On Friday, I took a tour with other ACRL/NY members to the United Nations for a tour of the library. We were met at the visitor’s gate by two UN employees, one of them being a librarian who was originally from Germany. (The other one was originally from Portugal.) We were led into where the metal detectors were and, like in the airports, we had to take off our belts and empty our pockets of everything. Then we were led back out into the courtyard, across the compound and into the building where the delegates cafeteria is located, past that and down a long hall, turning right and coming to the entrance to the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, named for the second UN secretary-general who was killed in a plane crash on a peace-keeping mission to Africa. In March 2015, the current secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, named a three panel commission to investigate new evidence about the plane crash; the report is expected at the end of June. The Guardian has an article on it.
We were shown the library, which is on three floors, all disconnected. The stacks we could not even get to because someone had locked the door to that level, so we had to take the elevator. Since there were so many of us, we made several trips. We were shown items from the collection, including the 1945 San Francisco treaty that established the United Nations. This was published in a book. And where is the original? Why in the National Archives, of course. The library has almost a complete set of the League of Nations documents; the complete set is at the former League headquarters in Geneva.
In a meeting room where it looked like the card catalog was kept (all materials 1979 and back are still on cards and are not in the computer), the chief librarian welcomed us and gave us an overview of how the library’s staff has shrunk with the cuts in funding. He also presented how he would like the library to begin doing outreach to other libraries in the Greater New York area, and becoming more connected. There were two other CUNY librarians there and I commented that the library looked like one from CUNY, and the two quickly agreed with me, since they had come to the same conclusion. It is sad. This is the leading institution in the world trying to resolve conflicts between nations peacefully, and its library is woefully underfunded.
There was a question-and-answer with the librarians while we noshed on some snacks. Then it was time to leave. I’d like to help the library find funding to finish the retrospective conversion–meaning that what the library has in the card catalog would be completely computerized. Materials are also being digitized, so digitizing the rare materials like the League documents would be available online. Unfortunately, since the terrorist attacks in 2001, security has been tightened so much that it is almost impossible for scholars who need to do research over the long term to get access for more than one day.