Keyes D. Metcalf
ASIS President, 1944
Accessed from http://www.oberlin-high.org/obits/ohs_obits_me-mz.html (June 28, 2009)
Keyes D. Metcalf
Keyes DeWitt Metcalf, 94, Harvard University librarian emeritus and an internationally known library administration consultant, died Thursday at the Sancta Maria Hospital.
One of the country’s foremost library administrators, he was named librarian emeritus in 1955 when he retired from Harvard to devote more time to teaching, writing and consulting.
In 1937, he was appointed librarian at Harvard College and director of Harvard University Libraries.
Before coming to Harvard, Mr. Metcalf was chief of the reference department at the New York Public Library.
Over the course of his 72-year career, he was awarded 12 honorary degrees. The first of these came in 1939 from his alma mater, Oberlin College in Ohio, from which he graduated in 1911 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He also held honorary degrees from Yale University, Harvard University, Toronto University, Marquette University, St. Louis University, Grinnell College, Notre Dame University, Bowdoin College, Indiana University and Hamilton College.
Mr. Metcalf was born on April 13, 1889, in Elyria, Ohio, the son of Isaacs Stevens Metcalf and Harriet (Howes) Metcalf. His father was a civil engineer and chief of construction for the Illinois Central Railroad.
After graduating from [Oberlin High School in 1907 and from] Oberlin [College in 1911], Mr. Metcalf served as the school’s acting librarian and as an instructor. He then studied for three years in the New York Public Library, where he became chief of stacks in 1917-18. He became chief reference librarian in 1928 and held that top post until 1937, when he accepted the job at Harvard.
After his retirement in 1955, Mr. Metcalf traveled around the world lecturing and advising governments, universities and institutions on library science.
He was adjunct professor of library services at Rutgers University from 1955 to 1958 before going to Ireland and Japan, in 1960 and 1961, respectively, as a library consultant.
For the next two years, Mr. Metcalf became consultant to the national Capital Development Commission in Canberra, Australia, the nation in which he was a Fulbright lecturer from 1958-59. He was also a member of the National Library of Peru from 1943 to 1950. His major publication, entitled “Planning Academy and Research Libraries,” was published by McGraw Hill in 1965.
In 1966 he became the Fullbright lecturer at Queens University in Belfast and also that year lectured at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies at York, England.
He was a trustee of the Massachusetts State Library and a member and president in 1942-43 of the American Library Assn.
Mr. Metcalf was a member of the American Library Institute of Bibliography; the American Antiquarian Society; the Massachusetts Historical Society; the Bibliography Society of London; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Club of Odd Volumes in Boston and the Century Club of New York City.
He married his first wife, Martha A. Gerrish, a college [and high school] classmate at Oberlin, in 1914. She died in 1938. They had two children, Margaret Small of Bellport, Long Island, N.Y., and William of Falmouth.
He is survived by his second wife, Elinor Gregory of Cambridge, whom he married in 1941. He also leaves five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was planned at Harvard.
The Belmont Citizen, Belmont, Mass., Thursday, November 10, 1983.
Keyes D. Metcalf died Nov. 3, 1983, in Cambridge, Mass., of heart failure. Recognized as one of the country’s foremost library administrators, he retired in 1955 as Harvard’s librarian emeritus. He was a consultant on library administration and planning for the past 28 years, with special emphasis on architectural design and concentration on personnel, cataloguing, collection building and intra-library cooperation. In less than 30 years he went all over the world and gave more than 500 consultations in such countries as Ireland, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. He helped in the planning of over 300 libraries including the Seeley G. Mudd Learning Center in Oberlin.
Since his retirement he devoted much of his time to writing influential books that have been widely used by many library administrators. Planning Academic and Research Libraries was published in 1965 by McGraw Hill. He also wrote A Study of Library Lighting (1970) and Random Recollections of an Anachronism, or Seventy-Five Years of Library Work (1980), which gives a detailed account of his first introduction to library work at Oberlin and illuminates the monumental role he played in the formation of a more efficient system in the Harvard library. He also wrote numerous reports and periodicals and a pamphlet entitled “Personal Reminiscences on the History of the Oberlin College Library System” on the occasion of the dedication of the new library on May 25, 1974.
Mr. Metcalf was born in Elyria, April 13, 1889. By the time he was eight years old both of his parents had died leaving his older sister, Marion (’80 Wellesley), as guardian. His first exposure to library work began in 1905 when he was hired by his brother-in-law, Azariah Root ’84 (College Librarian 1887-1927), to work as a page. After graduating from Oberlin he went to the New York Public Library to pursue a diploma. His education there was interrupted for a year when he returned to Oberlin as executive assistant, replacing his brother-in-law who was on sabbatical leave, and 1916-17 when he became acting librarian and instructor, once again replacing Mr. Root who was visiting faculty member at the New York Library School. In 1917 he was appointed chief of stacks at the New York Public Library and was promoted to chief of reference nine years later.
In 1937 he was chosen librarian at Harvard College and director of the Harvard U. libraries, the country’s oldest and largest university library. It was there that he proposed a new system which in part initiated the development of separate undergraduate libraries in America. Entitled the “Farmington Plan,” it was a cooperative venture used to increase foreign titles in libraries. It suggested that colleges and universities purchase foreign publications together to avoid wasteful duplication. On the Harvard campus he proposed that the Widener Library be kept as a major research center instead of being replaced by a larger building. In his plan were three new libraries: one to hold rare books (Houghton, 1942), the New England Deposit Library which would be used for cooperative storage of little-used books by the Greater Boston libraries and Lamont (1949) which would be used exclusively for undergraduates. His plans were [accepted] and he supervised the building of all the facilities.
In 1961 he became the sole recipient of the New York Public Library’s 50th Anniversary Award in recognition of his “creative contributions to research librarianship.” He also received honorary degrees from Oberlin (’39 Litt.D.), Yale, Harvard, U. Toronto, Marquette, St. Louis U., Grinnell, Notre Dame, Brandeis, Bowdoin, Indiana U. and Hamilton College. In 1981, he was honored at his 70th reunion when he was elected to Oberlin’s alumni membership in Phi Beta Kappa. In 1980 Mr. Metcalf established the Keyes Metcalf Student Assistants program to recognize accomplishments of outstanding seniors working in the library system. Another contribution to Oberlin was his work as class agent and as a member of the Alumni Board.
Mr. Metcalf was former president of the American Library Assn., and was a trustee of the Boston Athenaeum, the Massachusetts State Library, Belmont Public Library and Radcliffe. He was on the board of directors of the Harvard U. Press and was a member of the National Library of Peru, the American Library Institute of Bibliography, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Bibliography Society of London, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Antiquarian Society and the Century Club of New York.
He was also professor of bibliography at Harvard 1944-45, a Fulbright lecturer and instructor at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies at York, England.
Edwin E. Williams published a pamphlet on the life of Mr. Metcalf entitled “The Metcalf Administration 1937-55 and Keyes D. Metcalf” (Harvard Library Bulletin, 1969).
In addition to all of his academic endeavors, Mr. Metcalf was an outstanding athlete. While a student at Oberlin he played football and ran track. In his sophomore year the football team took the state championship and tied the next year with Ohio State. In track he was voted the best all around athlete in Ohio. During three years of intercollegiate competition he became Oberlin’s highest point achiever, taking one third of all the points won by Oberlin in those three years. He kept up his athletic fitness later as a mountain climber.
The Metcalf-Oberlin family connection claims over 100 relatives attended Oberlin. Sixteen of those family members were on the faculty or staff for periods of from one to 50 years. Of Keyes Metcalf’s fourteen brothers and sisters ten graduated from Oberlin and one attended three years. He leaves his wife, the former Elinor Gregory, whom he married in 1941, son William G. ’40, daughter Margaret Small ’38, five grandchildren, including Margaret Dawson ’72, and ten great-grandchildren. His first wife, the former Martha Gerrish ’11, died in 1938.
Brothers Wilder ’78, John ’85, Harlan ’89, Henry ’91, J. Mayo ’01, Eliab ’03, Isaac ’05 and Thomas ’12 and sisters Anna Root ’84, Grace ’89 and Antoinette ’93, are all deceased.
The Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Oberlin, Ohio, Winter 1984, pp. 68-69.