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. 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 serve 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 over 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, were 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 Library of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), it continues to carry out its historic role of " instrument of international understanding ", thus keeping alive the visionary idea of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.