The library was founded in 1901 by the British Optical Association (BOA). The first library catalogue, published in The Dioptric and Ophthalmometric Review contained seven books. In each issue of the Review, the editor appealed for donations of books or money from members. The collection consisted entirely of donations until 1912. During this period, the collection grew very slowly, but was supplemented by the private collections of Dr. R. S. Clay, A. W. Oxbrow, and J.H. Sutcliffe.
A major turning point came in 1926 when the Carnegie Trust offered £1,000 to the BOA Library, provided that the members of the Association raised a similar sum. The members generously came up with the sum and the library and museum became the sole occupiers of Clifford’s Inn Hall. The Carnegie Grant turned the library from a scattered collection of books into the most comprehensive optical reference library available. It also enabled the Association to buy books of paramount historic interest at incredibly low prices, in the inter-war period.
In 1934, the BOA moved to Brook Street. Many students used this library as the training institutions had not yet developed their own libraries to any great extent. In 1968, the library space was expanded further due to a generous donation of £12,000 from Mr. Neville Chappell. Mr. Chappell was a past President and Council member of the BOA. He felt strongly that the library should be “made worthy of a great association”. To this end, he took a major part in consultation with the architects and appealed to the membership to provide the furnishing for this new library. The result was a multi-level library with plenty of study desks and storage space.
In 1980, the BOA was disbanded and the College was founded as its successor. The library collection was transferred to the College as was the name of the library which will remain the British Optical Association Library in honour of its founder.
The most recent reorganisation came in 2004 in the current premises when the library expanded its storage space again, allowing for its ever growing collection.
The library today is indebted to those who had a role in its creation, and expansion. Mention must be made of John Browning the first President, John Sutcliffe who campaigned strenuously to establish the collection and Neville Chappell who donated his time and money to the library. The library also owes a debt of gratitude to Keith Clifford Hall, A. W. Oxbrow, Dr. Margaret Dobson, and Lord Charnwood, whose extensive personal collections were donated to the library. Last but not least, Miss. J.M. Mitchell, the librarian from 1928 until the 1970’s who oversaw all of the major events that resulted in the library we have today.
Source: Mitchell, Margaret, 1982. History of the British Optical Association 1895-1978: With additional material covering the founding of the British College of Ophthalmic Opticians (Optometrists) and the liquidation of the B.O.A, British Optical Association.