the Second World Symposium on International Documentation that is held in B russels as a training forum for the enhancement of specialized knowledge about all areas of international documentation, including their sources, acquisition and organization, utilization and archiva l responsibilities.

1980: A three-volume Bibliographical Handbook on the League of Nations is published by the Library.

1984: The UNOG Library progressively begins to participate in the computerized United Nations Bibliographical Information System, UNBIS database, that had been set up by the Headquarters Dag Hammars kjöld Library in 1979.

1985: The Library has a staff of 48 persons and its collections are estimated to be over 900,000 volumes, some 400,000 government publications and 3,000,000 United Nations and specialized agencies o fficial documents.

1986: Closure of the Library's traditional card catalogue, which henceforth reflects the Library's retrospective collection holdings prior to 1986.

1987: 1 January: UNOG Library holdings are catalogued henceforth for inclusion in the UNBIS database so as to allow thereafter for on line cumulative bibliographic research in CATFILE, not only for Dag Hammarskjöld Library collections that are reflected therein since 1979, but likewise for UNOG Library books, government documents and serials that are systematically registered therein from 1987 to date.

1988: 1 January: "Data Trek" the PC-based automated loan system, tested in 1987, becomes operational for loan activities of the UNOG Library.

1988: Acquisition by the Library of its first compact disk CD ROM information resources (e.g. bibliographies, dictionaries, directories, encyclopaedias, handbooks, indexes and periodicals).

1989: Library linkage to various commercial and governmental database hosts (e.g. DATA STAR, DIALOG, etc.).

1990: Launching by the UNOG Library of the integrated library management system "URICA" designed to facilitate diverse library processing functions and to promote research retrieval of bibliographic al and factual information.

1990: Publication in English and French of the promotional brochure The United Nations Library at Geneva: Collections and Reader's Services.

1991: Creation of the ongoing semi-annual publication Library News/Nouvelles de la Bibliothèque which is the Library's promotional voice for informing its clientele about its current activities.

1992: The UNOG Library networks with the Publishing Service to link the optical disk system (ODS) to the UNBIS indexing system so as to interconnect reference research with documents retrieval.

1992: From 1992 to 1994, the UNOG Library serves as the lead agency of the UN Advisory Committee on the Coordination of Information Systems - Technical Panel on Inter-Library Cooperation, Standards and Management (ACCIS TP/LIB).

1993: Library users can access ten external database hosts (e.g. DATA STAR, DIALOG, EUROBASES, LEXIS, NEXIS, etc.) and over a hundred CD ROMs (see the latest lists of database hosts and CD-ROMs in L ibrary News volumes 3/2 and 4/2).

1993: URICA is operational: acquisitions, cataloguing and serials processing modules function in parallel with the on-line public access catalogue "OPAC" as a unique synchronized information system.

1994: Creation of the annual Human Rights on CD-ROM which contains cumulative bibliographical citations to United Nations documentation on human rights from 1980 to date; its 1995 version is enhance d by the additional full text of major human rights instruments.

1994: First Library audio-CD entitled La Déclaration universelle des droits de l'homme et la Genève internationale (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Geneva), co-produced w ith the Radio Suisse Romande in a compact disk series entitled "Les voix de l'histoire" (the voices of history).

1994: 25 June: At the time of its 75th anniversary, the UNOG Library's collections total over a million volumes, 500,000 governmental publications, 9,000 retrospective serial titles of which 4,500 a re current periodical titles, and some 4,000,000 UN and specialized agencies documents. The UNOG Library increasingly focuses its attention on the wider information needs of the external world in fu lfilling its dual mandate as: 1) the institutional memory of the Organization - through historical productions and cultural exhibitions; and 2) a modern information centre - through access to new tec hnologies and the creation of new CD, CD ROM, ICD and multimedia products.

1994: The UNOG Library gains access to the on-line catalogues of external libraries (e.g. Berkeley and Harvard universities, The Library of Congress, etc.) and can network electronically with worldw ide users via the Internet information superhighway.

1995: Second audio-CD entitled Les Nations Unies et la Genève internationale, du Palais Wilson au Palais des Nations (The United Nations and International Geneva), co-produced with the Radio Suisse Romande and the Tribune de Genève for the series "Les voix de l'histoire".

1995: Under the aegis of the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, publication by the Chadwyck-Healey company of UNBIS Plus on CD-ROM, which includes the cumulated UNBIS database DOCFILE (document references fr om 1979) and CATFILE (bibliographical citations from 1987 that are included in the catalogued collections of books, official documents, serials and indexed periodical articles of the Dag Hammarskjöld and UNOG libraries); this CD ROM also includes complimentary information that is contained within other factual, full-text, reference and thesaurus files.

1995: July: Video-film entitled "Once Upon a Time the United Nations: 50 Years Towards Peace", co-produced with the Télévision Suisse Romande, for release on Swiss Channel 4 on 3 July 1995 in French , German and Italian. It is then being distributed in a boxed videocassette-book edition (in the original languages, plus English), co-produced by the UNOG Library, the TSR and the Journal de Genève .

1995: 22 August: During the annual IFLA Conference in Istanbul this year, the Government Information and Official Publications Section of IFLA is organizing, under the aegis of the UNOG Library, a s ymposium entitled "UN-50: Fifty Years of United Nations Publishing Activities".

1995: 15 September-15 December: Within the framework of the "UN 50" commemorative celebrations for the United Nations fiftieth anniversary, the UNOG Library, in collaboration with the School of Arc hitecture of the University of Geneva, is arranging an exhibition entitled "The Universal City". The goal of the show is to retrace the various architectural projects that were originally proposed f or the construction of the Palais des Nations. It will be held in the League of Nations Museum and UNOG Library Foyer.