The League of Nations Library began developing archival collections on the history of international relations in 1931, when an essential archival "fonds" on International Peace Movements was acquired: the private papers of Alfred Fried and Bertha von Suttner, important Austrian pacifists from the end of the nineteenth century. These archives, along with the Museum Collection, formed the Historical Collections of the League of Nations Library.
In 1946, at the demise of the League, the Library, and all other League of Nations assets – including the archives of the Secretariat and its buildings - were conveyed to the newly created United Nations. While some of the League's files were transferred to the Departments and Sections of the United Nations Secretariat to serve as the foundations of their administrative or political activities, the bulk of the League's archives was kept in the vaults of the Palais des Nations.
In the late 1950s, at a time when historians started focusing their attention on the League of Nations archives, the files that had been transferred to New York gradually found their way back to Geneva and were placed under the custody of the Library. Thanks to funds offered by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the League of Nations archives were classified, lists and finding aids were established, and the archives were finally opened to the general public in 1969. The League of Nations Archives and Historical Collections became a Library Unit, and a special Reading Room was established within the Library's premises for the consultation of these archives.
During the same period, the UN Geneva registry and records management functions were placed under the authority of the Administration Division, General Services.
In June 2000, having identified the need to reform records management procedures, and to ensure a stronger coordination between records management and the management of historical archives, the United Nations Geneva Director-General transferred all UN Geneva archive-related functions to the Library & Archives. With this transfer, the mandate of the Library & Archives relating to records and archives is as follows and is managed within its Institutional Memory Section:
- Coordination of records management for all United Nations Geneva departments (including UN Geneva Administration, Conference Services and Information Divisions, as well as the Secretariat of the Economic Commission for Europe, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and United Nations Conference on Trade and Development);
- Management of all historical archives for the League of Nations (1919-1946), UN Geneva (from 1945), and related collections;
- Management of the United Nations Museum Geneva; Management of all historical archives for the League of Nations (1919-1946), and for UN Geneva (from 1945);
- Management of the artworks donated to the League of Nations and UN Geneva
Geographical and cultural context
The United Nations Library & Archives Geneva is part of the United Nations Geneva and is located within the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The Library & Archives traces its history directly to the League of Nations Library, created in 1919.