The mandate of the Library was first set out in a special report on library policy and services submitted by the Secretary-General to the Fifth Committee in 1949 (A/C.5/298). The special report defined the respective mandates and relationship of the Headquarters Library, then called “The Library”, and of the “Geneva Library”.
“The Library's primary function is to enable the delegations, Secretariat and other official groups of the Organization to obtain, with the greatest possible speed, convenience and economy, the library materials and information needed in the execution of their duties. The materials to be assembled and the services to be maintained will be determined by the needs of these groups”.
“The Geneva Library
19. The following principles proposed in a report of the Secretary-General under resolution 205 (VIII) of the Economic and Social Council, were approved at the Council’s ninth session:
- The Geneva Library should be continued for the service primarily of the United Nations and the specialized agencies; and also for other international organizations, research institutions and students.
- The acquisitions programme of the Library should not, under present circumstances, be reduced, as the Library, which is now operated in a somewhat smaller scale than in the time of the League of Nations, has unlimited obligations to fulfill. (5/)
- (5/ Namely the obligation to meet the needs, not only of the United Nations, but also of the specialized agencies and other international organizations which depend to a considerable extent on this library, in view of the lack of other facilities in Geneva comparable to those within easy reach of the Headquarters Library; an understanding with the International Labour Organisation; obligations incurred under the Rockefeller gift “to provide full and adequate facilities for research work for students”; and lastly it must be remembered that the Geneva Library now has an increased value to the Countries of Europe, the Libraries of which were devastated by the war.”
Consequently, the Library has specialized in two major areas. First, as a depository for United Nations documents and publications, it maintains a comprehensive collection of materials of the specialized agencies and United Nations affiliated bodies. Secondly, the Library collects books, periodicals and other materials of permanent as well as current interest to support the Organization's activities. Materials are assembled with the aim of achieving a balance of national and linguistic coverage, as well as representing different points of view.
Although primarily intended to serve the international community, the Library is also open to interested professionals outside the Organization, in particular professors, university level and graduate students, independent researchers, lawyers, economists, librarians, documentalists, and archivists.