The following is by guest blogger Susan Salo, head of CISTI’s London NIC (NRC Information Centre)
As an introduction to my comments on collecting grey literature, I need to return to Kathryn Arbuckle’s question of how much staff time grey literature is worth to your institution. In Science and Technology as well as in law there is a point when collecting and cataloguing grey literature is not the best choice. This may be in the case where the documents are easy to obtain and plentiful, or difficult to find and rare.
In science and technology a variety of document types have traditionally been considered grey literature. These have included technical reports, theses, preprints, conference proceedings, standards, patents, translations, government documents and a variety of other publications produced by scholarly scientific societies and corporations.
The face of grey literature and in particular the efforts required to collect them have changed significantly since the internet has made electronic publishing the norm for a large number of information producers.
While other national libraries may continue to add the majority of traditional grey literature types to their collections, CISTI has moved in many cases to a just-in-time model of document supply for such document types as standards, patents and theses. In fact while standards and patents may traditionally be thought of as grey literature, standards, often easily obtained from their original suppliers, may in more difficult cases be obtained from aggregators whose sole business is the supply of worldwide standards. Likewise, patents from the most common jurisdictions can be downloaded from the patent office web sites. Patents from more obscure countries can be obtained from a patent provider.
There are now a number of thesis depositories, but the vast majority of US and European theses are still located through Dissertation Abstracts, a database available online through the major databases vendors. Canadian theses can be found through the Theses Canada website.
Traditionally CISTI has subscribed to a large number of report collections many of these in the areas of aerospace, defence and other “hard’ engineering fields. These older reports are held in microform. The US National Technical Information Service has long been a clearinghouse for US government technical research. For a long CISTI collected NTIS reports (among others) according to a particular set of subject areas through arrangement with NTIS. Over time however, some of these reports have become available electronically on the NTIS web site.
With the advent of electronic publications from the above organizations, CISTI ceased many of its external report subscriptions. The reports of the NRC itself however are still added in paper copy to the CISTI catalogue. Several of the institutes have their own report databases as well.
An internal proposal has been put through for an NRC Publications Archive, a project that is being managed by Alison Ball. It would see a repository of NRC reports available on the Internet.
The CISTI staff members who search for grey literature daily have their own set of links in Internet Explorer ”Favorites“. From time to time these links are shared as new sites become available. The University of Waterloo provides a list of Scholarly Societies that can be useful in locating an unknown organization. The list contains over 4000 organizations, but they are not exclusively science and technology oriented.
An example of a variety of types of useful tools, mainly taken from Canada and the USA follow:
- The University of Virginia, provides a list of electronic grey literature producing organizations.
- The Graylit site makes the full-text grey literature of U.S. Federal Agencies easily accessible over the Internet.
- The Physics, Mathematics, and Computer Science Preprint Server now located at Cornell contains almost 400,000 preprints.
- Strategis Canada’s Research, Technology and Innovation Website provides information on science, technology and industry in Canada.
- Waves, the catalogue of the libraries of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, provides access to a good variety of grey literature on fisheries
- The Canadian Association of Research Libraries provides a list of academic repositories in Canada.
- The University of Michigan Digital Library Production Service attempts to provide access to previously difficult-to-access, academically-oriented digital resources. It includes 8,777,430 records from 678 institutions
- CORDIS –Database of the Community Research and Development Information Service (European Union)
There are times, however, when one has to start from point one and Google is not infrequently used as a base point for a search for a document from an unknown series or organization. While this might not lead to the document, it may lead to a contact, or a more detailed document description and eventually, an organization.
Older documents and corporate reports represent a particular challenge, as do older equipment manuals. It is often impossible to verify the details and existence of the report. The corporation or government agency may be defunct. Sometimes it is possible to reach the author. Other times it is necessary to attempt to determine who took over the company or the government department.
Foreign documents also represent a special case. Some countries have attempted to include grey literature in national databases. One such example is the Japanese database JICST-E. This database can be accessed on major online database systems. It includes both English and Japanese documents. All items in the collection are on deposit in the JICST-E library for photocopying where possible. CISTI has partnership arrangements with National libraries in Britain, France, Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan. CISTI also has an arrangement with a Russian document supplier. Due to distance, language and the difficulty of trying to obtain documents of almost any kind in the Russian Federation, these documents are only obtained on demand and only through this third party.
While defence classified documents are not frequently collected, they are collected by at least one NRC institute doing work in specific defence related areas. Special agreements need to be signed between the participating NRC institute and the contributing organizations. These reports may not be stored or handled by anyone without the required security clearance, and they may not be read by anyone without a ”need to know“. CISTI only acts as a repository with the materials being stored in a vault and the CISTI staff member possessing the required clearance.
CISTI collects conference proceedings at the research level in science, technology and medicine. CISTI has some standing orders, and deals with scholarly societies, vendors, and receives suggestions for purchase from both researchers and librarians. There are organizations today that specialize in the provision of conference proceedings. But in my experience that still does not mean that the field is completely covered. There are niche conferences, the proceedings of which you couldn’t locate if you didn’t know the conference had taken place and the organizer.
CISTI has a large collection of scientific article translations, but no longer collects. Translations were very popular throughout the cold war with some of the most popular languages being Russian, and Eastern block languages. CISTI maintains a translation card catalogue up to 1982 and an online database up to 1995. Additional sources for searching include World Translations Index (provided by major database vendors), but that has not been added to since 1997. When looking for a translation later than 1998, there are simply no known sources.
During an exercise a couple years ago, my colleague and I were asked to look for certain industry Roadmaps. These documents are produced by government and industry organizations. This was a successful search. We found 6 or 8 roadmaps and one of our researchers found another. Half of them were from government including Canada, the US and Europe. The others were from industry organizations. We used solely Google and other free search engines.
For another project, I was following a NASA project that started a number of years ago. My researcher was very excited about it. I’d done a big search and pulled a lot of reports. The project seemed to stop cold. I viewed all the relevant organizations sites and no information on the project. And then I started reading the reports. After getting a feel for the project it occurred to me I should be reading the reports backwards. I did a search on the larger research group and I located an annual report among other things. On reading the report I discovered when and why our project of interest had been concluded. The specific project name wasn’t even in the abstract.
So no matter how you play it, it seems there will always be hazards in searching and collecting the grey literature in science and technology. There will always be old reports that are unobtainable, conference proceedings that are no longer available or never existed at all, reports that lead to dead ends. But in this age of the electronic resource, for those of us who work in the NRC Information Centres directly with researchers, often its just as easy and as much fun for us to find that piece of grey literature ourselves than to send the order in to our Document Delivery group.