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Section 2: Making Grey Literature Accessible

2.1 Electronic dissemination

There is international use and interest in archaeological data, fuelled by increasing Internet access and research into local and family history. 'New inquiries and perspectives come with this widening public scrutiny, and bring with them new stimuli for archaeologists to review the way that data and associated interpretations are recorded and disseminated. We no longer operate in a world where archaeological data are created by archaeologists for archaeologists. As digitisation and computer literacy increase, the archaeological record will become more accessible and public' (Richards and Robinson 2000, 4).

If archaeological grey literature reports are being created digitally, this potential needs to be maximised. Whilst reports have been produced in the same ways for several decades, archaeologists need to plan ahead for their future use, and the potential to do things electronically that are not yet possible. Whilst it is impossible to predict what data and formats will be relevant to future analysis, those producing reports can aim to ensure that data are accessible, well documented, and fit for reuse. The use of computers is essential to the work of archaeologists and those creating electronic resources need to understand how they and others can benefit from them, both now and in the future. Allied to this is a need to understand the problems of obsolescence and ongoing changes in technology. 'Computers not only change the way we do things, but more importantly change the way that we think about what we do and why we do it' (Lock 2003, xiii). There needs to be a change in attitude within the archaeological profession, not only to look backwards to our responsibility to the past, but also to look forwards to our responsibility to the future.

Clearly a key means of disseminating, and increasing access to, grey literature is the Web; 'the advantages of the Internet are immense and increasingly accepted' (Jones et al. 2001). Whilst it is unlikely that traditionally produced reports will become a thing of the past for many years, if at all, 'the World Wide Web...is, undoubtedly, the most important development in publication since the invention of the printing press' (Gaffney and Exon 1999). A range of media can be incorporated, publication costs are low, it is a relatively quick method of dissemination, and can reach a far wider audience than traditional paper publication formats. As seen in Section 1.8, many of the calls for wider accessibility at national level recognise the potential of online access and new approaches to publication. The past decade has seen an explosion in Internet use, which looks set to increase for the foreseeable future (Office for National Statistics 2004), and there are a growing number of examples of the digital publication of archaeological e-journals, books and excavation reports, the latter often directly integrated with the digital archive (Richards 2001). Harnad (2001) has been a strong proponent of the use of electronic means to extend the reach, power and accessibility of scientific information, and has also drawn attention to the economic advantages of doing so. He sees that the publisher is superfluous, and that the originating author can 'publish' independently, so that anyone can have rapid access to research. One of the main challenges is getting the right user communities interested and committed to communicating in this way (Shumelda Okerson and O'Donnell 1995). Huggett (2000) however, notes that although access to more data is seen to be of benefit, there has been inadequate discussion of how this data will be managed.

To date, there has been limited online access to archaeological grey literature, unlike the situation in other disciplines. As part of this study, the author has assessed a range of websites to identify the various methods used to facilitate access to grey literature (Falkingham 2004). Some of the key methods are summarised in the following sections.

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Last updated: Wed Apr 6 2005