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Oral history interview with Melvin S. Day

  • 1997-Jul-15

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 NASA formed a database of unpublished technical documents called STAR, Scientific and Technical Aerospace Reports.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

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 154 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

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.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0163

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • January 22, 1923
  • Lewiston
  • August 03, 2013


Year Institution Degree Discipline
2016 Bates College (Lewiston, Me.) BS Chemistry

Professional Experience

Metal Hydrides, Inc.

  • 1943 to 1944 Chemist

United States. Army. Corps of Engineers

  • 1944 to 1946

U.S. 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

United States. 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 (U.S.)

  • 1970 to 1972 Head, Office of Science Information Service

National Library of Medicine (U.S.)

  • 1972 to 1978 Deputy Director

United States. 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


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

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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