Who Reads and Uses Grey Literature? The Case of Publications of Two Intergovernmental Environmental Organizations

Full Citation:

MacDonald, B., Wells, P, & Cordes, R. (2008). Who Reads and Uses Grey Literature? The Case of Publications of Two Intergovernmental Environmental Organizations. Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, Oxford, UK, 25 June 2008.


Environmental issues have gripped international attention recently, although environmental concerns have been building for decades. Over the past half century, thousands of reports about environmental conditions have been published by many organizations. Governmental and intergovernmental bodies, in particular, have produced vast quantities of documents, often categorized as grey literature. The fate of many such publications, from the perspective of readership, has been little studied. Likely, many have languished unopened on library and office shelves, even when they were of great value to many users. As a window on readership of environmental reports published as grey literature, we have studied the output and use of publications of two intergovernmental organizations focused on marine issues: the UN-based Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) and the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment (GOMC). Both have produced a large and diverse body of publications, since 1969 and 1989, respectively. Designed for advice to decision makers and public educators, their publications have been released in print and digital formats, often by complex and unplanned methods. In this paper we will describe the publishing practices and patterns of the two organizations and outline how we determined their readership and use. The publishing practices and patterns of GESAMP and GOMC illustrate how more attention is often placed on the content of high quality reports than on their dissemination and use. By studying citations, extracted from the databases of Web of Knowledge, Scopus, and Google Scholar, we will show that readership extends over time, and use patterns vary depending on whether a publication was released as a grey document or as a refereed, primary research article. Our paper will give a perspective of publishing, readership and use of grey environmental literature at the end of the twentieth century.