This category of material lies between the "white" or published material and indexed works such as journals and texts, and the ephemeral or short-lived materials such as flyers and timetables. Grey literature is characterized by non-standard formats, limited quantities, and the difficulty involved in identifying and accessing it.
Searching and locating grey literature is often thought of as finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. As this literature is not published commercially, there is limited availability and indexing. According to one study, (2) lack of cataloguing and "visibility" were the two major reasons why grey literature is not used as much as it should be.
But things may be improving slowly. There are frequent references to grey literature in scholarly journals and more and more organizations are providing online access to their publications. We will look at a number of these sites and the search tools that will help you understand and obtain grey literature. You may think you are in the "Probing the Net" section but online access to this literature is one of the most efficient ways to locate it.
University of Calgary Library: HSL--Grey literature. This site provides an extensive listing of sources for grey literature, both Canadian and international. Databases and registries is included, along with some "tips & tricks" for using a Google search on the internet. http://library.ucalgary.ca/branches/hsl-greyliterature/index.php
University of British Columbia Library. This site provides "uniquely Canadian" subject resources for accessing grey literature. There is an extensive index of Canadian private and government agencies, covering a broad range of topics. A link, "Searching for health statistics and related publications," could be particularly rewarding. http://toby.library.ubc.ca/subjects/subjpage2.cfm?id=879
Canadian Health Services Research Foundation. This site lists national and provincial agencies involved in health research and provides information for both researchers and policy makers, www.chsrf.ca/otherdocuments/newsletter/qnv1n4p4_e.php
Canadian Evaluation Society. This society maintains a database of unpublished reports and papers. www.evaluationcanada.ca/site.cgi?s=6&ss=8&_lang=an
Role of Grey Literature in the Sciences. This site explores the impact of grey literature on scientific endeavours, looking at how they can provide research summaries, statistics, and other data that contribute to a more comprehensive view of a topic. http://library.brooklyn.cuny.edu/access/greyliter.htm
GrayLIT Network. This U.S. site provides information on technical reports that are generated through government-funded research and development projects. It allows users to retrieve information without knowing the funding agency. http://graylit.osti.gov/
NY Academy of Medicine: Grey Literature Page. This site focuses on grey literature resources from the medical field, and includes an extensive listing of agencies that produce health-related materials. The site also features a quarterly "Grey Literature Report" that is available by subscription. www.nyam.org/library/grey.shtml
EDUCATION-LINE. This site, run by the Brotherton Library in England, provides full-text access to reports, working papers, and conference proceedings that support educational research, policy and practice. Users may browse by thesaurus subject terms or via indexed author/title fields. www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/
Grey Net Listserv. This is an internationally moderated list that seeks to facilitate communication between organizations involved in the field of grey literature. It also provides an extensive listing of resources by category. www.greynet.org
Other ways to access grey literature include checking bibliographies and reference lists, hand-searching relevant journals, and personal contact with researchers. Try consulting websites of organizations involved in your area of interest and keep list of "Favorites" where you have found grey literature.
Grey literature is a type of informal communication. A formal publication may follow later but in many cases, these papers are never made available to the public. Nevertheless, grey publications may contain comprehensive, concrete, and up-to-date information on research. Grey literature can also help individuals in making decisions about their lives and communities via reports and documents issued by governments and international agencies. In today's electronic environment, grey literature will continue to grow in importance as an information resource.
by CDHA staff
1. New frontiers in grey literature. Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Grey Literature: GL'99; 1999 Oct 4-5; Washington, DC. Washington (DC): GreyNet; 1999.
2. Ranger SL. Grey literature in special libraries: access in use. Publ Res Quarterly. 2005;21(1):53-63.