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  • Michelle Italia, MLIS, Kent State 2016

Some Quality Time with the H.A.M.

So, while working on the collection in the Kenneth Berger Hearing Aid Museum at KSU…wait, what? You did not know that there was a Hearing Aid Museum at Kent State? Well, then you are in for a surprise, my friends.

I have had the honor of working with this impressive and extensive collection of over 3500 hearing aids for several months now. The HAM, as we call it in our MuseLab team emails (we internally call our team the HAMsters), has been located in the Speech Pathology and Audiology corridor of the Music and Speech building (MSP) since the late 1960’s when Dr. Kenneth Berger, PhD, a researcher, teacher, historian, private practitioner, and director of audiology at Kent State University was interviewed in a 1966 article for the National Hearing Aid Journal about his then small collection. After that, many people helped it grow from a small display collection to a real research collection. Berger was sent historic hearing aids from all over the world. One person, A. J. Schneider of Massachusetts, donated over 500 aids to the collection. Mr. Schneider had been selling hearing aids since the 1930’s and shared his passion with the KSU museum.

Dr. Berger’s collection is vast. If you were to walk the hall of cases in MSP (unfortunately, at the moment, you can’t) you would see many different styles of hearing aids, from the modern fashion models to an ear trumpet made of silver, ornately carved, dating back to England in 1830. There has not been a day working in the collection that I am not astounded by the beauty in the functionality of these special objects. As time went on, the aids became smaller and the technology became more amazing. Humans went from using large animal horns held at the ear to amplify sound, to miniscule devices that are barely noticed today. The hearing aids are not only functional, but fashionable. You can find necklaces, eyeglasses, pins, tie tacks, barrettes, headbands, and even a purse that is used to aid the user in hearing what we might take for granted every day.

I am working with the collection because the space in the Speech Pathology and Audiology wing is getting a facelift. The collection needed to be temporarily moved so the architects could design and install new cases for the collection, as well as redesign the space for the clinic and faculty. In the process of getting the collection ready to move to its temporary home in the Kent State School of Library and Information Science MuseLab, a whole host of issues and considerations arose when working with the objects. Most of the 3500 objects have been on permanent display since the 1970’s. The original plan was to photograph, document, pack, move, and display each object. But, in the process, we noticed that some of the aids had deteriorated to the point of no return after many years of light exposure. Care has been taken to document each object in a way that once it is moved to the MuseLab and then back again to its new space in MSP in 2018, it can be part of a researchable database containing information from the original card and numbering system, as well as a photograph of the object in its current condition. Going from about six times as much space in Speech Pathology and Audiology wing to the 30 foot wall gallery in the MuseLab will be no easy feat. But being able to show off the impressive collection that Dr. Berger loved is a good feeling and the MuseLab is excited to be working with the folks in KSU Speech Pathology and Audiology to see it through.

Note from the MuseLab: For one year, the wall gallery space will transform and evolve as we host the KSU Berger Hearing Aid Museum while their home in Speech Pathology and Audiology is renovated. The MuseLab’s wall gallery will act as a visible storage exhibit for the collection while we also work to inventory and catalog this important collection. Each week, see the changes in the exhibit as it goes through the unpacking process and transforms into a visibly accessible exhibit.