MLA Forum
Vol. IV, Issue 1, April 4, 2005

Grey Literature or Fugitive Report Project

By Jon Harrison, Social Sciences Collections Coordinator and Criminal Justice Bibliographer, Michigan State University Libraries,

Based on a presentation made to the Criminal Justice/Criminology Discussion Group at the American Library Association Annual Conference, June 26, 2004.

Subject selectors or bibliographers frequently run across fugitive reports on hot topics that they may wish to add to their library’s collections. Unfortunately, some of these same reports are not available for acquisition through normal approval plans or by purchase or request from issuing bodies. Some people call these materials grey literature, although I am not sure how appropriate that term is, since many of them are finding their way into OCLC’s WorldCat or various other databases. However, since they tend to be available only on the World Wide Web, there is a question of how long they will last and how to make them accessible to library users.

Many of these reports are getting increased exposure of late, either because they show up through World Wide Web searches, are highlighted in various current awareness tools such as Gary Price’s ResourceShelf1 or DocuTicker2, turn up in specialized databases, or are mentioned in newspapers, magazines, television, and other news services.

How many of you saw references to various Taguba Reports3, 4 highlighting information about the problems at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq?

How many of you have noticed the various memos about the Bush administration’s position on “interrogation” or “torture” -- depending on your point of view5?

And how few of you saw a report prepared for the U.S. Congress on the Health Status of Soon-to-be-Released Inmates6 in the United States, which for the most part languished in obscurity for several years before being released?

While these examples deal with government reports or memos, types that may eventually end up in the National Security Archives or in the Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications, there are many more being issued by our own university departments and institutes, think tanks, and nonprofit organizations around the country and the world.

What steps are being taken to preserve and make access to these fugitive digital reports?

National Efforts

Over the last couple of years, I have read about or stumbled across, while searching the Web, a number of initiatives by librarians to increase access to such fugitive digital reports, part of the deep or invisible web.

Some libraries are spearheading efforts to provide access to electronic publications on their campuses. Librarians at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU)7 are using Eprints software to capture and save dissertations and theses. The library at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)8 provides an extensive list of universities, consortia, and other participating members providing online access to dissertations and theses. Some of these publications saved at CCSU and Virginia Tech deal with criminal justice topics and are available full text over the web, dependent of course, on whether the students are granted permission for full text access.

Other universities and libraries are working together to save and provide access to all digital materials produced by faculty members. With the help of a grant, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has started a project called the DSpace Initiative9 and has recruited other participating institutions.

As part of its own efforts, the University of Michigan has developed an OAIster: Find the Pearls search engine10 to assist scholars searching for freely available, difficult-to-access, academically oriented digital resources. A project of the University of Michigan Digital Library Production Services, OAIster was also funded by a grant.

Various search engines and databases are starting to take advantage of such efforts to increase their coverage of the hidden web. Google11 has announced that it will devote more time and resources to providing access to the various university digital resources identified by the MIT DSpace project. Yahoo also plans to incorporate the resources identified by the University of Michigan’s OAIster project12.

Local Efforts

What can you do to play a more active role in providing access to fugitive criminal justice reports and resources available over the World Wide Web if you do not have a grant or a sophisticated automatic webcrawler?

Many of the bibliographers at the Michigan State University Libraries have responded in a variety of ways, including creating subject-specific research guides13 or adding specific electronic resources to appropriate categories such as “texts and links”, “journals”, “primary sources”, and “numeric data” on the MSU Libraries Electronic Resources page.14 Although such efforts have their uses, and are beginning to show up more frequently in various search engines such as Google, there was a feeling that this was not the most ideal way to provide access to fugitive electronic report literature.

As a result, the bibliographers in the Michigan State University Libraries were challenged to identify some examples of electronic grey literature for submission to our cataloging department. A new cataloger was designated who was willing to work with these items and load them into our online catalog Magic15, making these resources more readily identifiable both for our own community and for the nation at large through OCLC.

As envisioned, the grey literature or fugitive report pilot project required the following:

1. All items submitted for cataloging had to be in PDF format since bibliographers had to provide a back-up paper copy of the reports submitted in case the URLs quit working (so the cataloging efforts would not go to waste). Eventually server space was provided so making print copies was no longer necessary, much to the relief of the participating bibliographers.

2. Each bibliographer was required to fill out an in-house electronic copyright request form16 to identify the author/publisher, title of the publication, URL, contact information such as the internet, telephone, or mail address, and other miscellaneous information items.

3. The author or publisher was contacted and asked whether we could add the bibliographic record with a URL link to our online catalog and whether we could provide access to a back-up copy if the URL died.

We talked about the copyright implications for a long time before starting. It was decided that if an item could be purchased from the issuing source, preferably in paper, that was the way to go. However, it was very clear that many agencies had no intention of printing copies of PDF reports for sale or for distribution upon request.

It was also decided that when you provide a simple URL link, copyright permission is not necessary. However, if you want to ensure permanent access by making a backup copy available in case the URL dies, then copyright permission is required.

After starting on this project, I was surprised that many nonprofits have never thought about libraries trying to preserve their electronic reports. It was also surprising to me that the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) wanted us to pay a $50 annual royalty fee to provide a link to one of their publications on security management that was freely available on their web site!17

In case you are interested in reviewing some of the titles that the Michigan State University Libraries have added to our online catalog recently, take a look at Grey Literature Project Documents Cataloged as of March 30, 200418; Electronic Documents Cataloged from April 1 through July 30, 200419; and Electronic Documents Cataloged Since August 1, 2004.20

In summary, we have been cataloging over 50 per month since starting the project in December, although it may be difficult to maintain this level since other projects, conferences, and vacations may intervene.

Note that not all the titles deal with criminal justice. From the beginning, I was asked to provide a representative sample from other subject areas as well. However, since I have been the primary person submitting items for cataloging, at least half of the titles deal with criminal justice and related topics such as security management and school violence, and almost all the rest deal with social science or policy issues.

Cataloging Issues

Here are some additional notes regarding our cataloging efforts of fugitive electronic documents that may be of interest to others considering a similar project.

1. In review, most of the initial reports being submitted already have some kind of relevant record available in OCLC -- in fact over 90% -- so it appears that a lot of libraries are cataloging such items already. It also indicates that cataloging such fugitive reports will not be a burden for our cataloging staff.

2. Since the cataloger assigned to the project only deals with monographs, I was told to avoid submitting serial PDFs, at least initially! Since then, a serials cataloger has offered his services in tackling online journals or serials. Search Magic21 for Equality Denied: The Status of Women in Policing (1997-2001) by the National Center for Women & Policing for an example of a serial entry.

3. Sometimes other libraries have printed out the PDF report of a document and cataloged the print version through OCLC. Our cataloging unit prefers creating separate records for electronic resources for a number of reasons -- including cost and the fact that many students prefer electronic copy for remote access -- rather than simply adding a URL link to a print record. There are individuals who like to limit their searches to electronic resources!

4. More on costs. For every new electronic resource record created, a library gets somewhere between a $ 4.00 or $ 5.00 credit with OCLC. (Prices vary depending on their arrangements with OCLC.) If an existing record is used, a library has to pay roughly $ .50. However, if the library derives an electronic record from a print record, it still pays the $ .50 for accessing the existing record, but receives a credit for a new record for a net gain of approximately $ 4.50.

5. If a library “locks and replaces” an existing record, it receives approximately a $ 2.50 credit.

6. What about mulverized records? MULVER is an abbreviation for multiple versions of a publication – electronic, paper, microfiche – collapsed into a single bibliographic record. Some library units like the MSU Government Documents Library may prefer mulverized records. However, if the URL link on the mulverized record dies, the entire record may be automatically suppressed for further review, losing access to any information on the availability in other formats, at least temporarily. Sometimes students and librarians like to only look for electronic formats. Mulverized records may prevent that option. And if library holdings are ever merged into a union catalog, other problems related to mulverized records can develop.

7. During the process of cataloging, the cataloger discovered that sometimes the electronic copy was not always identical to the print copy. Perhaps the electronic copy included an additional video or JPEG. Sometimes the electronic copy may omit the bibliography. According to news sources, the official Taguba Report was over 2,000-pages long. The copy we found on the web was only a small portion of that, but better than nothing. Notes were added to our records to describe differences whenever possible.

8. What if the issuing body requires free registration by users before accessing the PDF report? Since our cataloging staff felt this might become a privacy issue, it was decided to print the reports and provide access in this manner for such cases.

9. What happens if URLs quit working? As it so happened, one PDF report produced by our own university disappeared when the departmental server quit functioning. Since there was some question whether the department would continue in operation due to academic reorganization, our cataloging unit went ahead and made the PDF report available in print copy. A few months later, the departmental server was resurrected so we were able to provide access to both the PDF and print copy. In another instance, a National Defense University PDF report disappeared, with no indication as to why. Fortunately, a print report was subsequently received by our government documents unit, so continued access was preserved. In yet another instance, the PDF report listed on a nonprofit’s web page disappeared, but remained available thanks to the Internet Archive22.

One of the reasons I brought up our efforts was to ask if any of you might be interested in sharing information on recently cataloged PDF reports, particularly criminal justice ones.

That might help speed up the process of identifying and providing access to such publications. It could also serve to make access via OCLC easier for one and all.

EndNotes and References.

Price, G. (2004). ResourceShelf. Accessed December 6, 2004 at

_____. (2004). ResourceShelf DocuTicker. Accessed December 6, 2004 at

Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade. (2004). In Harrison, J. (Ed.), Odds and ends: A collection of websites of possible interest to government documents librarians. Accessed December 8, 2004 at

International Committee of the Red Cross. (2004, February). Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the treatment by the Coalition Forces of prisoners of war. In Harrison, J. (Ed.), Odds and ends: A collection of websites of possible interest to government documents librarians. Accessed December 8, 2004 at

Working group project on detainee interrogations in the global war on terrorism: Assessment of legal, historical, policy, and operational considerations [Draft]. (2003, March 6). In Harrison, J. (Ed.), Odds and ends: A collection of websites of possible interest to government documents librarians. Accessed December 8, 2004 at

National Commission on Correctional Health Care. (2002). Health status of soon-to-be-released inmates: A report to Congress. In Harrison, J. (Ed.), Odds and ends: A collection of websites of possible interest to government documents librarians. Accessed December 8, 2004 at

Central Connecticut State University Digital Archive. (2004). Welcome to the CCSU digital archive. Accessed December 8, 2004 at

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Libraries. (2004). Digital library and archives. Accessed December 8, 2004 at

Smith, M., et. al (2003, January). D-Space: an open source dynamic digital repository. D-Lib Magazine, 9(1). Accessed December 8, 2004 at

University of Michigan OIAster Home. (2004). Accessed December 8, 2004 at

Levack, K. (2004, July/August). A giant leap for academia? Google ventures into Dspace. Econtent. Accessed December 8, 2004 at

University of Michigan News Service. (2004, March 10). U-M expands access to hidden electronic resources with OAIster. Accessed December 8, 2004 at

Michigan State University Libraries. (2004). Research guides. Accessed December 8, 2004 at

_____. (2004). Electronic resources. Accessed December 8, 2004 at

_____. (2004). Online catalog (Magic). Accessed December 8, 2004 at

_____. (2004). Copyright permission form. Accessed December 8, 2004 at

ASHRAE later granted us permission to provide a link to their publication via OCLC for free, but not before signing a letter of agreement outlining conditions.

Michigan State University Libraries. (2004). Grey literature project documents cataloged as of March 30, 2004 (Dec. 1, 2003 Through March 30, 2004), by Lisa Robinson. Accessed December 6, 2004 at

_____. (2004). Electronic documents cataloged from April 1 through July 30, 2004, by Lisa Robinson. Accessed December 6, 2004 at

­­_____. (2004). Electronic documents cataloged as of October 18, 2004, by Lisa Robinson. Accessed December 6, 2004 at

Michigan State University Libraries. (2004). Online catalog (Magic). Accessed December 8, 2004 at

Internet Archive. (2004). Accessed December 8, 2004 at