Off-Campus Access

Report from the field: Leveraging Diversity in Grey Literature

6 February 2017 - 1:54pm by Kate Nyhan

Like other staff at the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, I sometimes benefit from professional development support from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine. With their generous support, I participated in #GL18, Leveraging Diversity in Grey Literature, at the New York Academy of Medicine. Some key themes:

First, from the perspective of the researcher: keep an open mind about the types of documents that might be relevant, or even essential, to a research question. Perhaps you could mine the differences between transcripts and written testimony before Congressional committees, or maybe you’ll ingest community documents in every format to document bicycle policy. Thoughtful researchers are integrating new, non-traditional genres of evidence into their work. 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.

Second, from the perspective of the disseminator: you can facilitate discovery through a combination of pleasant user experience design and interoperable metadata. At the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, at WorldWideScience.org, at NDLTD, this dual path to discoverability appeared again and again. Without good UX and high-quality, machine-readable medatadata, dissemination with be a challenge no matter how great (and free) your material is.

Diversity was the stated theme of the conference, and to a degree the endless diversity of grey literature makes it hard to work with. How do I cite it? How do I evaluate it? How do I find it? It always depends. What GL18 has inspired me to do is to think more seriously, before starting to engage with grey literature on any topic, about what I expect I might find, how I can manage it, and how I will know when I’ve found what I need to. In this domain, I’ll admit that GL18 didn’t give me all the answers – but that’s ok, because now I know what the questions are.

Thanks again to the New York Academy of Medicine for hosting this event, and to the National Network of Libraries of Medicine for funding my participation, and to all the contributors who shared their work at GL18. 

Want more info on grey literature and public health? Start with this guide and contact Kate Nyhan, research and education librarian for public health.