Guidelines for Specific Types of UN Documents and Publications
Other Manuals



The United Nations Bibliographic and Information System (UNBIS) is a database providing bibliographic and related information for documents and publications issued by the United Nations and its agencies as well as by external publishers.UNBIS contains descriptive metadata and comprehensive subject analysis for documents, journals, books, CD-Rom and audiovisual materials, as well as direct links to electronic text of UN documents in the six official languages of the Organization (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). UNBIS information is available both online and in print.

With the development of information technology and the possibilities of keyword searching on text of documents, questions naturally arise as to whether documents could be referenced by automatic methods that would be faster and more cost-effective than traditional library cataloguing and indexing. Can automation be extended beyond simple keyword capabilities to incorporate the intellectual techniques required to achieve bibliographic objectives that meet the needs of all users? Is a system that attempts to fulfill the traditional bibliographic objectives necessary, when many users may be satisfied with simple keyword searches for documents?

While some users may not need the power of a full-featured information system that organizes information intellectually, other users may require the features that presently can only be provided by intellectual means, such as the use of a controlled vocabulary to bring together like information and avoid scattering. Automatic keyword searches do not satisfactorily address the difficulties of many users in finding appropriate search terms, in expanding a search when too little is retrieved and in limiting a search when too much is retrieved.

In order to achieve the objectives of a full-featured bibliographic information system, indexers and cataloguers require clear principles, guidelines and rules for describing documents and other materials, analyzing information and assigning metadata. For this purpose UNBIS Guidelines for Subject Analysis were drafted in 1983, and an UNBIS Reference Manual for Bibliographic Description was published in 1988 on the basis of international cataloguing rules adapted to meet the particular needs of UN documentation. Since 2003 seven UNBIS reference manuals have been developed and posted on the UN Intranet/Internet: bibliographic description, name authority, thesaurus and geographic name, UN agenda, UN document series symbol, speech index and voting records.



The overall objectives of the policy for information analysis are to create an indexed and searchable database of bibliographic and related records; to provide access to these records through UNBISnet, online catalogues, bibliographies and indexes in print or other formats such as the United Nations Documents Index (UNDI), Index to Proceedings (ITP) and Index to Speeches (ITS); and to provide selected metadata to the Official Document System of the United Nations (ODS). Important user-oriented objectives include the following:

  • Allow the user to find information corresponding to his or her specified search criteria, to locate materials and to access full texts of documents
  • Allow the user to distinguish between documents with similar characteristics and to confirm that information described in a record corresponds to the document sought
  • Allow the user to retrieve a set of documents by a given author, on a given subject, of a given type, etc.
  • Allow the user to find related information and navigate through the database by means of relationships between records, between subjects, authors, etc.

In its role as lead agency of the UNBIS network, Dag Hammarskjöld Library aims to achieve the information objectives by the following measures:

  • Encouraging all UN libraries to contribute shared indexing records for materials produced locally, and ensuring coordination among participating libraries
  • Providing guidelines and rules for analysis and description of UN documentation and other materials
  • Developing a standardized indexing vocabulary (thesaurus, name authority records) to control synonyms and homonyms and avoid scattering
  • Providing support to indexers and cataloguers in order to ensure retrieval effectiveness and accuracy of information (training and guidance to staff; revising, correcting and updating records)
  • Performing regular diagnosis of the database to check completeness, validity and correctness of data elements in records
  • Monitoring the actual usage of the database, including number of searches, number of simultaneous users, number of attempts to obtain objects described in the bibliographic record, etc.
  • Evaluating the user interface of the database with a view to enhancing its user-friendliness
  • Providing automated access to full-text electronic files whenever available, based on coded access and location information in the bibliographic record
  • Compiling and producing printed and electronic bibliographies such as ITP, ITS and UNDI.

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