Grey literature  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Grey literature is 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. It may nonetheless be an important source of information for researchers, because it tends to be original and recent.

Examples of grey literature include patents, technical reports from government agencies or scientific research groups, working papers from research groups or committees, white papers, and preprints. The term "grey literature" is used in library and information science.

The identification and acquisition of grey literature poses difficulties for librarians and other information professionals for several reasons. Generally, grey literature lacks strict bibliographic control, meaning that basic information such as author, publication date or publishing body may not be easily discerned. Similarly, the nonprofessional layouts and formats, low print runs, and non-conventional channels of distribution of grey literature make the organized collection of such publications challenging compared to journals and books. In 1995, D.B. Simpson observed that "peripheral materials, including grey literature, expand unabated. Libraries having difficulty collecting traditional materials have little hope of acquiring the periphery".

Information and research professionals generally draw a distinction between ephemera and grey literature. However, there are certain overlaps between the two media and they undoubtedly share common frustrations such as bibliographic control issues. Unique written documents such as manuscripts and archives, and personal communications, are not usually considered as falling under the heading of grey literature, although they again share some of the same problems of control and access. Although grey literature is often discussed with reference to scientific research, it is by no means restricted to a single field: outside the hard sciences, it presents significant problems in, for example, archaeology, in which site surveys and excavation reports, containing unique data, have frequently been produced and circulated in informal "grey" formats.

Many of the problems of accessing grey literature have decreased since the late 1990s as government, professional, business and university bodies have increasingly published their reports and other official or review documents free on the World Wide Web. The impact of this trend has been greatly boosted since the early 2000s by the growth of major search engines. Grey reports are thus far more easily found online than they were, and at radically lower cost, at least in the immediate aftermath of their publication. Most users of reports and other grey documents have migrated to using online copies, and efforts by libraries to collect hard-copy versions have generally declined in consequence. However, many problems remain because originators often fail to document online reports or publications adequately (often omitting a publication date, for instance); because documents are rarely assigned permanent URLs or DOI numbers, or stored in electronic depositories, so that broken links can develop; and because the copyright status of many reports is left unclear, inhibiting their downloading and electronic storage. Securing long-run or secure access to grey literature in a predominantly digital age thus remains a considerable problem, as does archiving or overviewing such materials.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Grey literature" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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