An Expert to the Experts: Mining Diverse Databases Leads to a Career in Diverse Fields-And a Connection between Librarianship and Fundraising

By Spencer, Forrest Glenn | Information Outlook, November 2007 | Go to article overview

An Expert to the Experts: Mining Diverse Databases Leads to a Career in Diverse Fields-And a Connection between Librarianship and Fundraising


Spencer, Forrest Glenn, Information Outlook


For more than 30 years, Sharon M. Gray has worked in the information industry. She has held several titles and has been employed by many firms and organizations, but at the core, she has always remained a special librarian. She has retained the tenets of the profession, fully used her skills, and broadened her talents as she expanded her career into new areas of interests.

Now, Gray, who has been an SLA member since the early 1970s, is the director of development for the Community Research Initiative of New England (CRI). She is responsible for all aspects of the organization's fundraising and communication efforts.

"My responsibilities include the annual giving, planned giving, major donor relations, prospect research and special events," Gray said in a recent interview. "I also oversee public relations and marketing, and I provide information on HIV/AIDS and clinical trials to a constituency of researchers and consumers via our newsletter, Web site, and external communications."

CRI is an independent, nonprofit organization based in Boston. For nearly 20 years it has participated in some of the most promising HIV/AIDS clinical research--and has provided access to life-saving medications and health insurance coverage for those in need.

Gray has been employed with CRI since 2003. In that time, she and her staff of two have achieved some remark-able accomplishments: designed and implemented a new branded annual fund that had a 107% increase; developed signature special events that have raised more than $125,000; launched a major gifts program that netted more than $200,000 in 2006; created and implemented a message delivery strategy to inform donors; and cultivated prospects and disseminated the organization's news.

Prior to CRI, Gray was the director of foundation relations and manager of the information center/library for Silent Spring Institute (SSI) for four years in Newton, Massachusetts. Silent Spring is a non-profit, scientific research organization that studies and identifies the links between the environment and breast cancer. Gray continues as a library consultant at SSI. Since her job at CRI is compressed into four days a week, the extra day allows her to pursue projects such as SSI.

"My practice is library-related," she said of her consultancy. "It comes from a long experience in librarianship. If there's some kind of special project or grant or proposal, I can help with the grant and managing the program."

At Silent Spring, for example, a Komen Foundation grant funded a literature search review on breast cancer and the environment and has now made that information available online. "That's really exciting, because we worked on locating and reviewing about 450 articles reporting on breast cancer studies," Gray said. She was involved in setting up the framework, working out the search terms, and helping the researchers identify information that would guide future research and decision-making.

"From its beginning, Silent Spring placed a strong role on science-based evidence, and they felt one way to do that was to have a librarian and a library database that tracked relevant research," said Gray. "Silent Spring has a multi-disciplinary approach, so there's an interest in toxicological information, epidemiological information, and environmental information, as well as medical research.

"Many of the standard databases don't gather materials from the cross-disciplinary fields SSI investigators wanted. Silent Spring felt that project investigators needed a way to coordinate and be aware of information from all the related disciplines. The water research, the air research, the toxic elements research--as well as what was happening in medicine and epidemiology."

The Silent Spring library database has been in ongoing development since the early 1990s when the state of Massachusetts helped support it. The Komen Foundation's participation was to create a state-of-the-art, comprehensive review of scientific research on environmental factors that may increase breast cancer risk.

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