Grey Matters

Picture the scene: it's pouring with rain in a distant city. I'm trapped in a hotel with only the TV for company. The screen flickers to life and I'm caught between an English-speaking rock and a locally-dubbed hard place: CNN or translations of Perry Mason, Diagnosis Murder and every student's favourite medical examiner, Quincy. The foreign voices sound strange but the stories are familiar. Each pulp fable works its excruciating way to the same self-evident and badly-dubbed moral: hearsay is inadmissable.

How much contemporary archaeology would stand up in court? Not much, and here's why: too much of it is hearsay. From notebooks and archives that lie unopened, to reports that circulate to the nichest of niche audiences, the persistent threat to research and teaching are the gaps between synthesis, currency and comprehensiveness. Nor is it just about fieldwork: many of our best ideas and methodological advances are poorly published too.

This issue of ADS NEWS looks at projects that enhance research by improving access to analytical processes. The most significant recent development was the launch of a new Grey Literature Library . `Grey literature' is the term used to describe research papers produced informally and with limited print runs. The numerous short reports produced by field units in fulfilment of planning laws are everyday exemplars of this phenomenon. They are essential ingredients for up-to-date research or teaching but are difficult to locate and are unpredictable in style, quality and content. The Grey Literature Library brings together a set of several hundred reports, and the recent HEIRNET survey suggests that researchers want access to them above any other type of resource: but easily the most encouraging part is the way the library has grown in recent months. This rapid growth is partly due to the OASIS Project. Researchers that create OASIS records are now able to attach documents to them, so the volume is set to grow. Enhanced access should mean more thorough scrutiny, and better research all round.

Similar initiatives include a new joint project with AHRC funding (the Arts and Humanities Research Board became a `Research Council' in April). LEAPwill fund the academic community to publish and archive the best of its research in digital form. The English Heritage `Big Data Project' will refine procedures for archiving and disseminating data sets that are unusually large or unusually intiricate: such as derive from 3D laser scanning, LiDAR imaging or sea bed survey. LEAP and `Big Data' enhance research by reaching into the archives.

The rain stops. The sun takes hold before the minibar does. I risk a walk through the city: a new and lively place worth exploring. It's safe to hide away, but there's more fun to be had in the open.

William Kilbride

In this issue ...