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Government Information

United Nations

The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization (IGO) founded after the Second World War (1945) by countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights. It is a successor to the League of Nations.

Today, the UN System includes a wide range of departments, offices, commissions, programs, funds, specialized agencies and related organizations (e.g. World Health Organization, International Monetary Fund, etc.). All of these bodies are linked to one of the six principal organs of the UN System. 

It is important to understand the difference between DOCUMENTS and PUBLICATIONS when looking for materials produced by the UN System. In general, publications are created to inform people outside the publishing organization about its activities (e.g., Human Development Report) and documents are created to record the decision making process and its output and are often associated with the masthead documents and Official Records of the six principal organs (e.g. Meeting Minutes, Resolutions, Decisions).

Background Research

Staff at the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library have created a series of backgrounders about numerous countries, region, and topics as well as research guides that include:

Other Resources for Background Research:


In official UN parlance, a “document is a text submitted to a principal organ or a subsidiary organ of the United Nations for consideration by it, usually in connection with item(s) on its agenda." In practice, documents are usually meeting records, resolutions, decisions, and some reports. For more detail, see the Documents Symbols section of the United Nations Documentation Research Guide, which is the source of the above quote. Please contact the Government Information Librarian for assistance with using print and electronic UN indexes.

Access to UN Documents:


In general, publications are created to inform people outside the publishing organization about its activities. Sales publications produced by agencies within the UN System are generally intended for distribution outside of the agency. Use the databases listed below to identify sales publications. If full text access is not available, check the library catalogue or contact Government Information Librarian for assistance.


Major UN Publications:

UN Major Databases