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International Organization Documentation

  • Robert W. Schaaf


International intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) play a significant role in contemporary life, and in the course of their functioning they produce a very large number of publications and documents. In a study published in 1979, Documentation of the United Nations System, the author estimates that of the United Nations organizations alone, counting all language versions, the yearly output is approximately 180,000 pieces, with 7,500 items, or five percent of the total, being publications properly so called. Although we have no real statistics on the use of international documents there is general agreement among specialists in this field that the vast bulk of IGO documentation goes unread. Many reports and studies are intended, of course, for a limited audience such as a single meeting's participants, but also included in the mass of IGO materials are items of potential value to researchers in most disciplines, including law. In the present column I hope, without overlapping other sections of IJLI, to provide news about new international information systems and projects, new publications or documents of the United Nations and its specialized agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), Unesco, and the World Bank, and information about international bodies outside the UN system. Fortunately, I am in a good position to see new IGO publications because they arrive daily at the Library of Congress from agencies scattered across the continents; I also obtain news from regular contacts in various organizations, particularly from individuals in Washington-based international agencies. Although my plan is to discuss specific organizations and documents, I shall also dwell a bit on the abstract subject of international documentation.



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1. Marulli, Luciana, Documentation of the United Nations System: Coordination in its Bibliographic Control (Metuchen, N.J., Scarecrow Press, 1979). See p. 187 for the figures quoted. The distinction between publications and documents made by Marulli is an important one; for the author's discussion of this, see pp. 36.

2. Charlesworth, Bernard, “The Need for Modernization in Production, Editing and Distribution of IGO Documentation,” Sources, Organization, Utilization of International Documentation: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Documentation of the United Nations and Other Intergovernmental Organizations, Geneva, 21-23 August 1972 (The Hague: International Federation for Documentation, 1974), p. 266. Mr. Charlesworth's 85% figure is cited by Gloria Westfall in the introduction to the special issue of Government Publications Review (v. 6, no. 2, 1979, p. 127) devoted to the proceedings of the 1978 Indiana University Workshop on Documentation of Intergovernmental Organizations.

3. Documents to the People (v. 1- 1972-, Chicago: American Library Association) is sent free to ALA/GODORT members. Subscriptions are available to non-members on an annual basis for $15, with the fee made payable to ALA/GODORT and addressed to the distribution manager, Audrey Taylor, Documents Librarian, University of Houston Libraries, Houston, Texas 77004.

4. The discussion of the distinction between conventions, recommendations, and declarations is extracted from the general introduction to the volume, pp. xii-xiv.

5 Mimeographed UN materials are available only in full UN depository libraries (as well as standing order libraries which subscribe to mimeographed series). Others may request items issued in New York, using the symbols indicated, from the Public Inquiries Unit, United Nations, New York, New York 10017. Requests should be made early because stocks are rapidly exhausted. With current budgetary restrictions, a contribution of U.S. $.01 per page, plus postage, is asked for documents of 50 or more pages. (See the “Requests for Documents Mentioned …” section of United Nations Documentation News.)

* Senior Specialist in United Nations and International Documents, Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress.


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