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United Nations Yearbook Now Online

Earlier this month the United Nations launched a new web site providing free access to the Yearbook of the United Nations.  As the flagship reference source of the U.N., the Yearbook comprehensively documents the activities of all the main bodies of this complex organization by means of a detailed narrative overview peppered with useful cross-references and document citations.  It is thus an indispensable resource for those tracking the U.N.’s activities.

The web site includes all 59 volumes (1946-2005) of the Yearbook published to date in print.  The contents are displayable either in smart PDF format or in expandable chunks of text showing highlighted search terms in context.  The smart PDFs are particularly useful because they not only highlight the original search terms, but can be searched for additional terms as well in Adobe Reader.  The “documents” are comprised of whole chapters, so this feature is a welcome tool to assist navigation.

There are two methods of searching.  First, the researcher can browse individual volume tables of contents, and link to the part or chapter (within a part) of particular interest.  This method of searching will be useful to the researcher who is familiar with the structure of the Yearbook, and knows that the information he or she seeks will be in a particular year.  The subject index of each volume is also searchable, providing another useful way into the content.  The researcher can also search all the yearbooks simultaneously, or a range of years, using search terms, entered as an exact phrase, as keywords, or as alternative keywords connected by ‘or’. There is also a “Power Search” option providing proximity connectors.

Finally, the slickest feature of the web site is a search box the researcher can use to look up documents mentioned in the text of the Yearbooks.  Using the U.N. document number found in the text, the researcher can search UNBISnet, the catalogue of UN documents and publications indexed by the UN Dag Hammarskjöld Library and the Library of the UN Office at Geneva.  Then through UNBISnet the researcher can link directly to a PDF of the document itself!  How cool is that?

To illustrate how this all works, suppose you were interested in finding out what the U.N. has done in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and especially what steps it has taken to improve its early warning systems.  If you searched for the phrase “Indian Ocean tsunami” in the range of volumes comprising the years 2001-2005, you would retrieve about 200 hits displayed in relevance order.  The third document is a 2005 Yearbook summary of activities related to the environment and human settlement.  Navigating rapidly through this document you would find a summary of the activities of the General Assembly and the U.N. Environment Program.  In addition, you would find the text of a relevant General Assembly Resolution and a summary of a report submitted by the UNEP “on environmental emergency response and disaster prevention, preparedness, mitigation and early-warning systems.”  Using the cited document number, you could then retrieve the PDF of this document through an accompanying UNBISnet search.  Finally, the Yearbook document mentions that the UNEP report “noted UNEP’s continuing role within the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in reducing disaster vulnerability and implementing the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015, adopted by the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, Kobe, Hyogo, Japan 18-22 January.”  This is accompanied by a cross-reference to a discussion of that Conference in the 2005 Yearbook, and of course provides another set of search terms for further investigation.

Wow!  This is the sort of stuff that makes it fun to be a librarian.  To try out the Yearbook for yourself, go here.

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