Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gray Literature Curiosity

Along with books and serials, libraries often have substantial collections of print materials referred to as gray literature; that is, items such as brochures, pamphlets, and reports, which are not assigned an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) or International Standard Serial Number (ISSN). Here is a curious example from the library at Cape Breton University.

Yes, this is a hockey card. Why would a hockey card be kept in an academic library collection? Well, I can think of a couple of possible reasons. The player might be a former student, he might have been born and raised in the local area, or perhaps he donated money to the university for an athletic scholarship. In this case, however, there is no discernible link between the player and the university, or with the broader community.
No one can remember, or at least no one is willing to admit that they remember, how the card made its way into the collection. The best guess is that it was in a box along with other materials to be entered into the database, and a summer student assigned to the data entry task just added it without questioning why.
Even more curious, however, at least to those interested in the way that information is classified, is the number assigned to this item. One of the simplest ways to make gray literature accessible is to assign sequential whole numbers to items, and then use these numbers as a means of locating these items in a searchable database and on the shelf. The fact that the number assigned to this item contains a decimal point and a number after the decimal point would generally indicate that the item was somehow related to the item with the base whole number. However, when we look to see what item 4662 is, we find that it is a consulting engineers report on the water supply to the Point Edward industrial park, in no way related to the player, or to hockey. The number also seems to suggest that there is another related item with the number 4662.1, otherwise why would this card not have that number?
All of this remains a mystery, and the only reason it came to light at all is that the card fell on the floor when we were doing some re-shelving of the collection.