When it’s not black or white, it falls into the many shades of grey. For academic publishing, that is referred to as grey literature.

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.

There are many examples of grey literature – conference abstracts, presentations, proceedings; regulatory data; unpublished trial data; government publications; reports (such as white papers, working papers, internal documentation); dissertations/theses; patents;  and policies & procedures.

With the massive amount of data in various forms and types, searching the grey literature can be a daunting task. You should search those resources that make the most sense for your research question. Also check out the papers and reports of relevant stakeholder organizations. A carefully thought out grey literature search strategy may be an invaluable component of a systematic review.

In general, grey literature publications are non-conventional, fugitive, and sometimes ephemeral publications. Due to the nature of grey literature, librarians have had difficulty acquiring and making it accessible.

At The New York Academy of Medicine, there has been a push by public health and health policy researchers for the Academy Library to obtain this type of material and to add it to the catalog. As a result, the Library acquires materials from various organizations publishing in these areas and gives them special cataloging treatment. The Grey Literature Report is the first step in this initiative to not only collect these items for the Academy’s collection, but to assist other librarians with collections in these fields in developing theirs.

The term grey literature derives from the uncertainty of the status of this information. Grey literature is essentially any document that has not gone through peer review for publication. The benefit is that grey literature can be published much more quickly since it does not have to be subjected to the lengthy peer-review process. As a result, in cases where there may not be much information on a topic in peer-reviewed research, grey literature may prove a very valuable source of information.

Melody K. Smith

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