Getting to Know GreyLit: National Network of Libraries of Medicine Grant Recipients

T229_logo_gl18he New York Academy of Medicine hosted the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature: Leveraging Diversity in Grey Literature (GL18) on November 28 – 29, 2016.  The Academy received a professional development grant from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM) to help support attendance at the conference.  Five grant awardees, students and information professionals, were chosen to attend the conference for one or both days.  Post-event, the awardees stated that the conference had a remarkable impact on their understanding of grey literature.

In their own words, awardees describe their experience at the GL18 conference:

Jennifer Kaari
Library Manager | Mount Sinai

I was interested in attending the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature because like so many librarians, I often find that grey literature is a missing piece of the research process. I was struck during the conference by how apt diversity was a theme for a grey literature conference. Grey literature is a wildly diverse arena, from the many formats and publication types that fall under the umbrella to the wide range of fields that generate and use grey literature. Many of these were represented in the conference, from the law to nuclear science to community initiatives.

As highlighted by the presentations on the Indigenous Law Portal and LGBT communities, grey literature can also give a voice to communities that may be left out of traditional scholarly publishing. I came away with the understanding that leveraging grey literature is essential to ensuring that these voices are included in research and the policy decisions that result.

Perhaps most importantly for my personal development, I left the conference with a bright new idea about a topic in grey literature to research in the upcoming year. I’m looking forward to attending future conferences- hopefully as a speaker! Thanks to the NN/LM for this wonderful opportunity.

Sharon Whitfield
Emerging Technologies Librarian | Cooper Medical School of Rowan University

The 2016 Grey Literature conference, titled Leveraging Diversity, had at least one presentation of interest to everyone.  The presentation topics ranged from open access to LGBT+.

As this was my first GreyLit conference, I was surprised to find a very welcoming community of researchers, librarians and professionals who all were invested in researching, reporting and making grey literature accessible.  During the first day, I found the presentations inspiring. The presentation showed how grey literature impacted the various constituencies at each institution and the importance of making the literature available to the populations.

On the second day, the conference had more of a practical application by addressing open access and researchers’ needs. An example was the Data Science Panel. The Data Science panel, which included two librarians and a researcher, addressed research needs that are occurring at my own institution.  The panel provided new technologies that I am currently exploring for institutional adoption.  Yet, it was hearing the importance of access to grey literature and datasets by the researcher, which really help me to understand the role the library should be playing to support researchers at my own institution.


Poster session at GL18. Photo by Danielle Aloia.

Cheryl Branche, MD, MLS
P/T Adjunct Reference Librarian | Health Professions Library Hunter College, CUNY Brookdale Campus

On Tuesday, November 29, I viewed the engaging poster presentations and discussed the posters with the presenters, who hailed from France, Italy, Japan, Korea, The Netherlands, and the United States. Three posters interested me:

  • Policy Development for Grey Literature Resources: An Assessment of the Pisa Declaration
  • Grey Literature in Transfer Pricing: Japan and Korea
  • An International Partnership to Improve Access to Scientific and Technical Information and Research Data.

During the Tuesday afternoon session, Debbie Rabina presented an ongoing long-term study, which identified the information needs of incarcerated people and demonstrated their willingness to write to agencies for information. The late afternoon session included a presentation entitled: The GreyLit Report: Understanding the Challenges of Finding Grey Literature.

On Wednesday, November 30, I joined the GreyLit: Intro and Search Strategies session. It was a hands-on learning session focused on finding grey literature. It was very interesting.

The conference was quite stimulating, informative and useful and I look forward to adding the new techniques to my armamentarium to seek, find…and explore more grey literature.

Alyssa Grimshaw | Drexel University
Library Services Assistant IV / MSLIS Student | Cushing/Whitney Medical Library / Drexel University

The 18th International Conference on Grey Literature was an exceptionally eye-opening experience. In regards to grey literature I consider myself a novice, but found this conference enlightening, as it clearly illustrated the benefits of promoting and utilizing grey literature within the library system.

The conference started out strong with the Keynote Address by Taryn Rucinski. Rucinski was very energetic and informative, discussing all of the literature found within the law grey literature. I was truly flabbergasted to discover that one can find expert testimony on a large wide array of different subjects in the legislative proceedings on government websites. This is just one example of the many exceptional ways to utilize grey literature.

The conference also helped me uncover a great resource – The Grey Literature Report! The New York Academy of Medicine publishes this report bi-monthly and takes all of the obscure grey literature and makes it easily searchable!  I particularly enjoyed the international aspect of the conference because it allowed me to learn a little more about how other countries use and preserve grey literature. I believe this to be incredibly important because in order for libraries to grow and develop they should be able to learn from, and interconnect with, one another. Each day of the conference was filled with valuable information and great tips that I intend to bring back to my library and apply in order to help our patrons!


Joachim Schöpfel at GL18. Photo by Danielle Aloia.

Kate Nyhan, MLS
Research and education librarian for public health | Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University

Attending one day of #GL18 at #GreyLitWeek at the New York Academy of Medicine – thanks to generous professional development funding from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine – I learned a great deal about what I don’t know. Of course, when it comes to grey literature, ignorance is a common state indeed.

  • Students and even a few eminent researchers I’ve spoken with aren’t quite sure what “grey literature” is.
  • Information professionals don’t always know the information ecosystem of grey literature’s producers and aggregators.
  • Medical librarians might not even be aware of the diverse types of grey literature that could be relevant to biomedical and public health questions – such as the governmental administrative materials that are generated by legislative, litigation, and regulatory processes. (Read “The Elephant in the Room” by excellent speaker Taryn Rucinski of Pace University Law School for more details)
  • Finally, organizations that generate grey literature sometimes seem not to know the first thing about the preservation and discovery of information – even when they are desperately trying to disseminate their high-quality, free, information products.

Thanks to the excellent talks, posters, and discussions at GL18, the unknown unknowns of grey literature are starting to become known unknowns for me. I choose that phrase to acknowledge that I’m still a novice at, say, retrieving government administrative materials, or even hard-to-find theses and dissertations – but now I’m a novice with better tools!

Discover Grey Literature: Hidden Health and Science Resources

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian

This fall, the Academy will host the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature to reveal one of the most valuable hidden resources for students, health professionals, and researchers. This post was originally posted on The New York Academy of Medicine‘s blog, Urban Health Matters.

Where can anyone get access to more than 20,000 expert health and science resources for free? The Grey Literature Report—GreyLit for short. A treasured resource among librarians since 1999, the GreyLit Report also offers students, health sciences researchers and professionals a one-stop-shop for incredibly difficult to find information. Once a quarterly publication, the GreyLit Report became so popular by 2006 that the Academy doubled the number of issues published each year.

greylitscreenshotWhy Grey?

The very title of the report is a clue to why it’s such a valuable tool. The carefully curated resources it provides often exist in a “grey” area between widely distributed peer-reviewed journals and the proprietary research that does not make it into the public sphere.

Grey literature is notoriously hard to find, often buried on the websites of any number of organizations or in the stacks of medical and science libraries. By publishing a categorized, bi-monthly compendium of the top resources in the field, the GreyLit Report does the detective work for thousands of overwhelmed students, scientists and academics that often leads them to the critical information they need to complete their work.

One popular document included in the report, for example, was A closer look at the implementation of taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages: a civil society perspective, published by the government of Barbados. Normally, this study would not land on the desks of American researchers, even those studying nutrition policy. It was nearly impossible to find on Google, prior to its mention in the August 2016 GreyLit newsletter, yet it offers a valuable analysis of the policy implications of attempting to regulate the consumption of unhealthy foods.

I discovered GreyLit long before I came to the Academy to become the editor of the report. In my previous life at AARP, as editor of the AgeLine Database, the premier literature database on aging research, the GreyLit Report became one of my most valuable sources of publications on aging.

I could just glance at the report and find new resources. It also became a way for AARP’s research to be disseminated to a broader audience, as it sometimes included research from other divisions.

Now, 17 years after it was created, the Academy’s GreyLit Report is still the only publication of its type in the United States. This year, as members of GreyNet International, an organization dedicated to increasing public awareness of grey literature, the Academy will be hosting the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature on Nov 28th and 29th, 2016. This year’s topic is Leveraging Diversity because grey literature can play a pivotal role in the search for solutions to urban health challenges here in New York and around the world.

That’s also why we have named the week of Nov 28 as the 1st International Grey Literature Week. We will be holding workshops and events along with the conference in celebration of grey literature. If you are interested in finding the best, hidden resources in your field, join us this November and discover GreyLit!

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.

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 to learn more, send comments, or make recommendations. We would be happy to answer your questions.