“Grey literature” What’s that?

What on earth is grey literature? In the world of library and information science, it’s something not quite as dull as it sounds.

Grey literature is a definition which has evolved to cover access to multiple document types that may be difficult to trace via conventional channels as they are not published commercially or are not widely accessible. Examples of grey literature include working papers, technical reports, white papers, pre-prints…

What has this got to do with the European Union?

Woman's hand, holding classic styled magnifying glass, with Information word
© doomu / Fotolia

The preservation of the history of the development of the European Union (EU) and its policies, which have helped to mould Europe for almost 60 years, has never been more important in a world of rapid change. Publication of documents just gets ‘faster’ – in print or on websites of Europa. Where there is no long-term repository or stable URL, or a copy at the official EU Bookshop, or the registers of the institutions, this can be alarming. Digital preservation projects at national level are starting to tackle the problem – like that of the British Library.

Librarians traditionally preserve information resources. Many of these resources have lasting value and significance and should be protected and preserved for future generations. The issues to be considered are legal, technical and, particularly in the case of the EU institutions and bodies, organisational.

So, are librarians doing something about saving grey literature for posterity?

A working group on EU grey literature was set up during the annual Eurolib meeting in May 2010. Eurolib (European Community and Associated Institutions Library Cooperation Group), started by the Secretary-General of the European Parliament, met for the first time in 1988. That makes it the oldest cooperative group among EU bodies. Eurolib promotes inter-library collaboration, sharing experience and best practices. It also helps participating libraries to achieve economics of investment in technology, acquisitions and services.

The group is motivated by our experience, as EU institution information professionals, of searching, often fruitlessly, for EU documents or publications of all kinds to satisfy requests from EU staff, researchers and the wider public. The volatility of grey literature is a subject of concern to both librarians and archivists alike. Policy-makers should also be worried: ignorance or loss of information and knowledge has a critical impact on policy research and the resulting quality of EU policies and legislation.

The working group aims to provide a set of best practices and guidelines to achieve long-term preservation and access to all types of documents in the EU environment. The guidelines do not focus on specific technical solutions, but rather on requirements for efficient information management.

This first Eurolib Working Paper, published at the end of 2012, presents the major findings and recommendations issued after a detailed analysis.