Why Grey Literature?

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian

The Academy started producing the Grey Literature Report in 1999 to fill the gaps in peer-reviewed journal articles and published books in the public health research literature. In general, grey literature publications are non-conventional, fugitive, and sometimes ephemeral publications. They may include, but are not limited to the following types of materials: fact sheets, technical reports, white papers, statistical reports, market research, workshop summaries, and dissertations. Most grey literature is freely accessible through the World Wide Web. Produced by foundations, think-tanks, advocacy groups, government agencies, and academic institutions, it often offers timely, statistical analysis for state-of-the-art research.

In May 2012, NYAM launched the new Grey Literature database in order to make it easier for researchers and policymakers to find the information they need. It was no longer enough to index the most current grey literature, but also important to be able to find past reports related to a specific topic. In this way, users are able to see policies that were in place in 1999 and how they have changed over time.

Grey literature offers a unique perspective to the research community because government agencies and think tanks produce these reports on topics that effect policy and the people who implement that policy. Grey literature is also timely because it is not subject to a long or peer-reviewed publishing process. For instance, the morning the U.S. Supreme Court made the deciding vote on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) their report was available online at 10:15 am. This report lays out the reasons for the decision as well as the options states have for implementing the changes.

Reactions, commentaries, and reports about how the recent ACA decision affect their constituents can come from a variety of perspectives. These commentaries are not easily findable using traditional search methods. Searching Google can be daunting and cumbersome. A simple search for “Affordable Care Act Supreme Court” results in over 7 million hits most of which are news sources. The same search in the Grey Literature Database yields 12 results that have to do with the potential outcome of the ruling for states, people, and the country, mainly written by prominent think tank organizations.

Screenshot of search for "affordable care act supreme court" in the Grey Literature database

Search results from the Grey Literature Report include materials that are not available through normal, commercial distribution channels.

A time-saving feature of the database is the ability to bookmark a search or subscribe to it as an RSS feed. The results will dynamically update every time new items are added, which is every 2 months. You can bookmark the Grey Literature search above and re-execute it in September to see the most current results added automatically. An RSS feed will alert you as new items are added.

The new database allows users to comment on a specific item, like the Supreme Court report on the ACA decision, as well as share it through Facebook or Twitter. It is now easier than ever to spread the word about the latest grey literature.

Some search features include sorting options, publisher and subject limits, and date limits.

We hope you will take the opportunity to explore the database, use the new features, and share with your friends. You may also contact us at greylithelp@nyam.org to learn more, send comments, or make recommendations. We would be happy to answer your questions.

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