Chapter 8

Sharing our Experience, Knowledge and Cultural Heritage

Library stacks

© UN Archives Geneva

In 1926, the League of Nations was intending to build its new headquarters, the Palais des Nations, on the shores of Lake Geneva. After receiving a generous donation by John D. Rockefeller Jr. to establish a large library, it determined that the lakeside property would be too small.

For that reason, the Palais des Nations and its library were built in their current location, Ariana Park. The design for the library was completed by a commission that visited the best libraries across Europe and the United States of America. This research ensured that the library in Geneva would be a first-class resource and learning centre.

The stacks were custom-built in 1936 to store a vast number of documents. They consist of 10 shorter floors within the five-floor library building at the Palais des Nations. The shorter floors make all documents accessible without a ladder or stepladder, allowing requested books to be fetched and delivered to the Library front desk within minutes. There are three stairways for moving within the stacks, as well as an elevator for people, a book lift, and a lift for large-format documents. The heating and water pipes are strategically placed to ensure that they would not damage the documents in the event of a leak. There are 45 linear kilometres of bookshelves holding more than 1 million volumes, including periodicals, books and documents in more than 150 languages, even weekly and daily newspapers dating back to the 1800s. A strongroom in the Library contains books dating back to the 1500s, the oldest book being from 1504. Every official document from each United Nations duty station can be found in all six official languages, covering the period from 1946 to 2015. Documents produced after 2015 can be found digitally in the Library.   

True to its original concept, the UN Library at Geneva still serves today as a top-flight resource for research and academic texts on multilateral processes and international cooperation, and as a knowledge provider and memory keeper for the Organization.


© UN Photo

UN Geneva provides a forum for collaborative dialogue among peoples of different cultures and backgrounds while celebrating diversity. Supporting permanent missions and international organizations, UN Geneva serves as a venue for activities and events that allow for exposure to and exploration of various values and cultures, strengthening its mission as an instrument of international understanding.

In 2019, UN Geneva hosted 52 cultural activities and 90 special and side events at the Palais des Nations. In addition, 17 Library events brought together authors, academics, permanent representatives and experts to discuss issues of global importance. Overall, more than 18,500 participants were welcomed to all the cultural activities, library talks, tours and other events organized by the library.


The Genius of humanity exhibition celebrating Federico Fellini’s 100th birthday revisited his lasting contributions to the art of cinema. Valéik, a group of young musicians from the Haute École de Musique de Lausanne, performed at the opening ceremony.


An exhibition of paintings on a 50-year-long “time tape” depicted bridges between generations, and changes in styles and techniques over the years. It was created by students of the Belarusian State Academy of Arts. 

© UN Photo


The Grand concert de la Francophonie honoured women’s suffrage movements and gender equality, with a performance entitled “Des voix de femmes”. This year’s concert featured the beautiful and influential voices of women singers and poets including Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara, and drew an audience of more than 1,500 people in the Assembly Hall. 


The Jerusalem Youth Chorus, made up of Israeli and Palestinian youth singing in Arabic, Hebrew and English, helps to transcend conflict through song. They brought their message of peace for a second time to Hall IV.

© UN Photo


An exhibition of children’s faces from around the world, with flags of countries that have pledged to renew their commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, intrigued visitors in the Salle des Pas Perdus. 

© UN Photo


The Greetings from China concert was performed at the Assembly Hall by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

Paul Rose, explorer and leader of scientific expeditons, gave a storytelling session at a Library Talk. A curated recording of the event is available on The Next Page, the UN Library Geneva podcast.

© UN Photo - Adam Kane


An exhibition on the Province of Sichuan in China and the 150th anniversary of the scientific naming of the giant panda, together with performances and a sampling of regional cuisine, highlighted the rich cultural heritage of the province.

A concert featuring classical and Korean melodies was held to celebrate 100 years of multilateralism in Geneva.


© UN Library Geneva

Innovations, collaborations and co-creations in the area of multilateralism are being encouraged through a new joint initiative launched in January by the UN Library Geneva and the Centre for Learning and Multilingualism. The Knowledge and Learning Commons provides opportunities for diplomats, staff and interns across UN Geneva to come together to generate and exchange collaboratively inspired ideas.

Traditionally, there are two types of commons: those adopted by large libraries, known as knowledge commons, and those of universities and secondary schools, often referred to as learning commons. The challenge for UN Geneva was to combine the two and find the right balance between knowledge and learning. The Commons is a solution that has grown from the evolution of libraries and learning centres in the digital era.

The Commons offers cost-effective activities, events and experiences in a variety of formats, including interactive lectures, workshops, collaboration sessions and skills-based courses.

In 2019, the Commons coordinated 47 activities with 38 partners from the UN system in Geneva, welcoming more than 2,800 participants.

Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi

Syrian Islamic scholar and religious leader

“Unfortunately the problem of hatred is rising, we are all facing this problem… Hatred, I believe, stems from hating life. So, people who hate life, they hate everything that is attached to life.”



© UN Photo - Antoine Tardy

Over the years, thousands of graduate students, diplomats, journalists and civil society activists have immersed themselves in the world of international cooperation by taking part in UN Geneva Information Programmes. These programmes help participants learn first-hand, from experts and practitioners, on location in the Palais des Nations, about the most important issues of our time.

The thematic offerings are designed to enhance each group’s immersion experience and to cover topics such as the role of UN Geneva as a hub for multilateral diplomacy, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, defending human rights, combating climate change, and more.

Students from the Lycée Fénelon Sainte-Marie, in Paris, were enraptured by their Information Programme. Sacha, aged 17, said:

“In the press, we get information about the UN’s actions, but we never have this introspective look from within, which makes it possible to understand the workings of diplomacy.” 

© UN Photo - Antoine Tardy


© UN Photo - Iryna Turtaieva

Students from six continents and with a range of academic backgrounds travelled to the Palais des Nations in July to take part in the two-week Graduate Study Programme. This year’s session was the 57th in the UN’s longest-running educational programme. Students of international relations, economics, translation and the sciences heard lectures by experts from across the UN system and civil society.

Exploring challenges to modern multilateralism, students worked in teams to produce analytical reports about health, labour, disarmament and humanitarian action.

Read the report of the 57th Graduate Study Programme.


© UN Photo - Josie Bauman

Conceived in the tragic aftermath of the First World War, the League of Nations was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the modern United Nations. The story of its inception, growth and ultimate dissolution are documented in 15 million pages found in the League of Nations Archives at the UN Library Geneva. Inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register in 2009, the archives continue to stand as testimony to the will of the League’s Member States in creating the world’s first intergovernmental organization for peace and cooperation.

An ambitious project to digitize and provide access to the archives began in 2017. During 2019, UN Geneva completed the digitization of more than 7 million out of a total of 15 million pages. Coinciding with the centenary of the League’s establishment, an online “window” into one of the projects was launched, featuring detailed information, key documents and videos.

The Total Digital Access to the League of Nations Archives Project will not only ensure long-term physical and digital preservation but also facilitate research. Providing easy online access to this important collection of archives will open new possibilities for data visualization and other innovative approaches that can offer new insights into the history and evolution of multilateralism.



© UN Library Geneva

An already useful online tool has been made even better, empowering global researchers to more quickly and easily find important information. Global Search, UN Library Geneva’s connection to several databases of print and electronic collections, was recently upgraded to improve its user interface and the search experience. The online resource now includes content, organized by topic, from several UN-system libraries, databases and e-journal collections.

In 2019, the Library also established two specialized, publicly accessible databases. The UN Geneva Artwork Collection contains detailed information about all of the artworks displayed and housed at the Palais des Nations. The Database of Quotations makes it easier for researchers and journalists to quickly find quotes, from verified sources, about the United Nations and the League of Nations.

To facilitate research on specific topics, a series of Resource Guides has been developed, consisting of information, documents, books and articles on 14 overarching topics relating to the multilateral system and to dozens more subtopics.

Two new Research Guides were created in 2019, namely the Research Guide on Multilateralism and the Disarmament Research Guide on Science and Emerging Technology developed in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.

Improving access to the invaluable collections at the UN Library Geneva and to other global databases is necessary to continue to provide quality services to the international community.

Explore the new online resources at the UN Library Geneva.


The 100Elles* project on gender and equality highlights the role of 100 women, people with marginalized orientations or gender identities and intersex people, who have made positive contributions to Geneva.
The project is organized by l’Escouade, a Geneva-based feminist organization, in partnership with the City of Geneva.

mary-florence wilson

1884-1977, Director of the Library of the League of Nations

© UN Archives Geneva – Florence Wilson, 1928, illustration by Violet Oakley

Mary-Florence Wilson: Director of the Library of the League of Nations

Mary-Florence Wilson (1884–1977) led the Library of the League of Nations from its inception in 1919 until 1926. This made her the first woman at the head of a large library in Europe.

After graduating from Columbia University and the Drexel University Library Training Program in 1909, she worked for the New York Public Library and then the Columbia University Library. She specialized in cataloguing international relations documents and classifying published works, a complex and, at the time, male-dominated domain.

Ms. Wilson moved to Europe in 1917 to work as a liaison officer for the Library of Congress and was responsible for documentation for the American Peace Commission. In 1919 she joined the League of Nations, selected to organize its new library. Her involvement in the Organization was critical to growing and shaping the Library’s successor, the current United Nations Library Geneva. She left the Library of the League of Nations in 1926 but stayed in Europe working for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She remained on the continent for the rest of her life, living in Switzerland throughout and after the Second World War and volunteering for the Comité américain de secours civil.

© UN Photo - Adam Kane