My love for reading and delight in browsing through libraries and rare book shops have occupied large segments of my free and travel time. A natural consequence of this hobby was the modest purchase of occasional gems that intrigued and interested me. This permitted further study at home in leisure moments. When the acquired items filled all available corners of my study, and even some extra bookcases, I found it necessary to develop an alphabetical list of authors. It never occurred to me, however, that this was more than just personal fun and an exciting hobby. As the collection grew, I began to feel rather selfish about the possession of these rare and sometimes unique books and developed the need to share the experiences they offered with others. It has always been my firm conviction that books, like ideas, do not belong to individuals: they must be available to everyone…

from the preface to the first edition of the Becker Collection Catalog

In this portrait, Bernard Becker, MD, holds the first comprehensive text on eye diseases and treatments, a rare 16th-century book from the extensive collection of ophthalmology texts that he donated to the School of Medicine’s library, later named in his honor. Read more


  • Accepted leadership of ophthalmology department in 1953 at age 33, becoming the university’s youngest chairman; served for 35 years
  • Founded Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology
  • Remade School of Medicine library, donating his 600-volume collection of rare eye texts
  • Helped establish National Eye Institute
  • Built Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)
  • Directed American Board of Ophthalmology
  • First editor of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science

Bernard Becker, MD

Dr. Bernard Becker (1920-2013) was professor emeritus and emeritus head of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine. A graduate of Princeton University and the Harvard Medical School, Dr. Becker trained in ophthalmology at the Wilmer Institute of Johns Hopkins Hospital. Upon completing his residency in 1953, Dr. Becker was recruited as professor and head of the Department of Ophthalmology at Washington University School of Medicine. He served as head of the department through 1988 and, during his tenure, developed one of the finest academic departments in the country. A recipient of numerous academic awards and the author of many scientific publications, Dr. Becker’s career is characterized by a steadfast devotion to excellence in biomedical research, patient care and clinical teaching.

Dr. Becker’s contributions to the School of Medicine extend far beyond the confines of the Department of Ophthalmology. In addition to playing a major role in advancing the physical facilities, clinical activities and scientific programs of the School of Medicine, Dr. Becker championed the cause of the School of Medicine’s library and played a major role in the design and construction of the current library building, completed in 1989. The library was renamed in honor of Dr. Becker in May 1995.

The Bernard Becker Collection in Ophthalmology and Optics, one of the finest collections of rare books on ophthalmology and the visual sciences and personally acquired by Dr. Becker, is a major component of the library’s internationally recognized rare book collections.

This unique collection of books, manuscripts and graphics is housed in the Archives and Rare Books Section of the Washington University School of Medicine Library. The collection includes many rare items and provides a fascinating insight into the parallel evolution of modern ophthalmology and the science of optics. The collection can be viewed by appointment with the Rare Book Librarian or accessed online through the Medical School library’s website. Cloth-bound illustrated catalogs of the collection are also available for purchase.

Bernard Becker Medical Library: delivering knowledge, informing decisions