Wednesday, February 17, 2016

New United Nations iLibrary



My inbox received several notices over the last couple of days about the launch of the new United Nations iLibrary, publicized as “the first comprehensive global search, discovery, and dissemination platform for digital content created by the United Nations.” The basic facts are that the iLibrary now provides researchers with a single online destination for accessing products created by the United Nations Secretariat in a manner that claims to be more intuitive.

I set out to test the “intuitive” claim by searching for material created by the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees on handling refugee status claims. I came up empty-handed after four searches (various configurations of the terms refugee, status, and appeals). When I came up with no relevant results, I went on to read the iLibrary’s “about” page which informed me that 500 new titles are planned to be added every year, approximately 70% of which will be in English and will cover, inter alia, the following topic – “human rights and refugees” – so good to remember that this is a work in progress and to check the “about” page before launching a search. Topics covered at present include economic and social development, international law and governance, environment and urban issues, human rights and gender studies, international trade, public health and population, statistics, international peace and security, and United Nations matters.

I tried another search that I was pretty sure would call back results (terrorism in the title) and I did get back a range of documents spanning November 2008 to March 2013, so another point to keep in mind, the iLibrary does not at present go back very far. As you may have surmised, there is an advance search option which permits searching by title, author, isbn/issn/doi, title and abstract as well as the old faithful full-text.

My results also came back with two options for viewing – pdf and “read.” Everyone has access to the “read” option but one has access to the “pdf” option only if one subscribes to the iLibrary, which costs approximately $12,500. That was surprising to me because I have always thought that one of the missions of the United Nations was to make information freely available to people in all sorts of conditions across the globe. I suppose it does with the “read” option, which displays on a platform supplied by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but still, what if you want to download?

In sum, as of today, if you know what United Nations document you are looking for, it will still be more efficient to go to the appropriate committee or court website, but I will definitely use this as a secondary place to search for potentially relevant United Nations documents.

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