GREY LITERATURE is generally defined as “that which is produced at all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers.*” It includes material such as preliminary versions of papers (pre-prints), statistical reports, conference proceedings, theses, technical papers and government reports.
While scholarly peer-reviewed journals are the most common avenue of communication amongst scholars, grey literature provides supplementary information that enlarges the framework of knowledge. It also informs the lay reader and shapes public opinion. Because it does not go through the formal publishing process, it can be distributed more quickly and via more flexible avenues, usually online. As open-access publications (freely available literature with no price or permission restrictions) become more common, the importance of grey literature will likely increase.
Due to its diverse origins and unpublished nature, grey literature is often not available through traditional search tools such as the Library’s licensed journal article databases. In addition, it is generally inaccessible to web search engines because the material is often buried within other web sites. It takes a bit of creative sleuthing to find it within the “hidden or invisible web.”
It is often most productive to start your search for grey literature by going directly to the web sites of the corporations, institutions or agencies that are most likely to produce the type of information you are looking for. In addition, many organizations have begun to produce their own searchable databases that contain grey literature as well as commercially published documents. The Library provides access to a sampling of these types of databases including Ageline; Agricola; and the Gambling Literature Database.
So what colour is your literature? As one librarian said, “It’s all grey until you find it.”
For additional information, please contact your subject liaison librarian or ask at the Information & Research Assistance Desk. This column is a monthly feature by
Librarian Judy Vogt. Please e-mail your story suggestions to Vogt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* (ICGL Luxembourg definition, 1997 – Expanded in New York, 2004)
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