By: PJ Grier, Outreach/Access Coordinator, National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Southeastern/Atlantic Region
Contact PJ at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Online or printed works that are of scholarly or research value and not formally distributed by commercial publishers fall into the category of grey literature. These materials are considered “grey” because they are not readily discoverable via databases or other acceptable indexing mechanisms. They are also considered grey because a peer review process has not vetted their credibility and therefore the content must be thoughtfully evaluated.
Why is grey literature important? It is especially important in the area of health policy where assessments, economic evaluations, and comparative effectiveness research are of special interest. Grey literature is vital for developing a more complete view of research on a particular topic and can be a good source for data, statistics and for very recent research results1. Because there are no publisher enforced limitations these materials can be more detailed than the journal literature. Furthermore, they can help to offset issues related to publication bias1.
The Twelfth International Conference on Grey Literature in 2010 arrived at this definition:
Grey literature stands for manifold document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats that are protected by intellectual property rights, of sufficient quality to be collected and preserved by libraries and institutional repositories, but not controlled by commercial publishers; i.e. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body.
Grey literature includes works that are not generally available for purchase, may be difficult to locate, have erratic availability but its content may include significant research information. While not exhaustive, grey literature may include reports, datasets, dissertations, newsletters, blogs, wikis, white papers, bulletins, social media, electronic listservs, informal communications and institutional repositories, such as the UMB digital archive.
Institutions often collect grey literature produced by their employees including researchers, scientists and policy analysts. The following denote some aggregated academic and health repositories worldwide. The OpenDOAR is a directory of academic repositories, the Virtual Health Library is a worldwide compendium of country and organizational health repositories and the Registry of Open Access Repositories, which is a subsidiary of EPrints, aims to promote the development of open access.
An assortment of grey literature resources useful to health sciences information professionals include: (a) MedlinePlus: contains a collection of organizations providing health information arranged by topic, (b) F1000 Posters: is an open access repository providing a permanent environment for the deposition of posters and slide presentations, (c) AHRQ: contains information on finding grey literature evidence, (d) The Grey Literature Report: is a service of the New York Academy of Medicine, (e) National Technical Information Service: is the largest resource for government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business related information, (f) WHO: contains World Health Organization publications, (g) Grey Net International: facilitates dialog in the field of grey literature and (h) Science.gov searches over 60 databases and 2200 websites from federal agencies and includes research and development results. Also, performing a search on the topic at the LibGuides Community website will yield rich results from academic libraries hosting all types of information on grey literature.
How does someone objectively evaluate grey literature? It is similar to how one would evaluate any resource. Consider the author’s or organization’s authority, the source of the material, the clarity of methodology used in the analysis or research and of course the material’s timeliness.
Following are tools for evaluation of grey literature. The AACODS Checklist by Jess Tyndal of Flinders University is designed to evaluate and critically appraise grey literature and its sources. Another tool that is available from the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health is the CADTH Peer Review Checklist for Search Strategies, which can assist with assessment of database search strategies. AcademyHealth has an excellent archived grey literature three-part webinar series that can be watched at your convenience. For social media addicts, while it is not a good idea to cite Facebook or Twitter as evidence these tools may help alert you to up-to-the-minute issues germane to your research topic.
The MLA Clearinghouse offers a 4HR class on grey literature, entitled Grey Lit – Google for it and more and the instructor is happy to teach the in-person class in our region. Last month, the class was promoted to the Chairs of health sciences library associations throughout SE/A. If you are interested in attending, please contact the leadership at your local health sciences library association. It is also an educational opportunity for state library associations to embrace while planning their annual conference events to satisfy the interests of public librarians.
By thoughtful exploration, you will discover that grey literature is not a muddy swamp. Armed with the correct tools for constructing searches and evaluation of results, you will realize the area is full of opportunity in shaping a “balanced” view on a topic.
- Penn Libraries. Health and life sciences guides: Grey literature in the health sciences. Accessed September 19, 2014.