Presenting Grey Literature at the 13th International Conference on Urban Health

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian, and Robin Naughton, Digital Systems Manager

Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian, and Robin Naughton, Digital Systems Manager, presented Hidden Urban Health: Exploring the Possibilities of Grey Literature on the Academy’s Grey Literature Report (GreyLit Report) in two sessions at the recent International Conference on Urban Health in San Francisco, April 1-4, 2016. The conference focused on Place and Health and included a joint program with the American Association of Geographers. Combining data from geography with health data is one way to develop better models for urban and population health, and those involved in fields as diverse as urban planning, transportation, housing, and education all need to be at the table.

Themes of the ICUH 2016 opening ceremony. Photo by Danielle Aloia.

Themes of the ICUH 2016 opening ceremony. Photo by Danielle Aloia.

During the conference, two themes particularly relevant to the GreyLit Report emerged: the need for a better definition of urban health and the importance of interdisciplinary research. These are important concepts for the GreyLit Report when collecting and providing access to urban health resources, helping us to identify and understand topics that cross disciplines.

We had an opportunity to appeal to the cross-disciplinary audience of researchers during two conference sessions, providing a brief explanation of what grey literature is and ways to search for it beyond traditional databases. In brief, grey literature is produced by think tanks, university centers, government agencies, and other organizations. It can be published as reports, fact sheets, data sets, white papers, and more. It provides current research on trending topics and is used to communicate findings to stakeholders and policy-makers.

Robin Naughton and Danielle Aloia before the Hidden Urban Health: Exploring the Possibilities of Grey Literature session. Photo courtesy of ICUH.

Robin Naughton and Danielle Aloia before a Hidden Urban Health: Exploring the Possibilities of Grey Literature session. Photo courtesy of ICUH.

Some forms of grey literature can be found in traditional databases, such as PubMed or Web of Science, but the majority is not indexed or organized in systematic ways. To help solve this problem, the Academy Library developed the GreyLit Report in 1999 to collect these reports and make them accessible. During the presentations, we emphasized the importance the GreyLit Report places on interdisciplinary research. We collect reports related to public health in all sectors, to truly make a one-stop-shop for urban health.

During the presentation, participants learned about Google Custom Search (using Google to search specific websites and document types), Twitter, and the GreyLit Report as three resources relevant to finding grey literature. Still, depending on the resource used for search, altering keywords may be necessary to get relevant results. What terms one discipline uses may be defined differently in another. For example, the word mobility can have multiple meanings. In urban health, it usually means how people get from place to place, but when searching Google or Twitter one can get results for mobile technologies and physical disabilities. We clarified that the terms used in searching are very important to the relevance of the results. Often, searches in Google and Twitter need to be weeded through to find relevant results. We also presented some criteria for evaluating such results: authority, credibility, affiliation, purpose, and conflict of interest.

Danielle Aloia presenting at ICUH. Photo by Robin Naughton.

Danielle Aloia presenting at ICUH. Photo by Robin Naughton.

The GreyLit Report is much easier to search than Google or Twitter. Because we collect, archive, and index reports from all sectors, its focus limits irrelevant results. Users do not have to wade through millions of results, but have a credible, authoritative selection from which to choose.

At the end of each session, we opened up a conversation with participants to see what their concerns were in regard to grey literature and how the GreyLit Report may help them in their research. This produced an intimate, lively discussion. Participant concerns about grey literature included how to promote their own grey literature and ideas to enhance the Report. One idea is to add canned (one-click) searches on specific urban health topics.  Another idea is to add the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals with links to reports in those areas so that users can easily find grey literature for specific sustainable development goals in urban health. We will work on enhancing the GreyLit Report website, and more importantly, we will think about ways to help promote this growing body of research for users.

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