Grey literature

Subject: Grey literature
From: Susan Knowles <>
Date: Mon, 8 Mar 2010 10:30:52 +1100
As a library student I was taught Helen's definition of grey literature. The other may be more common as an academic definition.

Susan Knowles

On 07/03/2010, at 9:17 PM, Peter Shute wrote:

Can anyone shed any light on the difference between these two definitions of "grey literature"? It seems Helen's definition below (unpublished and unsearchable) is the most common, but Chris's (not peer-reviewed) seems fairly common on the net too.

Peter Shute

From: Helen Larson 
Sent: Sunday, 7 March 2010 1:31 PM
To: Peter Ewin; Peter Shute; ? birding-aus
Subject: Re: [Birding-Aus] Grey literature

a late (due to computer malfunction) agreement from an academic (fisho not birdo). Grey literature is all that Vogon-esque stuff you cannot find because it is not 'published' or otherwise available. Usually consists of reports that are mentioned in PERs and EISs but only a select few actually get to see.
Wingspan and similar magazines are not grey.


From: Peter Ewin <>
To: ; ? birding-aus <>
Sent: Fri, 5 March, 2010 7:23:44
Subject: RE: [Birding-Aus] Grey literature

Not certain I want to jump in on this string but I will put my 2 cents in. I always thought that grey literature was used for documents that were generally unavailable due to limited publishing. The classic case is government agencies using internally produced reports or documents within a document. The document is available to internal staff but is often difficult (or impossible) to get copies of. May be changing in these modern days of the internet (and theortetically much more documentation being made available by government). Not certain what bearing this has on the grey - I am surprised people thought it any way offensive. However, I never would have thought that Wingspan was grey literature either as it was generally available and published for distribution.

From: <>
To: <>
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 2010 05:35:30 +1100
Subject: [Birding-Aus] Grey literature

It seems that Chris Sanderson's reference to non peer reviewed publications as "grey literature" struck a nerve, with many people interpreting "grey" as meaning something like "shady". A quick Googling of the term revealed many pages defining and using the term, including Wikipedia.

It appears that not only is the term well established and widespread, but there are actually journals about it (The Grey Journal, and yes, it's peer reviewed) and a Grey Literature International Steering Committee (GLISC), "which was established in 2006 after the 7th International Conference on Grey Literature (GL7)".

One site acknowledges that the term "brings connotations of bleakness, apathy, indifference, and questionable authority to mind", but claims it has had its current meaning since the 1920s.

So I guess we can't complain about its use. However, while there are many sites defining it as Chris does, most have a different definition. E.g. "information that is not searchable or accessible through conventional search engines or subject directories and is not generally produced by commercial publishing organisations".

Can anyone explain why there are two definitions? Is one just a subset of the other (i.e. all peer reviewed publications are searchable)? And by the narrower definition, are Wingspan and TBO grey literature or not? Are they searchable?

Some (grey) references:

Peter Shute

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