I imagine that the issue of access is different in every country (do let me know in the comments) but in Ireland the way you get your hands on juicy grey reports is largely informal. We have the advantage of a tiny population and an even more miniscule group of archaeologists with very few degrees of seperation. A fair number of the reports I have managed to get my hands on for my research have been given to me by generous friends willing to let me raid their hard drives or put me in touch with someone else who would. However, I’ve found going the official route and contacting individual companies can be tedious and often a waste of time (a personal connection/introduction is often essential). Directors/excavators are usually far more helpful and generous with their material (if you can contact them) and the NRA archaeologists are generally happy to let you have anything you need.
The personal approach has worked for me but I run into brick walls when I don’t know anyone who I can contact directly and I imagine such an informal system is fairly useless for non-native archaeologists. What is needed is an online repository with a legal requirement to deposit and allow access. This has been done on a limited scale by a few laudable organisations (e.g. here here, here, here and here and by the ADS in the UK) but, while these are useful, a more coherent system is needed. Internet publication has to be the solution: it has the benefits of being cheap, accessible, and searchable and by putting peoples work out there you create a natural pressure to maintain standards.
Of course the issue of standards may be caught up in problems with ownership. At the end of the day who owns (and therefore is responsible for) the reports that make up the grey literature: the developer? The excavating director? The company? The author? The state? This isn’t an issue of money – no-one will be making any profit from these reports. It is more about responsibility and accountability. Commercial archaeology has complicated things and the idea of individual directors being responsible for bringing sites to completion (i.e. final reports) ignores the responsibilities and resources of developers and archaeology companies.
The issue of responsibility is one I haven’t got my head fully around (hopefully it will be addressed in the forthcoming archaeology bill) but I do feel strongly that grey literature – particularly where funded by state-developers like the NRA – belongs to everyone and should be easily available to them. Archaeology is a national cultural asset and the purpose of spending so much money on its excavation is to preserve it by record for the public; what’s the point if they never see the results?
This is part 2 of a series of 3 posts on Grey Literature and Archaeology.