The history of international organisations is a longer one than is usually supposed. It starts not with the United Nations or, even with the UN's predecessor the League of Nations, but with such institutions as the Universal Postal Union, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures and the International Sanitary Conference, among many other similar organisations set up in the mid-19th century.
A number of these institutions published their own records and recommendations for public scrutiny, and these publications were collected by libraries. Later, the 'international' archives thus acquired were augmented by the vast publishing programme of the League of Nations (set up in 1919) and its successor the United Nations.
Present day international organisations such as the UN and its agencies, the European Community, the World Bank, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are prolific publishers, producing hundreds of books, periodicals and official records each year. As well as documenting their own activities, they provide researchers in the social and other sciences with vital information in the form of comparative statistics, development plans, economic and scientific surveys, treaties and standards, and even - in the case of UNESCO - imaginative literature. This research can take a similar variety of forms: serial publications, yearbooks and conference proceedings, directories, manuals, reports, and general interest monographs.
The British Library, in common with other major libraries throughout the world, is a depository library for the publications of a large number of international organisations which it makes available in the Official Publications and Social Sciences Reading Area.
The collections are particularly rich in older international material: the UN collection dates back to the setting up of the organisation in 1946; League of Nations publications are held from the date of its inception in 1920, and a vast array of the publications of 19th-century international organisations, including scientific bodies such as the International Meteorological Conference and the International Geographical Congress (both set up in the 1870s), are held.
Not all of the early international organisations were quasi-governmental in nature, and campaigning groups such as the International Moral Education Congress and professional groups such as the International Federation of Library Associations are also represented. Most of these early imprints are searchable online in Explore the British Library, and there are a number of in-house and externally produced catalogues and indexes available in the Official Publications and Social Sciences Reading Area for current material, including a special guide for users of UN publications.
European Community and other organisations
The British Library is also a depository library for the World Bank the ILO, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), UNESCO, the UN agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),) and a number of other more localised organisations, including the Organization of American States (OAS).
It also holds publications of the European Free Trade Association, and the Council of Europe, and EC publications complete up to 1989. The British Library has been a depository library for EC publications since 1989.