Oral history interview with Melvin S. Day

Oral history interview with Melvin S. Day

  • 1997-Jul-15

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 NASA formed a database of unpublished technical documents called STAR, Scientific and Technical Aerospace Reports.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.

Place of interview
Original file type PDF, MP3
  • 154 pages
Rights In Copyright - Non-Commercial Use Permitted
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  • Science History Institute
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  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

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Cite as

Melvin S. Day, interviewed by Robert V. Williams in Washington (D.C.) on July 15, 1997. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0163. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/r207tq10k.

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Transcript (Published Version)

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

14 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads