GIA Pioneer and Leading Librarian Dona Dirlam Retires after 38 Years

The Gemmological Institute of America (GIA) has announced that after 38 years Library and Information Centre Director, Dona Dirlam, has retired, leaving behind a legacy of excellence and a pioneering approach to digitisation of gemmological knowledge.  

Having been with GIA since 1979, Dirlam will be remembered for her direct influence in both establishing and growing the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemmological Library and Information Centre, renowned for being a leading resource hub for gemstone and gemmology students and professionals. Dirlam's successor in the role will be Robert Weldon who has been the Manager of Photography and Visual Communications at GIA since 2006.

Holding a Master's of Science degree in Geology and Geophysics from the University of Wisconsin (Madison), Dirlam began her career as an earth sciences teacher before pursuing her passion for gems and minerals at GIA's campus in Santa Monica. She began her tenure at GIA as a staff gemmologist after completing her GIA Graduate Gemologist (GG) diploma.

She swiftly became a research librarian in 1980 after Liddicoat himself offered her the chance to expand the Institute's library. Dirlam was named Director of the Carlsbad-based library in 1995, co-authoring articles for GIA's quarterly professional journal Gems & Gemology (G&G), as well as presenting numerous lectures on a plethora of historical topics.

Throughout her time at GIA, Dirlam was commended for her ongoing commitment to providing greater availability and access to GIA's rare book collection. Her efforts led her to digitise the rare holdings of the Institute, facilitating free and open access for the gem industry.

As a result of her work and dedication, the once-modest GIA library has expanded its collection to include over 57,000 books, 700 journal and magazine titles, 1,800 video recordings, 198,000 digital images and more than 300 scanned books, now available to read here.


The Richard T. Liddicoat Gemmological Library and Information Centre at GIA, Carlsbad CA. Image: ©GIA

Dirlam received the Outstanding Gemmologist Award from the Association of Women Gemmologists in 1989 and GIA's Staff Member of the Year award in 1991. Additionally, she was presented with the Richard T. Liddicoat Distinguished Achievement Award in 2004; the Accredited Gemmologists Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015; and the Women's Jewelry Association's Award for Excellence in Special Services in 2016.

Susan Jacques, President and CEO of GIA said: "Dona's ground-breaking efforts on behalf of the Institute's research, education, and outreach capabilities have kept GIA at the forefront of gemmological scholarship."

On her innovation and contributions to the industry, Dirlam commented: "Cultivating our library's collection and creating accessibility for the public has been the library's main goal. It takes dedicated individuals to handle the projects that come through our door and for that I am honored to have worked with a phenomenal team. What we have accomplished in the past decades will continue under the leadership of Robert Weldon."

Since Dirlam's retirement in late August, Weldon has assumed his responsibilities as Library Director; intending to continue the legacy left by Dirlam by expanding the GIA collection and further enhancing its accessibility to students, the trade and the public.

Commenting upon his new position, Weldon said "“Dona had such an influence on my life and has trained me over the years to have a great respect for the valuable books of which our team is custodian. These are exciting times ahead with such transformation in the library field. The questions of how we deliver information in this digital age, and how we reach and stimulate the minds of our current and future gemmologists, will be at the core of my focus."


Robert Weldon named Director of the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemmological Library and Information Centre. Photo: Judy Colbert ©GIA.

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Cover image: Dona Dirlam, here thumbing through volumes from GIA's rare book archives, built the Liddicoat Library and Information Centre into the largest, most comprehensive resource of its type in the world. Photo: Michael Justice. ©GIA.

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