Research Guide for U.N. Documents at Cornell


formerly Research Guide for Cornell and Ithaca College Model U.N.

U.N. Documents & Publications~Searching for U.N. Documents
U.N. Websites~Databases~ Journals
Reference Books


Types of U.N. Documents

  • Official Records (abbreviated as OR on this Web page) of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Security Council, the Secretariat, and the Trusteeship Council. Many volumes of the printed Official Records also contain indexes to the proceedings bound in the last volume of each session. See printed indexes.
  • Note: Records of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) are not part of the regular U.N. depository. The Cornell Law School Library holds an extensive collection of ICJ documents. Visit the Law School Library's International Resources site for an ICJ Research Guide and access to the ICJ Web site.
  • Masthead Documents (abbreviated MD; formerly called Mimeograph Documents).
  • Sales Publications (abbreviated SP).
  • Documents and publications of specialized U.N. agencies and programmes are not available through the regular U.N. depository system. However, they may be available at Cornell. See below.

Formats of U.N. Documents

Official Records are available in paper, microform, and electronic formats. Recent Masthead Documents are available in paper and electronic form. Masthead documents are also available in either microfiche or microprint formats, depending upon the date of the material. Sales Publications are generally available as books and pamphlets, although some are also found in the microform collections.

U.N. documents in Olin Library

Olin Library is a partial depository library for United Nations documents. We also subscribe to the Readex microfiche collection of U.N. documents.

  • Online documents (OR and MD). [1992-current year]. The full text of all U.N. documents back to 1992 is available in ODS (the U.N.'s Official Document System) supplemented by the U.N. Treaty Index. Two other online sources, AccessUN and UNBISnet, provide full-text access to selected documents.
  • Readex microfiche collection. (OR and MD). [1982-current year]. Filed on the B Level, Olin in the old Rare Vault [room B52].
    Ask for assistance at the Olin reference desk. 1982 through 1991 are filed in one document number sequence; 1992 to date are filed year by year.
  • Readex microprint card collection (OR and MD). [1946-1981]. This collection on micro-opaque cards is filed on the B Level, Olin in the old Rare Vault [room B52].
    Ask for assistance at the Olin reference desk; the Newspapers and Microforms Office on the Olin B Level will retrieve these documents for users.
  • Bound paper volumes of the Official Records (OR only) for the General Assembly, 1946-1990/91 (++ JX 1977 .A41); Security Council, 1946-1967, 1969-1978, 1980-1983 (++ JX 1977 .A42); Trusteeship Council, 1947-1987 (++ JX 1977 .A43); and Economic and Social Council, 1978-1987, 1994, 1996-1997 (++ JX 1977 .A44): Shelved on the B Level stacks in Olin in ranges north of the catalog workstations (where the U.S. Serial Set used to be shelved), out of call number order. [NB: Search the Cornell Library Catalog by call number for further details and for holdings at Law. Additional unbound paper copies located in B52 Olin].
  • Unbound paper copies of Official Records are incomplete.(OR only)--Request at the Olin Reference Desk; shelved in B52 Olin, compact shelving section. [From 1992 to date. These Official Records are available online through ODS and in the Readex UN microfiche collection, see above].
  • Masthead documents available in the Readex UN microfiche collections, see above, and, since 2000, online through ODS. (MD only) Note: Some early masthead documents are available in B52 Olin in paper. Ask at the Olin Reference Desk; shelved in B52 Olin, compact shelving section.
  • Sales Publications (SP)--Catalogued like books and found in the regular stack areas of Olin and other libraries on campus. Use the Cornell Library Catalog to obtain a call number and library location for these publications.

Learning more about U.N. Documents

The United Nations Documents: Research Guide prepared by the staff of the Dag Hammarskjold Library at the United Nations supplies a clear and concise overview of the various types of documents and publications and how to work with them. It includes an excellent description and explanation of how to read Document Symbols.

UN Web Search
This UN documents training guide is designed to give an overview of the UN website and to demonstrate effective search methods in selected databases. The training guide covers the major areas of UN activity, explores the wealth of information available in the Research Guide and includes search techniques for the following databases: Human Rights, ReliefWeb, UN Treaty Collection and Press Releases.


The vast majority of U.N. documents are not cataloged with Library of Congress call numbers. For these documents, the most important information to obtain by searching is the U.N. Document Symbol. Uncataloged U.N. documents are shelved or filed by this symbol. More information about U.N. Document Symbols.

  • AccessUN covers 1948 to date. Available in the Database Names section in the Library web site. Cornell only. Fourteen simultaneous users.

    An online index of U.N. documents (plus selected full text of documents). Indexes Official Records, masthead documents, draft resolutions, meeting records, UN Sales Publications, and the UN Treaty Series. Coverage back to 1944 is slated to be available by April 2002. For Official Records and masthead documents, search ODS Online (below) by document number to find the full text (1992- only). Before 1992, check the Readex microfiche or microprint sets. Make a note of the "Readex Year" if checking the microfiche from 1992 forward; the year of issuance on Readex microfiche is not always the same as the year when the document was published.

  • UNBISnet covers 1979 to date. Free to the public. Unlimited access.

    Catalog of U.N. publications and documentation indexed by the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold Library and the Library of the U.N. Office at Geneva, so it includes non-U.N. publications. Searches can be limited to U.N. docs only. Links to selected full-text documents. Use this online index to locate the U.N. document number; then search ODS Online (below) by document number to find the full text (1992- only). For documents before 1992, check the Readex microfiche set. In the future, UNBISnet will be directly linked to ODS online.

    UNBISnet also includes searchable voting records for all resolutions which were adopted - either without a vote or by roll-call or recorded vote - by the General Assembly beginning with its 38th session (1983-) and the Security Council beginning with its 1st year (1946-). And a searchable index to citations to speeches made in the General Assembly beginning with its 38th session (1983-), the Security Council beginning with its 38th year (1983-), the Economic and Social Council beginning in 1983 and the Trusteeship Council beginning with its 15th special session (1982).

  • United Nations Official Documents: ODS Online covers 1992 to date full-text, 1946 to date for resolutions. ODS is now available free to the public.

    Official repository for documents published by the United Nations. The full text of documents dating back to 1992 is accessible in Portable Document Format (PDF) as Microsoft Word 6 files in all official languages of the United Nations - Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. U.N. documents are available back to 1992. U.N. Resolutions, which includes resolutions of the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, and Trusteeship Council are available since 1946. Use advanced search and select resolutions.

    Searching tips: Use UNBISnet or AccessUN to locate the Document Symbol for the title you want, then search ODS by the Docment Symbol. UNBISnet contains the full range of indexing for U.N. documents; ODS does not. Once you have the document symbol, however, progressively truncating the symbol on the right can produce a more complete set of documents than a keyword search in AccessUN or UNBISnet.

  • United Nations Documents: Research Guide

    This guide is designed for researchers and information professionals with an interest in United Nations documentation. It presents an overview of the various types of documents and publications issued by the Organization (e.g, reports, resolutions, meeting records, sales publications, press releases) and gives guidance on how to work with them. The Research Guide also provides information on actions taken by the General Assembly as well as the Security Council and introduces researchers to major fields of UN activities: disarmament, human rights, international law and peacekeeping.

    The guide also provides full-text access to non-depository documents of interest, such as the meeting records of the Security Council: click on "Security Council", then on "Meeting Records". Then click on "Meetings of the Security Council in...". Or you can go there directly at .

  • UN Statistics Division Common Database. Available through the Database Names section in the Library web site. Cornell only.

    Access to selected tables from a wide variety of United Nations statistical publications (e.g., Demographic Yearbook, UNESCO Statistical Yearbook). Data can be downloaded in Microsoft Excel 97 or plain text formats. Click on Sources List under the Metadata heading at the left of the home page to see the publications represented. Data may be more recent than that available in the equivalent print sources.

  • The United Nations Treaty Collection: Available through the Database Names section in the Library web site. Cornell only.

    The texts of multilateral treaties recently deposited with the Secretary-General that have not yet been published in the United Nations Treaty Series plus the United Nations Treaty Series itself which contains the texts of over 40,000 bilateral and multilateral treaties in their authentic language(s), along with a translation into English and French.

    Print copies of treaties are published in the United Nations Treaty Series (JX 170 .U35). Each treaty in this massive series is numbered. Treaties may also be cited by volume and page as follows: 1598 UNTS 333.

  • The Cornell Library Catalog contains records for sales publications selected for the library.
  • OCLC WorldCat is another online source for verifying information about U.N. documents that have been cataloged in other libraries outside Cornell. Particularly useful for sales publications.

  • Access to databases and documents of specialized U.N. agencies and programmes is available as follows:
    • International Labour Organization. Catherwood (ILR) Library is an official depository for ILO documents (as of 1 July 2001). See the Catherwood's International Information page. An ILO research guide is available online from the Law School.
    • Food and Agriculture Organization. Most FAO documents are available at Mann Library on microfiche or CD-ROM. Search Agris to find individual FAO documents.
    • United Nations Environment Programme, World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization: Mann Library buys many of these documents. Search the Cornell Library Catalog.
    • World Tourist Organization: the Hotel Library is a depository for publications--print version only. For individual titles, search the CU Library Catalog.
    • Other agencies and programmes (UNESCO, IMF, World Bank, etc.). Search the Cornell Library Catalog.
  • Selected U.N. documents are also available in full text from U.N. Documentation Centre.

    • The following printed indexes to the proceedings of the General Assembly and the Security Council may provide indexing not available in online sources.

    • Index to Proceedings of the General Assembly: 1975 to date. (Olin Reference Z 6481 .A1 U582; shelved in the regular Olin Reference collection); includes a subject index and an index to speeches delivered in the General Assembly

      Another set of Indexes to Proceedings of the General Assembly is bound with United Nations. General Assembly. Official Records: 1946 to 1995/96, 1997/98. (Olin Reference JX 1977 .A41 ++; currently shelved in the UN documents area, Olin B Level). The Index is bound in the last volume for each year.

    • Index to Proceedings of the Security Council: 1992, 1995 to date. (uncataloged; shelved in the UN documents storage ranges, section 21 of the compact shelving in Olin B52)

      Indexes to Proceedings of the Security Council are also bound with United Nations. Security Council. Official Records = Proces-verbaux officiels: 1946 to 1967, 1969 to 1978, 1980 to 1987. (Olin Reference JX 1977 .A42 ++; currently shelved in the UN documents area, Lower Level). The Indexes are bound in the last volume for each year.

      Another set of the print indexes coveraging 1964 to 1994 is available at Law: Indexes to Proceedings of the Security Council. (Law Library JX 1976 .S41).

    • United Nations Documents Index (UNDEX, UNDOC). 1950- .
      Note especially the 4-volume Cumulated Index to the United Nations Documents Index, covering 1950-1962 (volumes 1-13 of the United Nations Documents Index) and shelved in Olin reference at + Z 6481 .A1 U561. The Cumulated Index must be used with volumes 1 through 13 of the United Nations Documents Index for these years which are shelved in the Olin stacks (+ Z 6481 .A1 .U56).


    More information about UNBISnet, ODS, Indexes to Proceedings, and UNDOC.

  • UNDCP List of United Nations and Other International Organizations web sites.
    Links to the specialized agencies--independent international organizations affiliated with United Nations through the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council. Examples of these agencies: World Health Organization (WHO); Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and International Labor Organization.

  • Lexis-Nexis Academic. Dates of coverage vary. Cornell only.
    See the General News and the World News sections under News. Updated daily.
  • Keesings Record of World Events. 1931- . Cornell only.
    An electronic archives of over 40 years of full-text international news reports. Geographically balanced world-wide coverage.
  • PAIS International (Public Affairs Information Service). 1972 to date. Cornell only.
    Contains citations to public policy literature of economics, government, law, international business, political science, public administration, and other social sciences. It includes references to journal articles, books, government documents, reports and pamphlets in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.
  • ProQuest Research Library. Cornell only.
    Indexes and abstracts articles in over 2400 general interest magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals. It also includes citations and abstracts to selected television and radio programs. Many of the articles found by searching in this database are available in full text electronic formats.
  • World News Connection. 1994 to date. Cornell only.
    Full-text English translations of newspaper articles and transcripts of television and radio news broadcasts. World-wide coverage outside the U.S.


Human Rights Quarterly. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Cornell only.
(Online 1995- . Olin Stacks JC 571 .U64, 1981- .)
"Articles written by experts from around the world and from a range of disciplines are edited to be understood by the intelligent reader. The Quarterly provides up-to-date information on important developments within the United Nations and regional human rights organizations, both governmental and non-governmental." [HRQ home page]
  • UN Chronicle [formerly UN Monthly Chronicle; United Nations Review]. New York: United Nations. 1954- .
    (Olin Stacks JX 1977 .A311).
    Magazine of U.N. affairs. Articles indexed in AccessUN. Selected articles from each issue available in the UN Chronicle Online Edition, 1997- .


The top three reference books on the United Nations:

Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements.
Ed. Edmund J. Osmanczyk. 3rd ed. 4 vols. New York: Routledge, 2003.
(Olin Reference KZ 4968 .O84x 2003)

The best source of background information on the UN with the full texts of major protocols, conventions, and charters. Entries on wars, technical terms in international diplomacy, treaties, countries, issues, significant geography. No biographical entries.

A Global Agenda: Issues before the [number, i.e., 55th] General Assembly of the United Nations.
Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991 - . Annual.
(Olin JX 1977 .A1 I86: latest 5 volumes in Reference)

Excellent summary and overview of subjects before the General Assembly. Sources of information in the essays are carefully noted. Good source of statistics for speeches and papers; also useful for subject descriptors to search AccessUN or UNBISnet.

United Nations Handbook.
Wellington, N.Z.: Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Annual.
(JX 1977 .N53: latest volume in Olin Reference)

A good overview of the U.N. structure with current directory information for all U.N. agencies. Updated annually.

Additional useful reference sources:

  • Annual Review of United Nations Affairs. (Olin JX 1977 .A1 A61, latest year in Reference)
  • Great Debates at the United Nations: An Encyclopedia of Fifty Key Issues, 1945-2000. (Olin Ref KZ 4968 .G67x 2001)


For a flow chart of General Assembly legislation and descriptions of UN research databases, see this Workshop on General Assembly Documentation.

3 November 2009 [MOE]

[Originally created by Lance Heidig]

Michael Engle
Reference Department


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