Understanding UN documents is not a small undertaking. Looking at a couple of examples a person starts to get a feeling that there is a clear pattern of symbols, editorial conventions and other ways of naming, citing and using United Nations documents. Unfortunately, this usually means that the person just did not look at wide enough sample set.
Let’s just take a look at most basic document symbols. I am not going to go into full research mode on it. David N. Griffiths has written quite an article covering UN Classificiation Scheme with full librarian’s intensity. I just want to look at one example here.
The basic symbol format for the General Assembly’s document currently is A/<sessionNum>/<docNum>, where sessionNum is the number of GA session (currently 64th) and docNum is a sequence number within that session.
With that in mind, what would the symbol number be for the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly, a document last produced in 2008? Would it be then A/62/docNum, maybe even with docNum always being the same, similar to the Report of the Secretary-General on the work of the organization (A/62/1, A/63/1, A/64/1 and – in a month or so – A/65/1).
How about A/520/Rev.17? Does this look like a recent document of a General Assembly (GA)? Not really: there is either a missing session number or a session number from far in the future, but no document number. And what’s Rev.17?
Turns out that actually A/<docNum> is a valid GA document system, just not from the last 30 years or so. In the beginning of the General Assembly, all documents were just numbered sequentially, but after the 30th session, the numbering was changed to include the session number (We can thank Mr. Jean Gazarian for that). The Rules document was first written down in 1947 and using the numbering scheme from back then was assigned symbol A/520.
Since then, the Rules stood outside of time and normal symbol naming rules. Instead, it had a revision every couple of years adding to the base A/520 symbol. One assumes the reasoning is that the Rules apply to more than one session of the General Assembly and that’s why they are not tied to any. Maybe it even makes sense. But it does raise the question – how many other documents are outside of the normal rules right now and how would one go about discovering them.