Support Archives & Museum of Optometry: Keeper of the profession’s history

December 22, 2016
AOA, optometry’s story persists with dedicated archival operation.
Archives & Museum of Optometry

Edvard Munch's unmistakable The Scream has been called "an icon of modern art, a Mona Lisa for our time." Yet, for all its prestige, actually more versions of the work exist than that of a revolutionary object kept in the Archives & Museum of Optometry.

It's called the Leland Refractor, and with only three rumored to ever have been produced, the device could be rarer than The Scream's four originals—one of which Sotheby's valued north of $119 million. Although the novel refractor may not receive the same critical acclaim—nor the price tag—that's not to say its significance to optometry's history is no less consequential.  

Value, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder. That's the idea behind an Optometry Cares ®—The AOA Foundation initiative, the Archives & Museum of Optometry.  

An institutional repository for AOA and a locus of resources on its history and that of the profession, the Archives & Museum of Optometry comprises archival records and collections containing unique, primary source documents compiled over the past century, while its museum collections preserve the artifacts that define the optical industry, from fashion trends to clinical care.  

Ronald Ferrucci, O.D., advisory committee president of the Optometric Historical Society, an organization devoted to documenting, preserving and sharing optometry's history, says it's a tireless, yet important challenge recording the profession's heritage.  

"Each generation creates its own history," Dr. Ferrucci notes. "If we let a generation go by without documenting its unique story, we will have lost the institutional memory of the individuals who participated. The OHS is working very hard in a number of ways to see that the progress our profession has made in the past 50 years is carefully documented before we lose the visionaries who made it possible."  

The Archives & Museum of Optometry is where that collective knowledge, insight and experiences reside for generations to come.  

Optometry's history by the numbers  

The Archives & Museum of Optometry currently holds 100 years of archival material and museum objects culled from the International Library, Archives and Museum of Optometry collection after its closing in 2009. Here are just a few noteworthy museum metrics: 

  • There are 2,000 cubic feet of archival records, including AOA and affiliate records, personal papers, rare books and historical periodicals, photographs and ephemera.
  • There are 1,800 cubic feet of therapeutic and diagnostic equipment that document the evolution of clinical care and technology across the 20th century, spectacles and protective eyewear, and commemorative AOA items.
  • 1898 to 1990 are the years from which most museum items date; however, some objects date well before the 19th century, such as the Nuremberg Glasses.

The Archives & Museum of Optometry's challenge is not only conservation and preservation, but also simply cataloging the myriad items, photographs and documents graciously donated to ensure these resources are accessible to future generations. Although the archival material is minimally processed, there is still much work to be done in providing more information to researchers about the kinds of materials in the collection and processing donations.

"The Archives & Museum of Optometry, which houses a rich trove of artifacts and literature related to optometric history, is presently undergoing an exciting transformation," Dr. Ferrucci notes. "Its space within the AOA headquarters has been updated and expanded. Its staff is hard at work cataloguing and organizing the extensive collection of material that represents optometry's incredible story."  

Once such backlogged items are catalogued and inventoried, the Archives & Museum of Optometry will be able to digitize the collection and make the pictorial history widely accessible online...and that's just the first step.

Make a difference today  

The Archives & Museum of Optometry is working hard to digitize not only its collection, but also its catalog—a process that requires significant time, expertise and materials.

Here's how you can help preserve optometry's history:

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