An Archive of Excellence: The Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library Celebrates 25 Years

RTL Library Celebrates 25 years
The Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library and Information Center at GIA's world headquarters, The Robert Mouawad Campus, in Carlsbad, California. Photo by GIA
700+ periodicals
1,800+ videos
57,000+ books
150,000+ photographs

The sheer magnitude of print, video and image resources available through the Richard T. Liddicoat Library and Information Center is astounding. From 31 different editions of philosopher Pliny's “Natural History” – including a copy published in 1496 – to George Frederick Kunz’s “Gems and Precious Stones of North America,” one of the most important works on gems, the library houses some of the rarest and most highly regarded books in gemological and jewelry history. What started humbly as a single bookcase has become the largest, most complete repository of its kind in the world and the first point of reference for those studying gems and jewelry.

GIA’s original library consisted of a handful of publications that GIA founder Robert Shipley loaned to students and staff. Over the years, the collection grew to include important books about gems and jewelry, trade journals and the latest gemological research, totaling 2,500 informally cataloged and stored volumes by 1980.

Richard T. Liddicoat, then-president of GIA, recognized the need and benefit of more professional attention to the Institute’s growing collection. He appointed Dona Dirlam, a diamond grader and former geology teacher, as librarian. Dirlam embarked on a decades-long effort to develop the library into the resource it is today. She began by opening the library to students and staff without an appointment, reorganizing and cataloguing the collection, and expanding the physical space and the staff.

“We needed more staff by the mid-1980s just to handle the growing number of phone calls requesting information,” said Dirlam. “The more you help people, the more they call back for help, and then tell other people.”

As more and more people outside the Institute learned about the indispensable resources available, the library continued to grow, and so did the importance of amassing a comprehensive collection.  

GIA acquired the Sinkankas collection, which contains nearly every major work related to the study of gems and jewelry, in January 1988. Accumulated over 40 years by noted author and lapidary John Sinkankas and his wife, Marge, the collection added nearly 6,000 articles and 10,000 books, including works dating back to 1511 A.D., rare volumes and numerous editions in different languages. With the addition of the Sinkankas collection, the library became a resource unlike any other.

GIA held an inaugural celebration in August 1989 to formally dedicate the library to Liddicoat, the ‘Father of Modern Gemology,’ and to officially unveil the Sinkankas collection.

Nearly 300 guests attended the event, described by George Schuster in his 2003 book “Legacy of Leadership: A History of the Gemological Institute of America:”

August 21, 1989. It was a glittering summer night of champagne, laughter and honors, a black-tie evening of men in tuxedos and women in elegant gowns. It was a night important enough to attract hundreds of leading gem and jewelry industry figures to the Gemological Institute of America.

It was the night of the formal dedication of the Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library and Information Center, including the newly acquired, world-renowned Sinkankas collection.

It was the night of the official unveiling of what one writer called “the greatest collection of gemological literature ever assembled.”

During the official opening ceremony, guests heard firsthand accounts from Dirlam, Liddicoat, and Boyajian on the acquisition of the Sinkankas collection and what it meant to GIA and the gemological community. Another highlight was Sinkankas’s off-the-cuff comments on how he and Marge had created their personal library, including book-buying adventures in Europe, the Howes acquisition and his longtime relationship with GIA. Mayor James Conn presented [then-president] Bill Boyajian with a letter of commendation from the city of Santa Monica acknowledging GIA’s contribution to education in the community. At the end of the night, departing guests were handed reprints of Gems & Gemology’s Spring 1989 article on the Sinkankas collection.

Now, 25 years later, GIA’s library continues to grow and offer resources to the gem and jewelry industry, gem enthusiasts, students and the public. Library staff assisted more than 10,000 visitors, students and staff in 2013. It’s open to the public Monday through Friday, but you don’t have to be in California to take advantage of its resources. Experienced librarians also answer questions and offer reference for gem- and jewelry-related questions by email, mail, phone and fax, responding to more than 1,000 queries each year. You can also search the library catalog online and access all 80 years of Gems & Gemology, GIA's quarterly research journal, on the website.

For Dirlam, the goal of the library is simple.

“We want to make this library the archive of the international jewelry industry, and an important part of our mission to ensure the public trust in gems and jewelry.”

Kristin A. Aldridge, a writer at GIA, is a graduate of GIA’s Pearls and AJP programs.