Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Date of this Version


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Library Philosophy and Practice 2012


The term "grey literature" brings connotations of bleakness, apathy, indifference, and questionable authority to mind (Mason, 2009). Upon investigation, this is far from truth, unless you find research papers from eminent researchers to be boring. Grey literature has some connection to the brain's "grey matter" since so much of it seems highly intellectual and is significant for research and development in many subject areas. Grey literature is used to describe publications not published commercially or indexed by major database vendors. It is occasionally the sole source for specific research questions. This is why it is highly imperative for academic libraries in Africa to acquire these resources against any challenges. Due to the nature of these literature, academic libraries have had challenges with their acquisition as well as making them accessible. Their management is also a source of worry to academic librarians. This is because it may be ephemeral but it continues to have impact in research, teaching and learning, on which the goal of academic libraries revolves

It is difficult also to define grey literature precisely. Organisations which produce grey literature prefer to describe it rather than defining it (Gokhale, 1999). Grey literature is so called because of its semipublished status and can be difficult to locate, which is why researchers refer to it as the "fugitive literature". They are usually regarded as materials which connote bleakness and questionable authority, but this may not be always true. Most grey literature emanate from government departments, academia, trade unions, research establishment, churches, associations, etc. They are not usually published (resulting in lack of International Standard Serial Number/ International Standard book Number) through the conventional mainstream publishers and they are usually in format restricted and limited in scope. Information World Review (1996) calls grey literature ''the unsung hero, the foot soldier, the foundation of the building.''

GreyNet (1999) defines grey literature as "that which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business, and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publications". Also, Debachere (1995) opines that ''collectively, the term covers an extensive range of materials that cannot be found easily through conventional channels such as publishers, but which is frequently original and usually recent''.

Hirtle (1991) also, defines grey literature as ''the quasi-printed reports, unpublished but circulated papers, unpublished proceedings of conferences, printed programmes from conferences, and other non-unique materials which seem to constitute the bulk of our modern manuscript collection''. In general, grey literature publications are non-conventional, fugitive, and sometimes ephemeral publications. They may include, but are not restricted to reports (preprints, preliminary progress, and advanced reports, technical reports, statistical reports, memoranda, state of the art reports, market research reports, etc), theses, conference proceedings, technical specifications and standards, non-commercial translations, bibliographies, technical and commercial documentation, and official documents not published commercially (Alberari, 1990).

From the understanding of various definitions of grey literature, the acquisition and management of grey literature in African academic libraries become an issue the librarian must exploit. These clarifications are important because they provide guidance to acquisition librarians who need to know what kind of information their users want. The key point here is that since grey literature is not well-covered by conventional book trade channels, the acquisition librarian is faced with such difficulties as to: identify, acquire, process and access these literatures than the conventional literatures. Hence, academic libraries in Africa desiring to use grey literature as a source of information, must be prepared to accept challenges and decide on their collection due to the ever dwindling fund allocation to libraries.

Historically, grey literature is not a new phenomenon of the late twentieth century, but something considered a genre since at least the 1920s, particularly in Europe among the scientific circles (Augur, 1989). Grey literature was for many years synonymous with 'reports literature.' At the turn of the century, documents evolving out of research and development, particularly from the aircraft and aeronautics industries were a very important means of communicating the results of research test (Augur, 1989).

However, it was the onslaught of World War Two which had the greatest impact on the report literature, transforming it into a major means of communication. The hallmark of that war was the development of technologicallyadvanced weaponry, from sophisticated tanks to the atomic bomb. These breakthroughs in science made accurate and speedy communications a necessity. The technical report was widely used to disseminate information (White, 1984). The decades that follow saw the continuation of staggering amounts of scientific and technological research, which was amassed to improve both military and communication system. According to Augur (1989)

''one thing that made grey literature so attractive and attained its importance as a separate medium of communication was because of an initial need for security or confidentiality classification which prevents documents being published in the conventional manner''

Presently, grey literature has continued to grow but the acquisition of grey literature is like finding a needle in a haystack, making it a challenge for libraries all over the world.