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ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies


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Fifty Shades of Scientific and Technical Grey Literature
May/June 2014 Issue


Another issue is searchability. The current status of sci/tech grey literature search tools is pretty sad and can be described—with apologies to fans of Clint Eastwood’s movie, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly— as the mediocre, the bad, and the ugly. With the demise of Scirus, there is really no freely available science search engine. As a result, researchers have to either use a general search tool such as Google or Bing and/or more specific search tools, which have their own limitations.

A comprehensive search for scientific and technical grey literature has always involved looking through multiple resources, but this has gotten worse in recent months. The technology exists to develop an effective sci/tech grey literature search, but until the major vendors and government organizations see the financial incentives, they won’t tackle this issue.

The best search engines, currently, for sci/tech grey literature sources are tools developed to search United States and international government science resources, such as and Two U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) specific items, the DOE Information Systems Science Accelerator ( and SciTech Connect ( are also worthy of note. All these search tools were developed by Deep Web Technologies (

With the exception of SciTech Connect, these resources have been around for a while, and their interfaces show their age. In this Google era, these search tools seem clunky and are not particularly user-friendly. Still, they do effectively find and return decent results. SciTech Connect, which combines the contents of OSTI’s Information Bridge and Energy Citations database, offers both a semantic and a term search. It offers a host of personalization tools (you have to create an account), and the advanced search includes a range of search options. The major limitation, of course, is that it only covers DOE-related research.


The next group of search tools offers some good search capabilities set on some not so good interfaces. OAIster ( is one of the oldest projects designed to harvest and capture scientific and technical grey literature. It was started by the University of Michigan in 2002 and made available by OCLC through a partnership with the university in 2009. The database resides on OCLC’s WorldCat interface, which allows for a range of search options but can be confusing to use. Here are some tips for using OAIster:

  • Use the Advanced Search functionality.
  • In the keyword and title fields, use double quotations marks for exact phrase searching.
  • Use the Corporate/Conference Name to locate conference proceedings.
  • Under the Content search option, choose Thesis/dissertation to limit your search to those items.

OAIster is primarily a bibliographic resource and has a number of serious drawbacks. It is not particularly user-friendly and has a limited range of items. Personally, I always wonder how much I am finding when I search here.

Open DOAR’s content search ( is really a directory of open access repositories. This resource is maintained by the University of Nottingham (U.K.), which does a very good job with quality control. It has a content search using the basic Google search function. Obviously, this limits search capabilities and generally means that most searches will return as least some junk results.


Currently if you search on science information resources, the most recommended search tool for finding scientific and technical grey literature is either Google generally or Google Scholar specifically. I am a fan of Google and use it frequently in searching, but is this the best we can do for a general search for sci/tech grey literature resources? Neither Google nor Google Scholar is really designed to find these items. Even using more advanced search options, you will wade through lots and lots of nonrelevant results to get items that you want.

Here are some tips for using Google Scholar and Google:

  • With Google Scholar, use Advanced Search (it’s the downward-pointing triangle at the end of the search box), and in the "with at least one of these words" field use thesis dissertation or "conference proceedings" or "technical report" depending on what format of grey literature interests you. You can also check or uncheck patents.

  • With Google, limit your search to a specific domain or site and use the filetype search filter to choose PDFs (filetype:pdf), since a lot of grey literature appears in this format.


If you have access to subscription resources, many of the multidisciplinary and science-specific databases are including, and sometimes indexing, sci/tech grey literature resources. The Web of Science and Scopus can be very good sources for conference papers. Look at the Document Types available through Web of Science. The most useful for locating grey literature are Meeting Abstract, Meeting Summary, and Proceedings Paper.

Biosis, Compendex, GeoRef, Inspec, and Environment Sciences and Pollution Management, among others, cover conference papers, meeting publications, and some technical reports. IEEE Xplore offers a browsing capability for IEEE, IET, and VDE VERLAG conference proceedings. For databases on the ProQuest platform, such as Pollution Abstracts, look at both Source Type and Document Type. From Source Type, you can frequently choose Conference Papers & Proceedings, Government & Official Publications, or Reports. Document Type varies by database, but relevant types for grey literature include Conference, Dissertation, Numerical Data, Patent, Report, and Training Manual. Obviously, Proquest Dissertation Abstracts is one of the primary resources for locating theses and dissertations.


Sci/tech grey literature is increasingly going to be found in nontraditional formats. Data and datasets are just two examples of this trend. This area has seen explosive growth in the last 2–3 years.

One excellent resource among many for tracking the ever-growing number of data repositories is Databib ( It is a searchable catalog of research data repositories. Very capable data librarians, such Brian Westra at the University of Oregon, have created excellent guides ( to keep up-to-date on the rapidly changing landscape of data repositories and data management.

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Matthew Von Hendy ( owns Green Heron Information Services.


Comments? Contact the editors at

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