Grey Literature Satellite Session Summaries

At the 2019 IFLA WILC satellite meeting on Grey Literature, held in Athens at the SNFCC, on 23 August 2019, the SOCR committee in partnership with the National Libraries Section  hosted numerous speakers that provided insights into grey literature (“greylit”) at their institutions and beyond. Additionally, the committee facilitated two breakout sessions to discuss questions related to greylit. We appreciate the attendees’ enthusiastic response to the breakout sessions and in this post, we share a summary of comments based on those discussion question responses. The two breakout sessions were thematic, attendees considered the topics in their small groups, and then reported out to the larger group. Additionally, written notes captured at each table were collected and those notes form the bulk of this summary.

Breakout Session 1: Defining and Acquiring Grey Literature

The Morning Breakout Session was dedicated to Defining and Acquiring Grey Literature. Questions posed to prompt discussion included:

  1. What is grey literature?
  2. What are your sources – the creators or publishers- of grey literature? (government, independent publishers, other?)
  3. How do you decide what to acquire for your grey literature collection?
  4. Is grey literature mostly print or digital at your library? Do your patrons prefer print or digital items?
  5. How do you assess your grey literature collection?

The question of what is grey literature resonated with attendees and this question received the most attention during the breakout session. We had heard a presentation that suggested electronic theses and dissertations may no longer be greylit due to their ready availability through university repositories, we later heard how emojis may be part social media-generated greylit – needless to say there is a lot of debate over this question. Also: data. Several attendees recommended thinking of greylit differently and specifically as including data sets, or “grey data.”  Traditional definitions of greylit still held true for many of the attendees as well. Characteristics helpful in identifying greylit include: governmental publications, organizations where publishing is not the primary objective, and research output of all types. Some reminded us that format does not matter in identifying greylit. Some wondered if an identifier is assigned to greylit, does that mean it is no longer “grey?” One attendee noted the quality still needs to be assessed.

As noted above, sources include government, intergovernmental organizations, academic institutions, local agency’s or documents of local or national importance.

Collection development policies were mentioned several times as having potential in determining what to acquire in greylit efforts, yet many policies don’t seem to cover greylit well.  Both print and digital formats are important at attendees’ institutions, with some focusing on one or the other, and some on both. Questions asked included: Do permanence, patron perception about the scholarly nature of grey literature, or ease of availability impact collection decisions?

The question of assessing grey literature collections brought up more questions than answers. If greylit isn’t easily identified in our discovery systems, how is it distinguished in statistics showing use separate or along side the whole collections? Also, do efforts to share the value of collections through return on investment (ROI) make sense for greylit? Would metrics from individual collections like repositories help with assessment?

Breakout Session 2: Enhancing Grey Literature Discovery and Promotion

The Afternoon Breakout Session asked attendees to discuss patron discovery and awareness of grey literature.  The prompts were:

  1. What do you do now to ensure discovery of grey literature materials in your library’s catalog, discovery system, or website?
  2. In a perfect world, I would (fill in the blank) ________________ to market or let others know about my library’s grey literature materials.
  3. Is social media a good way to promote the use of grey literature at your library?
    • If you could promote items from your collection, what would you share about them on social media?

Metadata. Overwhelmingly attendees suggested good metadata is the key to ensuring discovery of grey literature. Description and integration into the systems used by patrons to discover other sources is critical, but doesn’t always happen when materials are added to collections. This includes cataloging, inclusion of greylit in integrated library systems, but also linking to related resources such as datasets. Additionally, others suggested that ensuring interlibrary loan staff know how to find greylit, and that producers of greylit have some responsibility for following good practices -so publications are easier to describe and make accessible.

Comments about what could be done to market or let others know about their library’s greylit materials (the fill-in-the-blank question above) included: investing in more resources  in describing greylit, using communication channels where the likely users of grey lit are found, making a case for advocating the use of greylit similarly to how special collections are marketed for research use, and providing specific interfaces in the OPAC/discovery system to search for greylit and related resources such as standards and data.

Finally, not too many attendees commented on using social media to promote the use and/or awareness of greylit but those that did were in favor of doing so. Comments included the need for sufficient staff, selection of the right tool, and ensuring the work was integrated into existing library social media efforts.

In summary, the Grey Literature Satellite breakout sessions were useful to give people a chance to talk about the topics they were hearing and helpful to try and capture the ideas generated at the conference.