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UN Document Symbols & Series Symbols

UN Document Symbols & Series Symbols Functions

UN document symbols are used to:

  • Identify individual UN documents
  • Cite UN documents in
    • UN documents and publications
    • Books, articles, websites, etc. about UN activities
  • Search for UN documents
  • Link to UN documents

UN document series symbols are assigned to:

  • UN documents created by or for a particular UN body, or
  • UN publications issued in a series
    • UN publications may have additional identifiers including UN Sales Number, ISBN, ISSN, DOI, and/or library call number

UN document symbols can be complex and have changed over time.

Each UN body has its own pattern of documentation that reflects the body's rules of procedure, working methods, and budgeted resources. Research into UN documentation can be challenging at times. Expect the unexpected!

Definition of UN Document & UN Publication

The Regulations for the Control and Limitation of Documentation, ST/AI/189/Add.3/Rev.2, define documents and publications:

"A document is a text submitted to a principal organ or a subsidiary organ of the United Nations for consideration by it, usually in connection with item(s) on its agenda."
"The term 'United Nations publication' refers to any written material which is issued by the United Nations to the general public."

UN Document Symbols

Each UN document has a unique symbol at the top corner of the document, on the front or back cover, or on a title page.

All language versions of a document have the same symbol.

image of UN document showing the symbol in the right corner


Symbols include both letters and numbers. Some elements of the symbol have meaning, while other elements do not.

In general, the symbol does not indicate the topic of the document.

About the UN Document Symbols & Series Symbols Guide

The UN Document Symbols & Series Symbols guide is about the document symbols used to identify UN documents. Many citations use UN document symbols to identify unique UN documents and publications. Such citations may be found in UN documents and publications, as well as in other sources such as books and articles about the UN.

The guide provides information about the significant elements of UN symbols. These elements may include information about the body issuing or receiving the document, the year of publication, the session of the UN body to which the document was issued, type of document or other procedural matters, such as corrections, amendments or revisions.

Symbols do not usually tell much about the subject of a particular document. Many UN bodies are specialized bodies: for example, most of the documents issued with the symbol of the the UN International Law Commission concern international law as a topic. However, because this Commission has been working for many decades on a variety of complex topics within this field, knowing the symbol does not usually help a researcher very much with the understanding the content of the document.

However, without a document symbol, it can be very difficult to track down and locate UN documents. Even with a symbol, it can be difficult to find UN documents. We hope this guide will provide people with information to help them find and access UN information within the rich world of UN documents.

Parts of this guide are based on the UN publication, "United Nations Document Series Symbols, 1946-1996" (ST/LIB/SER.B/5/Rev.5). Information for series symbols assigned since 1996 has been added. Additional information about selected bodies has also been added to help researchers.

In addition to UN document symbols, information is also included about UN press release series symbols and information about UN Sales Numbers for certain publications is added at times: press release symbols and sales numbers are other specialized UN identifiers for UN content that was available to the public at the time of issuance and was collected by the UN libraries and catalogued in our collections. Because of the way our collections are organized, it is important for the Library to have a symbol, or call number based on UN symbol elements, to locate physical items in our collections when requested by users.

More information about series symbols can be found in the series symbol authority records in the UN Digital Library.

This guide is continually under development as we record the institutional knowledge of colleagues and gather information from various sources to build out the details. Some parts of this guide have a lot of details and other parts are still under development. Many parts of this guide are re-used in other research guides and Ask DAG FAQs, this enables us to maintain consistent information across various UN Library products about UN documents. Please contact us if you have any updates or feedback.

Please note: as of Sept 2023, we have observed that generative artificial intelligence services can generate citations using combinations of document symbol elements that create symbols that are very believable, but for which we have found no evidence of their ever existing. Please provide complete citation information, including title, author, date, symbol, and any additional information that may help us if you contact us with a request.