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ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies


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United Nations Digital Library
September/October 2017 Issue

The Dag Hammarskjöld Library and the United Nations Office at Geneva Library announced on May 19, 2017, that they had coordinated to launch the United Nations Digital Library (UNDL; The new resource ( offers a variety of U.N.-related materials, including reports, maps, and speeches.

The opening page invites you to do a keyword search to “Explore documents, votes, speeches, public do main publications and more!” Note that a phrase search requires quotation marks: The search engine construes two words as an implicit AND. You can specify collec tion types, or simply browse one of the collections. Results include title, date, filetype, and download links (many of the resources are available as PDFs), and there are some left-menu options for formatting and organizing search results. You can turn full-text search on or off; sort by relevance, latest first, title, or year; view by ascending or descending order; have the system display 10, 25, 50, or 100 results per screen; and view results as a single list or by collection. You can also choose to view all collections or just one and pick from a variety of citable formats (BibTeX, EndNote, MARC, for example).

To get to the advanced search, you have to go to a different screen. You can click on Advanced Search at the bottom of the front page or go directly to

This digital library’s advanced search is well worth explor ing, with extensive field searches and support for regular expressions. Do note, however, that the set of documents available via this search is much smaller than it would be for a web search engine, and even a basic use of advanced search options will quickly narrow down your search results to a small number—maybe even smaller than you want!

The UNDL has a thorough help document on its webpage as well as a shorter search overview (

The UNDL also offers an authority search ( that provides records tagged as “authority records,” which can be geographic terms,corporations, people, and other entities specified by the U.N. Authority records establish a uniform terminology to be used in metadata across the spectrum of UNDL materials. Searchable categories include People, Corporate, Meetings, Uniform, Series Symbols, and Agenda items. The collection being sliced up this way does lead to very different results. For example, a full-text search for Facebook leads to more than 500 results. An “authorities” search for Facebook, limited to the corporate category, offers only one.

As you might expect since it’s a library of U.N. documents, this digital library is expanding all the time—in fact, it is up dated daily. If you wish to keep up with particular queries, the UNDL offers email alerts (which require a UNDL account) and RSS feeds (which do not). Although I find the UNDL impressive, the color scheme bothers me. Dark grey on a light grey background is not the best option for readability.


It shouldn’t be a surprise that the U.N. would undertake an initiative like the UNDL. It’s just one of many initiatives taken by libraries and institutions all over the world—which is leading to some interesting partnerships. The National Library of Norway and the National Library of Nigeria are teaming up to create a digital library of Nigerian literature. From a news story in The Vanguard, a Nigerian newspaper, “The agreement … will initially cover works written in the Hausa, Igbo and Yoru ba languages, the library said. The costs will be shared, with the library in Nigeria responsible for collecting the works and the Norwegian one for carrying out the digitisation, with the transport covered by the Norwegian embassy in Nigeria” (

Meanwhile, the Nigerian state of Lagos is creating its own digital library ( Lagos governor Akinwun mi Ambode said the new digital library will include “2,000 study aids on core subjects from primary to senior secondary school curriculum, over 1,600 tutorials, instructional videos, and selected ebooks for primary to SS3 approved texts …” (

Even established digital libraries are upgrading services, with the Digital Library of India now offering a smartphone app ( Though the app offers access to the Digital Library of India’s collection of more than 6.5 million books, it’s currently available only for Android. (An iOS version is in the works.)

The internet is now decades old, and the proliferation of digitizing and cultural preservation projects makes it seems sometimes as if all the major projects and “heavy lifting” have been done. But considering that the UNDL was re cently launched, and that large states such as Lagos (with a population of more than 17 million) are just getting digital libraries, it’s clear that the initiative of organizing content into digital libraries has barely begun.

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Tara Calishain is an industry observer who shares news, makes tools, and generally rants at ResearchBuzz ( She has authored several books on search topics.


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