Towards A New Definition
The 12th International Conference on Grey Literature at Prague in December 2010 discussed a new approach to grey literature. The current definition of grey literature—the New York definition—remains helpful and should not be replaced but adapted to the changing environment.
The typological approach does not provide an exhaustive and explicit list of items. On the other hand, the economic approach of the New York definition is intensional and specifies the necessary condition for a document being part of the grey literature. But the same definition is not sufficient in the context of Internet publishing, and we need to designate more essential attributes to clearly differentiate grey from other items.
The proposal is to add four attributes to the New York definition:
- The document character of grey literature (concept of the French multidisciplinary network)
- Legal nature of works of the mind, e.g., protection by intellectual property.
- A minimum quality level (peer review, label, validation).
- The link to intermediation, e.g., the interest of grey items for collection (and not for the end user).
The proposal for a new definition ("Prague Definition") of grey literature is as follows:
"Grey literature stands for manifold document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats that are protected by intellectual property rights, of sufficient quality to be collected and preserved by library holdings or institutional repositories, but not controlled by commercial publishers i.e., where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body."
Grey literature includes all kind of quality or seminal documentary material a library would like to collect but it finds difficult. It is not only a question of production and dissemination but also of quality and collection. Without intermediation by libraries, no grey literature. It is a case for LIS professionals, a challenge that brings together the communities of grey literature and special collections.
In 1995, one scholar maintained that economics was the main problem with grey literature. He observed that "peripheral materials, including grey literature, expand unabated. Libraries having difficulty collecting traditional materials have little hope of acquiring the periphery".
Today, due to the overwhelming success of web publishing and access to documents focus has shifted to quality, intellectual property, and intermediation. Without the revision mentioned above, the current definition risks becoming obsolete due to its inability to differentiate grey literature from other documents.
The proposal for a revised “Prague definition” brings together the former economic approach with new attributes. The next step should be to check this definition against common usage in libraries and different types of grey and other documents. Once done, the value of the definition can be evaluated on the basis of the answers to the following two questions: does this new definition include all kind of documents usually considered by LIS professionals as grey literature, including today’s difficult-to-process and hard-to-collect items, and does it lead to further differentiation or better understanding of how grey literature may be distinguished from other forms of literature? Three challenges in particular are said to face professionals in the field at the present moment:
- The development of institutional repositories by publishing organizations as a complementary and sometimes concurrent service to tradition library holdings; and the place and processing of grey literature in theses archives.
- The tendency of disintermediation in the traditional value chain of scientific and technical information. The “risk” of grey literature is not web-based technology but the somehow fading role of libraries and information professionals as intermediaries between authors, publishing bodies, and the end user. And tell the reader why this is important other than job preservation.
- The so-called "Fourth Paradigm", e.g., data-intensive science and the access to datasets that together generate a trend to transform and/or marginalise literature.
With reference to grey literature, replies to a survey in 2010 stated “it is important for knowledge” and “it is a question of freedom” or “non-mainstream publishing”. The future will show if the concept of grey literature remains “ephemeral” and if it contributes to better understanding and processing of this special part of scientific and technical information.
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