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Melvin S. Day

  • Born: January 22, 1923, Lewiston, Maine

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0163
Interview Date: July 15, 1997
Location: Washington, D.C.
Interviewer: Robert V. Williams
No. of pages: 163
Minutes: 407
Sponsor: Eugene Garfield Foundation
Eugene Garfield Foundation

  Abstract of Interview

Melvin Day begins the interview with a discussion of his family and childhood years in Boston. Day grew up during the Depression and often worked in his father's oil company after school to help ends meet. Day attended Bates College as a chemistry major, receiving his BA in 1943. After graduation, Day immediately accepted a position with Metal Hydrides, Inc. in Beverly, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1944. Recognizing Day's background in chemistry, the Army sent him to serve at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as part of the Corps of Engineers for the Manhattan Project. In 1946, Day was assigned to work for the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) under Major Alberto Thompson, reviewing newly declassified documents from the Manhattan Project. Day involved himself in all aspects of the AEC documentation program from abstracting and indexing to publishing. By 1947, AEC was producing Abstracts of Declassified Documents, which later became Nuclear Science Abstracts. In 1958, Day transferred to AEC headquarters in Washington, D.C. to be the Director of the Technical Information Office. Day and the AEC pioneered the use of the computer as a primary tool for document production and searching.

Day joined the newly established National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1960, and developed the plans for NASA's information program. After months of deliberation, NASA chose to contract out the management of technical information, which proved to be very successful. NASA's program became the model for documentation programs around the world. NASA formed a database of unpublished technical documents called STAR,, Scientific and Technical Aerospace Reports. Later, NASA merged STAR with the Institute for Aerospace Sciences' (IAS) database of published literature called International Aerospace Abstracts (IAA), forming NASA RECON in 1965. Day recognized that NASA was heading towards an online system. By 1966, Lockheed developed the software and NASA RECON was available online at NASA centers across the country. Day was a member of many information societies, including COSATI, which was a White House committee. Working through COSATI, other government agencies, like NASA, and AEC, could establish a common ground on formats and standards in information science. Day also headed the U.S. delegation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In 1970, Day served as chairman of COSATI. That same year, Day began working for the National Science Foundation (NSF). There he worked on the funding end of developing information systems. He left NSF in 1972 and became the Deputy Director of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). There he helped build the Lister Hill Center and to develop MEDLARS and MEDLINE as online systems. During this time, Day served as president of American Society for Information Science (ASIS), from 1975–1976. Day left NLM in 1978 and became the Director of the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), and turned the government-sponsored organization into a self-supporting organization in just one year. Day also was responsible for making the NTIS database available for online searching. In the face of much adversity, Day accomplished his goal of obtaining better computers and successfully training the staff at NTIS. Day retired from NTIS in 1982 and accepted a position with Thyssen-Bournemisza Information Technology Group. In 1984, Day left Thyssen-Bournemisza and became Vice President of Research Publications. After leaving Research Publications in 1986, Day became Senior Vice President of Herner and Company. Day concludes the interview with a discussion of his communications venture, influential teachers during his career, and the future of information science.


1943 B.S., Chemistry, Bates College

  Professional Experience

Metal Hydrides Inc.

1943 - 1944 Chemist

United States Army Corps of Engineers

1944 - 1946 Enlistee

Atomic Energy Commission

1946 - 1948 Science Analyst

Atomic Energy Commission

1950 - 1956 Assistant Chief, Technical Information Services Division

Atomic Energy Commission

1956 - 1958 Chief, Technical Services Division

Atomic Energy Commission

1958 - 1960 Director, Technical Information Division

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

1960 - 1961 Deputy Director, Technical Information and Educational Programs

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

1961 - 1967 Director, Science and Technology Information Division

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

1967 - 1970 Deputy Assistant Administrator, Technical Utilization

National Science Foundation

1970 - 1972 Head, Office of Science Information Service

National Library of Medicine

1972 - 1978 Deputy Director

National Technical Information Service

1978 - 1982 Director

Thyssen-Bornemisza Corp., The Netherlands

1982 - 1984 Vice President, Information Technology Group, Inc.

International Thompson

1984 - 1986 Vice President, Research Publications

Herner and Company

1986 - 1988 Senior Vice President

M. Day Consulting

1988 - 1997 President

BIIS Corporation

1991 - 1994 Executive Vice President

GlobeNet Corporation

1994 - 1996 Executive Vice President


1960 Sustained Superior Performance Award, Atomic Energy Commission
1971 Exceptional Service Medal, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
1974 Miembro Correspondiente Extranjero de là Academia de Ciencias Fisicas, Matematicas y Naturales, Republica de Venezuela
1975 Director's Award, National Library of Medicine
1976 Superior Service Award, U.S. Public Health Service
1982 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1992 Honorary member, International Council for Scientific and Technical Information (ICSTI)
1997 Distinguished Service Award, ICSTI
1997 Honorary Fellow, National Federation of Abstracting and Indexing Societies

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Growing up in Boston, Massachusetts. Parents. School. Interest in chemistry. Attending Bates College. Working for Metal Hydrides, Inc. Joining the U.S. Army. Transferring to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Serving with the Corps of Engineers on the Manhattan Project. Uranium-235. Brother's military experience in Europe during WWII. Waiver on discharge. Volunteering for Bikini Island nuclear test. Finishing service in Oak Ridge. Assigned to work for Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

Atomic Energy Commission 20

Major Alberto F. Thompson. Working with declassified Manhattan Project documents. Bernard M. Fry. Technical Information Extension. Printing Abstracts of Declassified Documents. Manual information handling. Punch-cards. IBM card sorters. Contract with Doc Inc. Movement away from traditional library tools. Development of the AEC information program. Use of computers. Microcards. Leaving the AEC.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration 41

Shelby Thompson. Developing plans for NASA's information program. Working on a contract basis. Contract with Doc Inc. Scientific and Technical Aerospace Reports (STAR) database. International Aerospace Abstracts (IAA). Microfiche. COSATI. Designing the system. Using second-generation IBM computers. Chemical Abstracts. NASA RECON program. Roger Summit. DIALOG. MEDLINE. Lockheed software development.

Expanding World of Information Science 72

COSATI. Burt Adkinson. Developing standards for information. UNESCO. Vocabulary control. President's Committee on Science and Technology. National Science Foundation (NSF). Chemical Abstracts Service. Chemical Registry System. DIALOG and Chem. Abstracts law suit. Individual, small systems in documentation. Working at NSF. Funding R&D projects. Leaving NSF. Lee G. Burchinal. ERIC. Keeping current in documentation.

New Career Direction 94

National Library of Medicine (NLM). Martin M. Cummings. Lister Hill Center. MEDLINE. Williams and Wilkins case. Leaving NLM for the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). William Knox. Bringing NTIS up to a higher level. Making improvements. Getting better computer equipment. Training staff. NTIS database becoming available online. Government Printing Office. Customer base for NTIS database. Environment at NTIS. Future of NTIS. Cooperation from other groups.

Information Science on Global Scale 122

National information policy. President James Earl Carter. Term as ASIS president. Special Libraries Association. Term length at ASIS. Future of ASIS. Retirement from NTIS in 1982. Thyssen-Bournemisza Information Technology Group. Ron Quake. Leaving Thyssen-Bournemisza. Working for Research Publications. Herner and Company.

Final Thoughts 136

BIIS Corporation. Globenet. Career as a consultant. Communications venture. Family. Importance of communications carriers to information science. Carl Holmes. Martin Cummings. Internet.

Notes 145

Index 147

  About the Interviewer

Robert V. Williams

Robert V. Williams is a professor of library and information science at the University of South Carolina. He holds a Ph.D. in library and information studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; an M.S. in library and information science from Florida State University; and an M.A. in history from New York University. Before joining the University of South Carolina in 1978, he was an archivist and information services manager for the Ford Foundation, and the Georgia Department of Archives and History. Williams has also been an information consultant for many organizations including Appalachian Council of Governments of Greenville, South Carolina, and Pontifical Catholic University Madre y Maestra, Dominican Republic. He came to the Chemical Heritage Foundation as the Eugene Garfield Fellow in the History of Scientific Information in 1997. He is a member of the South Carolina Historical Records Advisory Board, the American Library Association (ALA), and the American Society for Information Science (ASIS), where he served as chair of ASIS History and Foundations of Information Science Special Interest Group in 1994–1995. Williams is also a member of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) and Chair of the SLA Membership Committee. Williams has numerous publications on the historical role of information science.

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