Gray literature

Gray literature

Gray literature is a term used variably by the intelligence community, librarians, and medical and research professionals to refer to a body of materials that cannot be found easily through conventional channels such as publishers, "but which is frequently original and usually recent" in the words of M.C. Debachere.

The U.S. Interagency Gray Literature Working Group, "Gray Information Functional Plan," 18 January 1995, defines gray literature as "foreign or domestic open source material that usually is available through specialized channels and may not enter normal channels or systems of publication, distribution, bibliographic control, or acquisition by booksellers or subscription agents."

Examples of gray literature include technical reports from government agencies or scientific research groups, working papers from research groups or committees, white papers, or preprints. The term gray literature is often, but not exclusively, used for scientific research.

The identification and acquisition of gray literature poses difficulties for librarians and other information professionals for several reasons. Generally, gray literature lacks strict bibliographic control, meaning that basic information such as author, publication date or publishing body may not be easily discerned. Similarly, non-professional layouts and formats and low print runs of gray literature make the organized collection of such publications challenging compared to more traditional published media such as journals and books.

Information and research professionals generally draw a distinction between ephemera and gray literature, however, there are certain overlaps between the two media and they certainly share common frustrations such as bibliographic control issues.

External links


  • Augur, Charles P. 1989. Information Sources in Gray Literature. London: Bowker-Saur
  • Braun, Janice and Lola Raykovic Hopkins. “Collection-Level Cataloging, Indexing, and Preservation of the Hoover Institution Pamphlet Collection on Revolutionary Change in Twentieth Century Europe”. Technical Services Quarterly 12:4 (1995): 1-8.
  • Childress, Eric and Erik Jul. "Going Gray: Gray Literature and Metadata". Journal of Internet Cataloging 6:3 (2003): 3-6.
  • Debachere, M. C. Problems in obtaining gray literature. IFLA Journal, 21(2) 1995, p. 94-98.
  • Denda, Kayo. “Fugitive Literature in the Cross Hairs: An Examination of Bibliographic Control and Access”. Collection Management 27:2 (2002): 75-86.
  • Harrison, John. 2005. Gray Literature or Fugitive Report Project MLA Forum, 4(1).
  • Hirtle, Peter. 1991. Broadsides vs. Gray Literature. Available: I/msgOO02O.htm (June 15 1997).
  • Information World. 1996. What is gray literature? Available:, (June 18 1997).
  • Seeman, Corey. "Collecting and Managing Popular Culture Material: Minor League Team Publications as "Fringe" Material at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library". Collection Management 27:2 (2002): 3-20.
  • Sulouff, P., et al. Learning about gray literature by interviewing subject librarians: A study at the University of Rochester. College & Research Libraries News, 66(7) 2005, p. 510-515.
  • White, Herbert. 1984. Managing the Special Library. White Plains, N. Y.: Knowledge Industries Publications, Inc.

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