United Nations Archives and Records Centre


Following its relocation to two new facilities in 2000 — a primary site in Manhattan and a secondary site in Long Island City — the United Nations Archives and Records Centre (ARC), Archives and Records Management Section (ARMS), has fully resumed operations, including research services. One of the United Nations' earliest programmes, the Archives developed from document collection and related secretariat functions at the San Francisco Conference, where the United Nations Organization was established in 1945. Designated in 1949 as custodian of all non-current records belonging to the United Nations and predecessor agencies, the Archives has continuously filled a mandate that includes accessioning, appraisal, disposition, arrangement and description, preservation and reference functions.

[1] The current Archives and Records Centre holds approximately 20,000 linear feet of "Predecessor Archives", including those of the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission, United Nations Information Organization, United Nations War Crimes Commission, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, United Nations Conference on International Organization and United Nations Preparatory Commission and Temporary London Office; "Registry Archives"; and Departmental Archives, the most prominent of which belong to the Office of the Secretary-General and the Office of Special Political Affairs and its successors, the Departments of Peace-Keeping Operations and Political Affairs. Details on these holdings, as well as those of the Organization's various Missions and Commissions, are provided on ARMS' website http://www.un.org/Depts/archives/index.html.

Although the United Nations originally adhered to a registry system for controlling registerable records by means of a classification scheme from 1946 to 1983, many offices created unofficial "departmental archives" as a convenience measure. Both types of records are represented among ARC's holdings and within its finding aids, which have traditionally consisted of folder lists aggregated into records series and archives groups reflecting offices of origin. United Nations archives reflect the functions of the Secretariat, whose job it is to support the daily activities of the Organization and to administer programmes and policies developed by other of its principal organs. As a result, ARC holdings cover a wide range of subjects, including economic, human rights and social themes, and supplement records created and maintained by other United Nations entities specializing in these and other areas. Of special interest are records of the Organization's "chief administrative officer, the Secretary-General, who, in addition to his executive functions, exercises his "good offices" in the interest of international peace and security. Over the years, researchers have made particular use of the Secretary-General's records in combination with those belonging to peace-keeping and political departments and/or field missions and commissions. Recently, ARC has undertaken the conversion of its manual finding aids into automated format, where records series replace archive groups as the basic unit of description and a simplified archival description standard has been established for exchanging data about Centre holdings. Beginning with highly researched records, such as those belonging to the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations and its predecessors, ARC is creating series descriptions that incorporate the following elements: unique series number, title, earliest and latest dates, office of origin, scope and content note, arrangement and language statements, former series location as a bridge to former finding aid citational data, security-classification level and linear footage. Scope and content notes carefully identify record types, major subjects and events, and primary correspondents to optimize word searchability. Boxes retrieved are linked to automated researcher profiles that include reproduction order and access/declassification review requests. The inclusion of basic descriptive and contact information on ARMS' website represents another attempt to promote access to United Nations records. The number of on-site researchers wishing to research Centre records for scholarly and/or publication purposes has increased dramatically since ARMS' relocation last year to new sites that fully meet archival facility standards. Most frequently requested records include those of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, consulted for displaced persons and camp operation studies and for employment verification, and documentation relating to regional peace-keeping activities, particularly in the Middle EastPrior to relocation, the opening of the War Crimes Commission records to over tw-hundred approved government investigators, journalists and Holocaust students in 1987 advertized ARC's research possibilities more than any other single factor. Increased research activity led to the development of guidelines for classifying and declassifying Secretariat records as early as 1984. The guidelines' declassification timetable allowed the archives to release "confidential" materials automatically at the end of twenty years old and to submit "strictly confidential" records more than twenty years old to originating offices and/or offices of interest for explicit ad hoc, item-by-item approval by the Secretary-General's authorized representatives. Unclassified records less than twenty years old (except those open at the time of creation) became releasable upon written permission of originating offices, and classified records less than twenty years old could be declassified at anytime by authorized officials. Unfortunately, staff constraints have prevented systematic review of classified records, and the review process, despite recent streamlining, is still slow.

The Secretary-General's call to consolidate common services among the United Nations and its Funds and Programmes has provided a collaborative opportunity for ARMS to meet additional archives and records management challenges. The Working Group on Archives and Records Management Section established in 1997 has allowed ARMS representatives, together with records information, legal, library and information technology professionals from other offices and agencies, to pool their expertise and plan for the expansion of ARMS' archival facility into a Common Archives Research Centre and development of a common strategy for long-term protection and accessibility of electronic records. Other projects include the harmonization of policies and procedures, retention scheduling and identification of archival records, review of security-classification access and declassification standards, and the sharing of functional evaluations, technical expertise and other resources to advance the implementation of commonly endorsed best practices. Meanwhile, researchers can access the Centre following the establishment of an appointment with Mr. Tony Newton, Chief of ARC, at 212-963-8685, or the Reference Desk at 212-963-8612. Written inquires can be submitted by regular mail to the Archives and Records Centre, Room FF-102, United Nations, New York, NY 10017; by e-mail to arms@un.org; or by fax to 212-963-4414. The submission of an application form, available on ARMS website under the heading "Research the Archives", should facilitate the research arrangement process. Directions to the appropriate site will be provided at the time of the initial appointment. [1] Non-current records do not include printed official documents, which are maintained by the Dag Hammarskjold Library.



United Nations Intellectual History Project
United Nations Intellectual History Project

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Ralph Bunch Institute for International Studies