I have a new obsession. Yes, it is library-related. It happened a few weeks ago when I was reading a book at work. I noticed a citation for a conference poster and it got me thinking about the materials that aren’t readily available. I traced the poster back and then read up on searching for conference proceedings. It was then that my new love appeared.
What is grey literature? According to the ICGL Luxembourg definition and Wiki:
Information produced on all levels of government, academia, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing i.e., where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body. –ICGL
Gray literature…refers to informally published written material (such as reports) that may be difficult to trace via conventional channels such as published journals and monographs because it is not published commercially or is not widely accessible –Wiki
This includes materials such as reports, clinical trials, conference proceedings, posters/slide presentations, reviews, social network data and preprints. The list really does go on though…
So why is grey/gray literature important? As an academic health science librarian, my patron base tends to be on the up-and-up when it comes to information literacy. Years of medical school, nursing school, and the hard sciences have honed their search abilities and the questions they come to me with are the questions they have already tried to answer. Simply searching Google or Pubmed doesn’t help, since they have already tried both (plus a few others) before coming to the library. Most of the researchers who visit the reference desk need to find a single piece of elusive data or a conference paper about a rare disease that was presented at a conference in India, in 1984.
This is where knowledge of the “grey areas” really helps. Knowing what databases are available to you can reduce the number of searches you perform, which will ultimately save you time.
The more I read about grey literature, the greater my obsession with it grew. Soon it was boiling over and I needed to create something that would allow me to organize all of the knowledge I had recently acquired. I decided to create a LibGuide about Grey Literature in the Health Sciences. It hasn’t been as popular as my other LibGuides, but it is in its infancy. I’m going to be adding more pages about searching for visual material (posters, images, videos, etc..), but I am learning about this as I go. I have even convinced my library school team to do a “review of methods” and literature review based on the question, “How has the Internet and open access publishing affect grey literature?”