Just in time for a new fiscal year, the Newberry Development Department has welcomed a new team member. In this edition of Donor Digest, meet Rob Onorato, the Newberry’s new Director of Individual Giving, who manages all aspects of the Annual Fund and works with hundreds of Newberry Associates, President’s Fellows, and Next Chapter members who help keep the Newberry running.
How did you first encounter the Newberry?
Even though I’ve lived in Chicago for almost a decade now, I hadn’t actually set foot in the Newberry until last year’s Book Fair. I’d browsed the Adult Education offerings, but never actually committed to a class, and despite having really varied research-related interests, I somehow never found myself in a Newberry reading room, even though I've been a lifelong library goblin. When I saw that the Newberry was looking for someone in this position, I leapt at the chance, and was fortunate to be able to come aboard.
What does your job look like day-to-day?
It varies based on the time of year we’re in, what cycle. As I’ve been settling in, we had two large milestones to achieve—first, successfully closing the Newberry’s fiscal year on June 30, and then preparing for the annual Book Fair at the end of July, which takes many hours from the entire Development team. I started in the middle of May (and also moved two weeks later—it’s been an eventful summer!), so all of the motion and momentum on both of those projects had already been initiated. Lately I’ve been digging in in earnest to the work of setting goals and strategizing for the year to come, which will be a pretty exciting one—we’ll have a new President soon, for one, and we’re also amplifying our Public Programming, spearheaded by Vince Firpo, who actually previously held my position before he was promoted to Vice President of Public Engagement.
What excites you about the Newberry?
I love that the Newberry as an institution is dedicated to self-directed knowledge and learning. The library’s dedication to helping and working with scholars and professional researchers is really fantastic. But I love that in its mission, in its bones, it’s a resource that’s here for anyone who wants to access its collections.
What do you like about working in development?
I like the opportunity to connect with people about what they most value about an institution. I like building those relationships, and having the opportunity to share more about what the Newberry is up to, or how their contribution goes to help support the mission and activity of the library. I also like the split between working with numbers (assessing year-over-year data, hitting budgets, prognosticating goals) and considering bigger-picture ideas, strategy, and ways that we can engage donors and make their relationships with the library more meaningful and valuable.
You mentioned enjoying research projects—what are some of the things you're working on or thinking about?
Oh, tons of stuff at any given time. My background is in theater, so after a pandemic-mandated hiatus from that world, I’m exploring new ways of performance-making and creating, especially with infusions from dance and musicmaking. I’ve been studying the work of the UK-based performance group Forced Entertainment, and experimenting again with Anne Bogart and Tina Landau’s Viewpoints method after first learning about it in college. I’m eager to dig into the Newberry’s dance archives, since it’s one of the core strengths of the collection.
I’m from just outside New York, so I also love learning about New York City history—there’s so much to cover, even though it’s a relatively new city, as cities go. I’m finally reading Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, a copy of which I’ve moved from apartment to apartment for years now but never actually felt ready to tackle. I’m also fascinated by the history of the subway, the gay and queer history of the city from its origins to today, and musical theatre history (I’m an incurable show queen).
What's your favorite perk of the Newberry so far?
The Newberry’s Interlibrary Loan System is magnificent, speedy, and wonderfully comprehensive. The only trouble is checking out more than I can read at once. We finally bought a library cart for our apartment to corral all the temporary transients, and it finds itself stuffed to capacity more days than not. But isn’t that really just emblematic of the fact that I’m at the right place?