Grey literature

Learning objectives

At the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • explain the concept and importance of grey literature.
  • find grey literature in libraries within Australia and overseas.

What is grey literature?

The term grey literature refers to research that is either unpublished or has been published in non-commercial form. Examples of grey literature include:

  • government reports.
  • policy statements and issues papers.
  • conference proceedings.
  • pre-prints and post-prints of articles.
  • theses and dissertations.
  • research reports.
  • geological and geophysical surveys.
  • maps.
  • newsletters and bulletins.
  • fact sheets.

Academics, pressure groups, and private companies are only some of the sources of grey literature.

The importance of grey literature

Much grey literature is of high quality. Grey literature is often the best source of up-to-date research on certain topics, such as rural poverty or the plight of homeless people in Sydney.

Google as a source of grey literature

It is easy to find recent grey literature using a simple Google search. For example to find information about homelessness in Sydney, simply:

  • Go to Google
  • Enter the search homelessness Sydney filetype:pdf in the Search box.
  • Click on Search.

Such a search can result in hundreds of hits.

Australian grey literature

If you want to find Australian grey literature, a good starting point is Trove. Other sources of grey literature in Australia include:

Institutional repositories

Many Australian universities collect grey literature in the institutional repositories. Links to these repositories are available online.

Older grey literature

Large libraries often collect grey literature in paper form. Examples are the State Library of NSW or the Australian National Library. You can usually find this material by searching the institution's online catalogue. It is often possible to arrange loans or to purchase copies of such material through document delivery. The UNE University Library also collects grey literature as part of its general collection and its special collections.

International grey literature

If you are interested in overseas grey literature, try WorldCat first. This includes the holdings of over 20,000 libraries world-wide (more than 1.5 billion items).

Sites that index and collect grey literature are also growing in number. Examples include:

Costs of grey literature

Most grey literature is free. However, some sources of grey literature, such as market research firms, charge for access to their material.

Where there is a charge, don't forget to check first in a source like the Trove. You might find that a copy is available in another academic library, and is therefore available for loan.

Evaluating grey literature

The danger of grey literature is that some of the "think tanks" which publish reports and working papers have their own political or social agendas. In a few notorious cases, organisations have been set up for public relations reasons to promote bogus research. It is important to cross-check information from grey literature sources against information derived elsewhere.

Conference papers/proceedings

These can be some of the hardest forms of grey literature to locate. Where papers presented at an academic conference have been published as a book or as a special issue of a journal, these can be readily found in library catalogues. Conference papers can also be found on conference web sites. In addition, many databases include the option to limit your search to conference papers. Examples include Scopus and Web of Science.

Far more difficult to locate are unpublished conference papers, or conference proceedings that have yet to be published in the form of printed proceedings. However, there are a number of databases which contain details (and occasionally the full-text or ordering information) for papers from academic conferences. These include:

Another useful source is Web of Conferences site.

Summary

This module dealt with the following:

  • the concept of grey literature.
  • the importance of grey literature as a resource for research.
  • how to find Australian grey literature.
  • how to find grey literature in libraries overseas.

Newpapers and magazines