GIA library director Dirlam receives Liddicoat award for distinguished achievement

Twenty-four years after she was personally selected by former GIA Chairman Richard T. Liddicoat to build the world’s finest gemological library, Dona M. Dirlam, director of the Richard T. Liddicoat Library and Information Center, received the Gemological Institute of America’s (GIA) highest honor to recognize her success in achieving that goal.

GIA President William E. Boyajian presented the award to Dirlam before a large audience of GIA’s board of governors, executive team, and staff in a Nov. 15 ceremony at the Institute’s world headquarters.

“Dona Mary Dirlam was an excited young gemologist when she landed a job at the GIA Gem Laboratory in 1980,” Boyajian said. “As a former high school teacher with a masters degree in geology and geophysics, Dona was hoping to get a job in GIA Research.”

Recalling the impact of that era’s economic conditions, Boyajian pointed out, “The early ‘80s was a tough period for GIA, as we were still reeling from the post-1980 diamond depression, so no such jobs were available. But soon after starting, Dona was summoned to Mr. Liddicoat’s office to check her interest in our fledgling little library. He needed someone to take over the job of GIA librarian, someone with a background in gemology, geology, and teaching. All three converged in Dona Dirlam.”

Through more than two decades since then, said Boyajian, “Dona’s vision to take GIA’s Library to another level was nothing short of miraculous. It took vision, but it also required very hard work, extraordinary knowledge and skill, and a leader’s commitment to purpose. These are the traits that exemplify Dona Dirlam.”

Boyajian went on to address Dirlam directly, “You are truly one of the heroes of GIA. You embody all that is great about the Institute. You are a leader, a team player, and most often a behind-the-scenes Director, hand-picked by the man whose name is carried on the award you receive today.”

Accepting the award as only its 10th recipient, a clearly moved Dirlam said, “I’m speechless and breathless. The last 24 years have flown by. I work with such a fabulous group of people. I’m so grateful and so thankful to be part of it, and I’m looking forward to what we’re going to do next.”

The citation on the plaque presented to Dirlam reads, in part, “In 1980, you took a tiny room full of books and periodicals and transformed it into the finest repository of gem and jewelry information in the world. You did it with great vision and set a standard of excellence that is the awe of the gemological world. You never sought the limelight. Your vision was to extend our mission, and you did it with the passion of a true leader.”

A native of Eugene, Ore., Dirlam grew up in Minnesota. She earned a B.S. degree in earth science education from the University of Minnesota, and an M.S. degree in geology and geophysics from the University of Wisconsin. She is also a Fellow of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (FGA). She taught earth sciences in the Madison (Wis.) public school system for 10 years before coming to GIA.

In addition to her work as library director, Dirlam served as the abstract’s section editor of Gems & Gemology, GIA’s award-winning quarterly peer-review journal for 13 years. She has co-authored nine articles in the journal, from “Polynesian Black Pearls,” and “Gem Wealth of Tanzania” to “The Ultimate Gemologist: A Tribute to Richard T. Liddicoat.”