Keyes DeWitt Metcalf (1889-1983) headed the research department at the New York Public Library, served as Harvard Librarian and Director of Harvard University Libraries, and was a consultant to many government bodies, universities, and colleges. Born on April 13, 1889 in Elyria, Ohio, he was one of fourteen children of Isaacs Stevens Metcalf and Harriet (Howes) Metcalf. The elder Metcalf was a civil engineer and chief of construction for the Illinois Central Railroad.
By the time he was eight, both his parents had died and his sister Marian became his guardian. Eleven of the Metcalf children studied at Oberlin College. Ten of them graduated.
Keyes D. Metcalfe graduated from Oberlin High School in 1907 and from Oberlin College in 1911. He was a star athlete who ran track and played on the football team.
In 1905, Keyes Metcalf got his first library job when his brother-in-law, Azariah Root Oberlin Class of 1884, College Librarian (1887-1927), to work as a page. His first wife, Martha Gerrish, was his high school and college sweetheart at Oberlin. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1911 and they married in 1914. They had two children, William and Margaret.
For three years, he studied library science in the New York Public Library, where he became Chief of Stacks in 1917-18. Twice, he interrupted his studies to return to Oberlin, where he served as the acting librarian and an instructor while his brother-in-law was on sabbatical. From 1928 to 1937, he severed as the Chief Reference Librarian of the New York Public Librarian.
In 1937, he became Director of the Harvard University Libraries. His “Farmington Plan” called for academic libraries to cooperate when purchasing foreign titles to avoid duplication of effort. He had a physical impact on Harvard’s campus. First, he proposed that the Widener Library be kept as a major research library instead of being replaced by a larger building.
Metcalf also proposed and supervised the construction of three libraries on the Harvard campus. These were Houghton (1942), to hold rare books; the New England Deposit Library (1949), built for cooperative storage of little-used books by the Greater Boston libraries; and Lamont (1949) built for undergraduates.
In 1938, his first wife, Martha Gerrish Metcalf, died. In 1941, he married Elinor Gregory. He retired in 1955.
In 1944, he served as the second president of the American Documentation Institute (ADI), which in 1952 became the American Society for Information Science (ASIS), and in 2000 the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T). It should surprise no one that he was a trustee of the Massachusetts State Library, the Boston Athenæum, and the Belmont Public Library. Of course, he was a member of the American Library Association (ALA), of which he served as president in 1942-43. Metcalf was a member from 1943 to 1950 of the National Library of Peru.
From 1955 to 1958, he taught in the field of library services at Rutgers University as an adjunct professor. He was a Fulbright lecturer in Australia in 1958-59. As a library consultant, he went to Ireland in 1960 and Japan in 1961.
Then he spent two years as a consultant to the Capital Development Commission in Canberra, Australia. In 1965, McGraw Hill published his book Planning Academy and Research Libraries.
The next year, he became the Fullbright lecturer at Queens University in Belfast. That same year, 1966, he lectured at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies at York, England. 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 had a hand in the planning of over 300 libraries, including Oberlin’s Seeley G. Mudd Learning Center. Over the course of his life Keyes Metcalf was awarded twelve honorary degrees. When he died in 1983, he was survived by Elinor Gregory Metcalf; his two children, Margaret Small of Bellport, Long Island, New York and William Metcalf of Falmouth, Massachusetts; five grandchildren; and ten great-grandchildren.