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On the Town at the APLIC-I Conference
Preconference Tour of the United Nations
By Jean Sack


13 APLIC-I members toured the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold Library on Monday, March 22, 1999. Depository Librarian Farida Humaidan (humaidan@un.org) explained that the library, founded in 1946 and moved into its present quarters in 1961, is not generally open to the public, except by appointment. The 100 staff members (50 professional librarians) serve the UN delegations, the Secretariat, and accredited NGOs staff during the 9-5:30 weekday open hours with their collections of over 400,000 documents, responding to telephone, e-mail and in-person reference queries, and with specialized archives and maps collections.

The UN Library website is done by library staff. Structurally, the library is under the UN Department of Public Information. A system of UN Depository libraries has been in place since 1946. Each country is supposed to have one UN depository, as well as most the US States, so that currently over 355 libraries in 142 locations receive UN materials with the understanding that their collections will be maintained in good working order and be available to the public free of charge. For more information about the depository libraries, call 212-963-7444 or fax 212-963-1779. A help line for non-UN users is 212-963-1457, with a reference desk line at 212-963-7394.

The APLIC group next met Senior Reference Librarian Anatoly Sidorenko, who explained that their reference services are most intensively utilized during the UN sessions from September through December each year. Many budget cuts resulted in staff cuts from 160 to 100 and periodicals being cut or subscriptions transformed to electronic access. Collaborations for document recovery included Uncover Reveal, NY Public Library, New York University, and routine interlibrary loans. The web is a major resource in addition to a large reference collection. Training for on-line databases is offered on Dialog, Westlawn, Lexis-Nexis for staff and Cyberseek sessions for patrons twice weekly. In the past 18 months over 2000 diplomats have received orientation to web search engines, retrieval, saving and send functions of browsers. During the summer the 100-200 UN interns are also trained.

The United Nations Bibliographic Information System (UNBIS) on-line catalog was established in 1979 and is currently being migrated over to a web-based Horizon system (Ameritech). Many older records prior to 1979 have not been retroconverted but a large bank of card catalog drawers has been retained for
reference staff use. Yearly acquisitions total nearly 12,000 items with nearly as many weeded. At least 10 computers were visible in the reference area with
over half in use. Diplomats have been trained to do their own searches on the databases.

Selected Disemination of Information help the reference staff set up patron profiles for monthly electronic delivery of tables of contents, newsletters, the Foreign Report (analytical briefings from UK), and over 30 publications distributed to users' desktops. An electronic World News Connection feed is sorted by profiles and disseminated to 1000 users. Reference librarians are acting almost like "traffic officers to control the flow of information and direct it in the right direction." The staff perform searches for the preparation of background papers on current topics such as Kosovo. During the UN General Assembly up to 1500 news articles are written daily about the UN worldwide. Critical or negative articles (such as one revelation of a UN dog budget of $150,000 yearly for a mail room, drug-sniffing canine) are filtered off Lexis-Nexis, downloaded, edited and sent out to specified delegates.

Map Librarians Sharon Chan and Brenda Brookes showed the APLIC group the UN map library, and explained that many maps are for sale through UN Publications. 100,000 sheet maps, national atlases from every country in different languages, gazeteers, guidebooks for international travel (Fodors, Lonely Planet, etc.), information on boundaries, flag specifications and National anthems are housed in this collection. A cartography section makes new maps for missions and coutnry profiles. A map website is being constructed for a May, 1999 internet presence. Although call-in queries are possible (212-963-7425), access to the maps are only possible by passes. A citizen of St. Lucia, Sharon explained that the UN hires their librarians under a quota system from each country.

Tzehaie Beraki, an Ethiopian who has been at the Hammarskjold for six years, met our APLIC tour in the main collection reading room on the second floor. He and four reference librarians perform quick telephone response (with a special desk for long distance calls), e-mails and faxed responses (212-963-7394). Calls originate from everyhere and frequently are questions about UN conventions, agreements, international laws, or provisions for international business. The UN Yearbook is considered to be the single most important reference volume. The specialized Agencies collections include documents from all five regional offices of the UN, WHO publications, basic documents of international agencies, donors, annual reports, and special resolutions. The League of Nations comprehensive collection is in the Woodrow Wilson Collection in closed stacks and these restricted, historic documents do not circulate outside the reading room. Photocopiers are available as are microfiche readers and printers. The Optical Disc System (ODS), with a work station in the reading room, is a depository of all UN publications in multiple languages which began in 1982 with full-text scanning. Since 1992 all new UN publications are entered directly and free connections are offered to UN employees via an Internet password. A CD-ROM of new UN documents called UNBASE is published quarterly by a contractor and is offered for sale. Another printed database, the UN Documents Index, is published four times yearly. This database includes bibliographic descriptions, annotations, indexing. Items are in the six official UN languages. The print index and ODS CD-ROM are preferred in developing countries because of the unreliability of Internet connections and electrical power.

Periodicals and Newspapers collections were explained by Philippine Librarian Edenia Genille (212-963-5373). The UN does send out approximately 100 ILL requests each month. An extensive bank of CD-ROMS for the UMI Proquest System and the web-based ProQuest Direct now serve as an alternative to print journal collections. Only 100 print subscriptions are currently purchased. A 30 page printout limit is established for patrons with additional charges for extra pages. UnCover Reveal is an expensive last resort for full article document delivery if ILLs are not successful from collaborating libraries in New York City.

Following the UN libraries tours, the group was shown the highlights of the UN Assembly halls, artwork and displays by a gracious young woman from the south of China.


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