Human Rights Research Guide

Planning Your Research

HR Information diagram

This diagram offers one way of visualizing the information landscape of the field of human rights.  Your research may draw upon different kinds of sources and a variety of search techniques and tools may be necessary to discover and access these sources.  Increasingly, information is born-digital, created and accessed online and many other sources have been digitized and made available online.  Historical sources and those from regions of the world with less digital publishing may not be as widely available online and may be overlooked if one does not use a variety of search strategies.

Thinking about the ideal sources you could or should use, at the beginning of your research project, can save you time and help you determine the best strategies and tools for searching.

Topic Mapping


Mapping your topic can be a useful exercise that may save you time and facilitate more effective searching.  Mapping involves translating a topic or a thesis statement into a vocabulary of names, words, dates, and keywords. 

In this example, I have started to map a research question regarding the reliability of crowdsourced information about human rights or humanitarian crises.

Brainstorm your vocabulary!  Popular terms may not always be used in catalogs or databases, and there may be well-established terminology for your topic that will allow you to quickly identify relevant sources.  Make sure you invest time into brainstorming about all possible ways to describe your topic;  learn from your searches by looking at the subject, keywords or other tags that may be associated with relevant articles or materials that you discover.

HR collections @ Columbia Libraries


  • Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research (CHRDR)
    Based in the Libraries, CHRDR houses the archives of several prominent human rights organizations and promotes the development of strong general collections to support human rights research.  The archives are managed by Columbia's Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
  • Global Studies
    Area and subject specialist librarians who develop interdisciplinary collections covering the following regions/subjects: African Studies, Jewish Studies, Latin American & Iberian Studies, Middle East & Islamic Studies, Russian, Eurasian & E.European Studies, South & Southeast Asian Studies.
  • C.V. Starr East Asian Library
    Collections from and about China, Japan, Korea and Tibet, in languages of those countries as well as materials in English and other Western languages about East Asia.
  • Lehman Social Sciences Library
    Contemporary collection of social sciences materials, e.g. sociology, political sciences, international affairs. Lehman is also a U.S. federal government document depository.
  • Columbia Center for Oral History Archives CCOHA
    Largest and oldest oral history program in the world; holds recorded interviews and transcripts with several collections related to contemporary and historical human rights topics.
  • Butler Library
    Humanities and history collections, e.g. biography, historical works, literary, cultural topics, feature and documentary film.
  • Arthur W. Diamond Law Library
    Significant holdings of international law, treaties, IGO documents including the UN, International Court and tribunal records.  Journals and books relevant to HR, esp. legal aspects, treatments.

Map of Libraries on Campus


Major Research Guides



  • Columbia Law Library:  International Law and Human Rights Research Guides
    List of several guides on human rights, EU and UN documents, FAQ on HR research, international law and legal guides

  • Human Rights Library, University of Minnesota
    One of the largest collections of more than sixty thousand core human rights documents, with access to more than four thousands links.  Also provides a unique search device for multiple human rights sites.


Background and Country Information

Background sources


Cambridge Histories Online website to the world (Economist Intelligence Unit publications)

Europa World Plus  (covers all countries of the world)

World Factbook (Central Intelligence Agency)

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy  extensive entry on Human Rights


Region-Specific News

Journals & Articles


    Use QUICKSEARCH to search multiple sources simultaneously.

    See all of our Library Databases

Region-specific Databases

Selected Journals in Human Rights


Search Tools and sources

  • CLIO Columbia’s Online Catalog.  Now includes information from Columbia's Law Library
    • Explore New Titles -- search "human rights" and then limit by acquisition date
  • PEGASUS Columbia Law Library Catalog
  • WorldCat Online catalog with over 95 million records from libraries in the U.S. and selected countries
  • Human Rights Library (U. Minnesota) Bibliographies section
  • Human Rights and Human Welfare An international review of books and other publications

Reference Books --Recommended Titles

Recent Acquisitions

Request & Delivery Services


Book, journal or other item not available at Columbia?  Try these Delivery Services

  • Requests for Scan & Deliver and retrieval from Offsite Storage can be made directly from our Catalog, CLIO.
  • From databases, click on e-LINK to access full text or information about print holdings of a journal at Columbia.
  • You can initiate an inter-library loan request directly via e-link.
  • You must log in to the BorrowDirect service to request items from that service.

Human Rights Web

Guides to NGO & Inter-Governmental Organization sites & publications

Guides to Regional & Country Information

Specialized Search Engines

Video and Media

Consult a Librarian

A network of specialists within the library contribute to building our human rights collections.

General questions about human rights and Columbia's archives:

General questions about the library?  ASK a LIBRARIAN

Global Studies (offices in Lehman Library) develops collections from and about several world regions:

Starr East Asian Library  China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and general works on East Asian region

Lehman Library

Butler Library

Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Butler Library

Law Library

  • Reference staff (212) 854-3743