Research Guides United Nations Office at Geneva Library

Celebrating 100 years of Library & Knowledge Services in support of Multilateralism

History of the UN Library&Archives Geneva

"The object then of the Library of the League of Nations should be first, a working library for the League so that decisions may be based on facts, and second a library that will so express the civilization and culture of the various countries that the peoples of the world will better understand each other and, thru understanding, will be at peace." - Mary-Florence Wilson, 1922


The Library of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) was previously the Library of the League of Nations, the United Nations predecessor, and was founded along with the League in 1919. The League Library was first housed in London, at 117 Piccadilly.

Mary-Florence Wilson was the founding Librarian of the League of Nations Library: Read more about her here.



In November 1920, it moved with the League to Geneva, Switzerland, where it was allotted a dining room and a few offices and cellars in the Hôtel National, the imposing building on the shores of Lake Geneva that served as the League's temporary headquarters.





In 1926, as the League expanded its activities, an international of architectural competition was organized to design a permanent home for the organization. The result was the project for the future Palais des Nations (Palace of the Nations). By January 1927, over 10,000 designs had been submitted from all parts of the world.




In the same year, 1927, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the American industrialist and philanthropist, contributed two million dollars to endow the League of Nations with a modern library suitable for the study of international relations. The donation expressed Rockefeller's strong belief in the role of the League Library as a force to promote peace through knowledge.



In a letter to Mr. Louis Wiley, a New York Times correspondent, Rockefeller wrote: "You speak most truly when you say that peace must finally be built on the foundation of well-informed public opinion. That conviction... was what impelled me to make the gift. "Rockefeller's wish was that the League's Library serves the dual role of providing information to members of the League's Secretariat as well as making its rich collections available to scholars and researchers around the world.

The architectural plans of the Palais des Nations had to undergo considerable modification following the unexpected gift of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The Library was housed in a separate wing of the new building that remains its location today. A Library Planning Committee was appointed to ensure that the latest techniques and principles in librarianship were incorporated.


In 1933, Raymond B. Fosdick, a close aide to Rockefeller, visited Geneva and reported back to him that " the planning of the Library building is the result of the work of a committee of librarians from all over the world and represents the best thought that could be brought together...Its potential effect on the international policy of the future could not be under estimated...I do not think that any similar sum that you have ever spent is going to have a wider influence."




In 1937, construction of the Library drew to a close and it was dedicated in a simple and dignified ceremony. A national from the Netherlands, Dr. Tietse Pieter Sevensma, was appointed as the first League Librarian.
The Library started to perform its functions and soon became established not only as the main point of information and documentation for the League's work, but also as an important international research institution and as an issuing centre of its own publications. Even during the Second World War its doors were never closed.


In 1946, when the League was dismissed, the Library, together with the other assets of the organization, was turned over to the United Nations.

On 19 April 1948, in a letter addressed to Julian Huxley, Director-General of UNESCO, Gunnar Myrdal, Executive Secretary of the newly established United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, pleaded for the Library to be maintained in Geneva, explaining the crucial role it played in Europe:

"The war has created terrible havoc in Europe’s libraries; some of them have been completely or partly destroyed, others have been depleted or not kept up-to-date. The United States, on the other hand, and the East Coast and the New York area in particular, can boast of a great number of excellent libraries. It would be a great pity if the United Nations were to injure Europe’s library situation yet further by transferring such an important collection as the one in Geneva to the U.S.A. where it is not needed".


Today, as the European Library of the United Nations, the UN Library&Archives Geneva continues to carry out its historic role as an  "instrument of international understanding."


Inauguration of the Cyberspace


Conversion of the card catalogue (historical collection, 1919-1986) into electronic format


UNHCR transfers its library fonds and services to UNOG Library




UNOG Library joins social media


Inauguration of the new John D. Rockefeller Jr. Archives Reading Room

Selected documents and publications about the Library

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Chronology of the Library

Mandate of the UN Library&Archives Geneva

  1. A/C.5/298 (1949): Library policy and Library organization – functions of the Geneva Library and of the one in New York ; funding (regular budget and Library Endowment fund)
  2. A/RES/354(IV) (1949): Budget appropriations for the financial year 1949 – GA resolution on the document above
  3. [ST/Geneva/]MUN/592 (1968): The United Nations Library at Geneva : historical background – see “functions” (p.3) – Mentions the transfer of the LoN Archives to the Library in 1958 and the funds offered by the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace in 1965 for a 3-year study to develop a classification plan for the archives and establishing rules for access and use
  4. ST/IC/Geneva/4472 (1999): Information circular : nomination – enlargement of the scope of Library activities to cover a) UNOG cultural policy b) co-ordination of archives policy at the UNOG c) management of the UNOG Working Committee on Publications
  5. ST/IC/Geneva/4612 (2000): Archival reform at UNOG – Creation of the Registry, Records and Archives Unit, which brings the LoN and the UNOG Registry together under the Library (Blandine chief of this new Unit)
  6. ST/IC/Geneva/2001/55 (2001): Archives and Records Management of the United Nations Office at Geneva