Melvin S. Day

Born: January 22, 1923 | Lewiston,
Died: Saturday, August 3, 2013

Melvin S. 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. Then he enlisted in the US 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. In 1958, Day transferred to AEC headquarters in Washington, DC to be the Director of the Technical Information Office. He then joined the newly established National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1960, and developed the plans for NASA's information program. In 1970, 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. 

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

			

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0163
No. of pages: 154
Minutes: 407

Interview Sessions

15 July 1997

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 US 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, DC 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.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
2016 Bates College BS Chemistry

Professional Experience

Metal Hydrides, Inc.

1943 to 1944
Chemist

US Army Corps of Engineers

1944 to 1946

Atomic Energy Commission

1946 to 1948
Science Anaylst
1950 to 1956
Assistant Chief, Technical Information Services Division
1956 to 1958
Chief, Technical Services Division
1958 to 1960
Director, Technical Information Division

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

1960 to 1961
Deputy Director, Technical Information and Educational Programs
1961 to 1967
Director, Science and Technology Information Division
1967 to 1970
Deputy Assistant Administrator, Technical Utilization

National Science Foundation

1970 to 1972
Head, Office of Science Information Service

National Library of Medicine

1972 to 1978
Deputy Director

National Technical Information Service

1978 to 1982
Director

Thyssen-Bornemisza Corp.

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

International Thompson

1984 to 1986
Vice President, Research Publications

Herner and Company

1986 to 1988
Senior Vice President

M. Day Consulting

1988 to 1997
President

BIIS Corporation

1991 to 1994
Executive Vice President

GlobeNet Coporation

1994 to 1996
Executive Vice President

Honors

Year(s) Award
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 Físicas, Matemáticas y Naturales, Republica de Venezuela

1975

Director's Award, National Library of Medicine

1976

Superior Service Award, US 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

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 PhD in library and information studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; an MS in library and information science from Florida State University; and an MA 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.