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

Fifty Years of United Nations Publishing Activities

Patrice Piguet, Publishing Service, United Nations at Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland


Introduction: "UN-50"

This year, the United Nations celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding. The 1995 commemoration relates to the signing of the United Nations Charter on the 26 June 1945, and its subsequent ra tification, on the 24 October 1945, by a majority of the signatories. The anniversary will be celebrated throughout 1995, culminating with a special World Summit of the heads of all United Na tions Member States from 22 to 24 October (24 October being "UN Day"). The United Nations is participating in special projects and exhibitions. The publications sales offices are making available v arious commemorative products.

However, the publishing activities of the Organization can claim a tradition that reaches back much farther than 50 years.

A) The League of Nations Heritage

The United Nations was founded following in the footsteps of its parent organization the League of Nations which originated 76 years ago in 1919. During the Second World War, the League of Nations was practically forced to put its activities on standby, with the exception of its Economic, Financial and Transit Department which functioned as the Princeton Mission in the USA, where it continued to produce studies and yearbooks in the economic and statistical fields. In April 1944, the League of Nations issued a sales of publications catalogue listing about 250 titles in print at that time. [1]

The League of Nations handed over all of its assets to the United Nations in 1946, including its publishing functions. A large number of serial publications and periodicals which were started in 19 20 are still active publications titles that are being issued today. Examples are: the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics; Estimated World Requirements of Narcotic Drugs; Statistical Yearbook; World Economic Survey; International Trade Statistics; Monthly lists of Selected Articles, or Books catalogued of the Library and Timber Statistics. [2] Another example is the Treaty Series, for which the League published 200 volumes containing 4700 treaties. The latter were, in fact, the result of an agreement proposal that was made at the Berne Diplomatic Conference in 1892. [3] Hence, the a ssertion that United Nations publishing tradition can be seriously considered as predating the Organization itself.

The underlying thought here is that there is a strong need for intergovernmental publishing, irrespective of how much diplomatic activity - or lack of it - is going on. This is particularly notab le with regard to international law.

Incidentally, the sales numbering system for the United Nations publications can also be traced back to the League of Nations: for example, see IIA and IIB for economic subjects, category IV for so cial questions, V for legal questions and VIII for transport.

As seen in this historical perspective, United Nations publishing activities thus appear to be a solidly established tradition. The notion of zealously followed mandates would seem to prevail. In reality, the beginnings were difficult and perhaps there was not much sense of direction behind the publishing output. Veterans remember these so-called heroic times with mixed emotions. Improvizat ion was the general principle. It was good then to be able to look back to the League of Nations for ideas, concepts, guidelines and potentially similar book titles. Some of these difficulties per sist today, as it is still difficult to transform "raw" documentation into published products, as most of the information is derived from the reports about the Organizations many programmes and was n ot originally intended for presentation as books. The United Nations is involved in every aspect of international life, generating enormous quantities of documentation. Some of these productions re late to fast changing current issues. Such "raw" material does not lend itself easily to final book products. Perhaps this information will eventually find its way onto the Internet (or whatever th e vehicle of the next generation will be called) and will be retrievable via more refined indexing systems. For example, it is unfortunate that "Peacekeeping", a 3.5 billion dollar programme,in whi ch, at the end of 1993, 75,000 civilians and military personnel were serving, is not being as thoroughly analysed and chronicled as it deserves to be, and that the only literature available on this c rucial topic are press releases, reports by the Secretary-General to the Security Council in document form, the occasional posters and leaflets.

B) Publishing For A Purpose, Not For A Market

United Nations publishing activities are not entrepreneurial, in that no manuscripts are solicited from authors, sales managers don't jump on any bandwagons, and heads of departments do not commissi on market analyses before launching a series. In spite of these seemingly unfavourable premises, books have been published by the United Nations that are of prime importance to their specialized rea dership, that fit into general public library collections or that are adopted for university curriculum courses. A number of United Nations titles have been pirated in many countries, which is not a lways a bad compliment for a publisher. Not to speak, of course, of the Organization's established status as a leading reference book publisher.

Perhaps the major characteristic of United Nations as a publisher is the sheer diversity of approaches and the wide scope of its subjects matter. From Abortion to Zoology, United Nations has covere d every imaginable subject in its publishing output that amounts to about 30,000 titles in 50 years (i.e. average 600 per year).

The United Nations publishes in loose leaf, paperback, booklets, hardbound volume, microfiche, diskette, CD ROM disk and optical disk output forms.

C) The "Print-First, Publish Later" Principle

The United Nations is not a gigantic publisher. Every year the Organization purchases 2,500 tonnes of paper, but this is less than the New York Times uses for one Sunday edition. [4]

What is it that is being printed?

D) The Publishing Process

The regular publishing process for documents and official records follows well established patterns, ensuring a bilateral flow linking ongoing meetings. The publishing process for "Publications" fo llows a different pattern. New titles are proposed by departments implementing mandated programmes from which their publications derive. The United Nations Publications Board, an interdepartmental decision-making body will study and cost the proposals, consolidate submissions and make concrete proposals to the General Assembly for the biennual UN budget. Once the financial allocations have be en established, departments can pursue manuscript preparation. The United Nations Secretariat will then process the finalized manuscripts through its internal copy-preparation, typesetting, proofrea ding, printing, distribution and sales operations. Some printing is contracted to external printers while some books, especially translations, are licensed to commercial publishers.

E) "Authors" of United Nations Publications

Structurally, the United Nations functions through six different organs, as well as through a multitude of special affiliated bodies.

Organs                          Media Outputs

General Assembly                Documents, Official Records
Security Council                Documents, Official Records
Trusteeship Council             Documents, Official Records
Economic and Social Council     Documents, Official Records and books
International Court of Justice  Official Records in fascicle or book form
Secretariat                     Documents, Official Records and books
Affiliated Bodies               Documents, Official Records and books

1. The General Assembly (GA)
The GA functions with commissions and committees. Subscriptions are available for resolutions and decisions in both document form as well as Offical Records. The Index to Proceedings of the Genera l Assembly is produced by the Dag Hammarkjold Library (DHL). The material is also available in microfiche and in electronic form, through on-line access (the data is stored on the optical disk syste m), individual requests on diskettes and soon on CD-ROM disks.

The GA also establishes conferences. Published material consists in all cases of documents and official records. Interesting books derive from conference materials (for example, Agenda 21, Confere nce on environment and sustainable development).

(non exhaustive listing) 	

Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space      Annual Report

International Law Commission                       Yearbook

International Commission on Trade Law              Yearbook, Legal                                                             Guides,Countertrade                                                     


United Nations Disarmament Commission	           Yearbook

United Nations Conference on                       Convention, studies
the Law of the Sea

2. The Security Council
Official Records that include resolutions and sessional documents are available on subscription.

3. Trusteeship Council
Annual report to the General Assembly.
4. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
ECOSOC functions through standing committees, functional commissions and regional commissions, which issue over two hundred book titles per year.


Commission for Social              World Economic and Social Situation
development                        Situation (annual)

Commission on Human Rights         Yearbook, Compilation of 
                                   International  Instruments, Status
                                   of the Individual under Contemporary
                                   Law, Study on the Rights of Persons
                                   Belonging to Ethnic, Religions and 
                                   Linguistic Minorities

Commission on Narcotic Drugs       Multilingual Dictionary on Narcotic
                                   Drugs, Statistics on Narcotic Drugs,

Statistical Commission             Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, 
                                   Statistical Yearbook, also on CD-ROM

Commission on Transnational        World Investment Report

Other commissions address the following issues: crime prevention and criminal justice; illicit drug traffic; science and technology for development; sustainable development; women; popul ation. Each commission can supply informational material and prepares publications.

Regional commissions are located in Geneva (covering Europe and North America), Amman (covering the Western Asia region), Addis Ababa (Africa), Bangkok (for Asia and the Pacific region) and Sa ntiago de Chile (covering Latin America and the Caribbean). They deal with the economic and social situation of their region in much more detail, resulting in more closely-targeted book titles (for example: Asia in Figures; Energy Efficiency in European Industry; Women in Arab Countries).

Each regional commission publishes economic and social surveys, energy and transport statistics for its region.

5. The International Court of Justice
The Court settles legal disputes between States. It issues publications containing its pleadings and the texts of judgements.
6. The Secretariat
The Secretariat carries out the diverse day-to-day work of the United Nations. It functions through ten separate departments and several operational programmes. Its departments carry out the "publi sher" functions, that is, the production side of publications as well as the financial and legal aspects. Many Secretariat offices have their own information documentation, including press releases, video, picture collections, publications and newsletters, which are disseminated outside the regular publication programme. However, all the titles mentioned below are available for sale through th e United Nations sales offices in New York and Geneva.

A sample, inexhaustive listing is given below:

DEPARTMENT                         PUBLICATIONS

Political Affairs 	           Disarmament Yearbook, Study Series,
                                   Topical Papers

Humanitarian Affairs               DHA News, Stop Disasters

Economic and Social Information    World Economic and Social Survey,
and Policy Analysis    	           Statistical Yearbook, World 
                                   Population Prospects, System of 
                                   Nations Accounts, etc.

Policy Coordination and            Publications consequential to:
Sustainable Development	           Agenda 21, World Social Summit (1995)
                                   and the World Conference on Women 
                                   (1995)  Books:  Women 2000, 
                                   Consolidated List of Products...
                                   Bannned... or not Approved by 

Public Information                 Yearbook of the United Nations,
                                   UN Chronicle, Basic Facts about the
                                   United Nations, Books of the
                                   Secretary-General (see below)

Legal Affairs                      United Nations Treaty Series (over 
                                   1000 volumes issued), Juridical 

A Prestigious Author

At present the United Nations most prestigious author is Mr. Boutros Boutros Ghali, the Secretary-General. In 1995, the Secretary-General wrote new editions of An Agenda for Peace and an Agenda for Development.

These two inextricably linked texts, present innovative approaches for fulfilling the objectives of the Organization. Its aim is to stimulate thought and action for the period ahead leading into the 21st century.

The Blue Book Series carries this aim further and presents "case studies". Describing the role of the United Nations in helping to resolve conflicts and to respond to emergencies, each book c ontains introductory texts by the Secretary-General, detailed chronologies and texts of key substantial documents. Titles published:

7. Affiliated Bodies

Some affiliated bodies that operate with a certain autonomy process their publications through their own organizational set-up. As can be seen in the following list, there are many outstanding title s. All are distributed and sold by the United Nations sales offices.

Affiliated body     Subject Matter          Major publications

UNICEF              Child welfare	    The State of the World's
                                            Children (annual), Children in
                                            War, Child neglect in Rich 

UNCTAD              Trade and development   Trade and Development Report,
                                            World Investment Report, Least
                                            Developed Country Report

UNDP                International           Human Development Report
                    development activities  (annual),  Change:  Threat or

UNEP                Environment issues      Industry and Environment 
                                            (Quarterly), Legal File 
                                            (International Register of 
                                            Potentially Toxic chemicals),
                                            Audit and Reduction Manual for
                                            Industrial Emissions and Wastes

Centre for          Human rights            Manual on Human Rights 
Human Rights                                Reporting,  Human Rights 
                                            Instruments (A Compilation (A
                                            Compilation of) - book or
                                            CD-ROM format

UNU (United         Research, training,     Mega-City Growth and the Future,
Nations University) nutrition               Industrial Metabolism 

International Drug  Illicit traffic in      Bulletin on Narcotics, 
Control Programme   narcotic drugs          Statistics on Narcotic Drugs,
                                            Report of the International 
                                            Narcotics Control Board

UNIDIR (United      Disarmament research    Repertory of Disarmament
Nations Institute                           Research,  Research Reports,
for Disarmament                             Research papers 

UNICRI              Crime and justice       World Directory of
                    research                Criminological Institutes,
                                            Understanding Crime,
                                            Environmental Crime  

ITC (International  Trade promotion         Market studies
Trade Centre)	    programmes for

UNIDO [7]           Industrial development  Manual for Industrial
                                            Feasibility Studies, Global
                                            Report (annual), Training Course
                                            for Ecologically - Sustainable
                                            Industrial Development 
                                            (multimedia kit)

International       Application of          Statutes and Rules of
Criminal Tribunal   international law, on   Procedure and Basic Documents,
for the former      the principle of 	    Yearbook
Yugoslavia          evidence 

Compensation        Compensation for war    Reports forthcoming
Commission          damages	

UNITAR              Training and research   The UN in the 90's: A Second
                                            Chance?  Global Economy in the
                                            Age of Science-Based Knowledge,
                                            Debt Management Training Course

A number of other affiliated bodies (UNRISD, UNCHS-Habitat, UNFPA, UNRWA, UNHCR) run their publications programme independently and do not have their productions distributed by the United Nations sal es operations.

F) Microfiche Publishing Activities

United Nations documents and publications are available on microfiche. About half a million microfiche originals have been filmed. The complete publishing output of documentation available on micr ofiche in English comprises more than 130,000 fiche. The United Nations sales operation in Geneva also operates a paper-copy from microfiche-image service by which means retrospective documents or p ublications produced since 1945.

G) Electronic products

Numerous packages of data on CD-ROM disks and magnetic diskettes are available. The following is a selection of titles;

H) Data Available Through On-Line Access

1. Restricted access databases
2. Optical Disk System
This is a storage and retrieval system for conference documents accessed through public network connections (ISDN). Publications and Offical Records are not as yet stored on this system.
3. The Internet
Selected United Nations documents and databases are maintained on many different computer networks, some of which are already accessible. Gopher servers are maintained by ITU and UNDP, making selec ted United Nations documents accessible on the Internet.

It is envisaged to make the contents of the Optical Disk System for United Nations conference documents commercially available on the Internet. This will include all General Assembly, Security Coun cil documents and those of several affiliated bodies.

Examples of documents and databases available:

United Nations Conferences

Official documents issued at conferences, for example, Fourth World Conference on Women Gopher. UNDP. ORG, PORT: 70/11/UN CONFS.

- UN-Earth

Abstracts, summaries and referral information on the United Nations system, its structure and activities worldwide.

Gopher (host: nywork 1.undp. org. port: 70. select The United Nations, what it is and what it does) UNDP documents (United Nations Development Programme).

Gopher (host: nywork 1.undp.org.port:70. select United Nations Development Programme Documents).

Databases with restricted access and newsgroups relating to the United Nations are discussed in the Internet An Introductory Guide for United Nations Organizations. [9]

I) Milestone Publications 1945-1995

The following is a totally subjective selection of noteworthy titles published over five
decades of the Organization's existence.

1945 Charter of the United Nations and Statute of the
     International Court of Justice

1946 Report on the work of the League (General
     Assembly Report)

1947 Treaty Series Volume 1 
     By 1995, over 1,000 volumes in this series had 
     been published. 

1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

1949 United Nations Statistical Yearbook, Volume 1

1950 How the United Nations met the Challenge of Korea
     Korea chronology and the texts of the armistice
     agreements 37 p.

1951 How the United Nations Began  Classroom texts; 
     31 p.

1952 Report on the World Social Situation (Preliminary 
     report)   First issue of this annual.

1953 Statistics of Road Traffic Accidents in Europe  
     First issue of this annual volume.

1954 Rainmaking
     An objective account of rainmaking experiments in 
     different areas of the world; 18 p.

1955 Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs, 
     Volume 1  -  Articles 1-22 of the Charter

1956 Annual Bulletin of Housing and Building 
     Statistics for Europe, Volume 1

1957 Transport of Dangerous Goods  -  This is the 
     first edition of the "Recommendations" known 
     among truck drivers as the "Orange Book".  Now in 
     its ninth edition, it is one of the United 
     Nations bestseller.

1958 Manual on Economic Development Project  -  Still 
     used in economics faculties (Latin America). 

1959 The New Atomic Age  -  Revised edition, illus.
     42 p.

1960 Study of Discrimination in the Matter of 
     Religious Rights and Practices 79 p.

1961 Proceedings of the United Nations Conference on 
     New Sources of Energy
     Geothermal energy, solar energy, wind energy.
     7 volumes

1962 Convention on Narcotic Drugs

1963 World of Opportunity  -  First volume of 
     proceedings of United Nations Conference on the
     Application of Science and Technology for the 
     Benefit of Less Developed Countries

1964 The UN Chronicle, Volume 1

1965 World Energy Supplies, Volume 1  -  (Changed to 
     Yearbook of World Energy Statistics in 1978)

1966 World Weights and Measures:  Handbook for 

1967 The Turn-Around Time of Ships in Port 35p.

1968 Everyman's United Nations  -  Handbook on the 
     activities of the United Nations 1945-1946 United 
     Nations, 1968, 634p.

1969 Handbook of International Trade and Development 
     Statistics,  UNCTAD  -  First issue of this much 
     appraised annual.

1970 Chemical and Bacteriological Weapons and the 
     Effects of their Possible Use 100 p.

1971 United Nations List of National Parks and 
     Equivalent Reserves    601 pp.  Brussels (This is 
     in fact the 2nd edition.  The original edition 
     was first published in the form of conference 
     documents in 1961.

1972 Guidelines for Industrial Project Evaluation  
     Methodology and practice of national benefit-cost 
     analysis (UNIDO).  An authoritative textbook.

1973 Transnational Corporations in World Development

1974 Castor Oil Production and Processing 23 p.

1975 The Situation of Women in the United Nations 

1977 Marketing and Distribution of Tobacco
     A revealing UNCTAD study and a new way to look at
     transnational corporations.

1978 Manual for the Preparation of Industrial Feasibility
     Studies  -  (UNIDO)  An authoritative and widely 
     recommended methodology for project evaluation, this
     manual sold over 100,000 copies and was translated
     into more than twenty languages.1979 	UNDOC
     The printed version of the computerized database,
     UNBIS (United Nations Bibliographic Information 
     System) which records all United Nations publications 
     and documents.

1980 Historical Supplement: Demographic Yearbook
     Basic population and vital statistics providing
     data for a thirty year period.

1981 Transnational Banks:  Operations, Strategis and 
     their Effects on Developing Countries

1982 Risks of Unintentional Nuclear War
     Study by UNIDIR.

1983 Exploitation of Child Labour

1984 Convention on the Law of the Sea

1986 Radiation:  Doses, Effects, Risks  -  
     illustrated, 64 p. Ironically, this concise 
     booklet was published only a few days before the 
     Chernobyl disaster.

1988 Convention on Contracts for the International
     Sale of Goods

1989 Economic Reforms in the European Centrally 
     Planned Economies

1990 The World's Women, 1970-1990 - Trends and

1991 Security Council Resolution 687 (Iraq-Kuweit)
     (For a commentary on Resolution 687, see UNIDIR
     Research Paper No 12)

1992 Agenda 21 - Earth Summit: The United Nations 
     Programme of Action   (also CD-ROM)

1993 Human Rights Bibliography on CD-ROM
     Published in book form and CD-ROM in 1993,
     subsequent editions are available on CD-ROM only 
     and contain selected texts.  First CD-ROM 
     published by the United Nations Secretariat.

1994 The United Nations and Apartheid 1945-1994

1995 An Agenda for Peace by Boutros Boutros Ghali
     Second edition with a new supplement and related 
     United Nations documents.


  1. Société des Nations, Catalogue spécial de publications sélectionnées : économiques, financières et autres (1944).

  2. Catalogue of Publications 1920-1935, Publications Department, League of Nations, Geneva, July 1935.

  3. Premier Rapport de la Commission de contrôle pour l'année 1943, Société des Nations, Geneva, 1943.

  4. United Nations Image and Reality DPI/1288, March 1993.

  5. United Nations Editorial Manual. A compendium of rules and directives on United Nations editorial style, publications policies procedures and practice, New York, 1983.

  6. United Nations Documentation, A Brief Guide, ST/LIB/34/Rev.2, UN, 1994.

  7. UNIDO is a specialized agency, but by specialized Agency, but by special arrangement it makes its publications available through the United Nations.

  8. ACCIS Fifth edition, 1993, United Nations Publication GV.E.94.0.14

  9. The Internet; An Introductory Guide for United Nations Organizations, ACCIS/94/1 United Nation, No GV/E/94.0.12