Goodbye Cliff

Today marks the final day in the office for Clifford Mead, the only Head of Special Collections that Oregon State University has ever known. He is retiring after twenty-four years of service to OSU Libraries, a time during which the institution has experienced tremendous growth.

When Linus Pauling donated his papers to OSU in April 1986, there was no Special Collections unit in what was then known as the Kerr Library. Recognizing that this major new acquisition required its own department, the library soon hired Cliff from Keene State College in New Hampshire to oversee the monumental task of shepherding the Pauling Papers into usable form. Items flowed from at least four different locations to Corvallis (and to a warehouse in Albany, as the original Special Collections facility was not large enough to house the archive) and the staff went to work.

In the two decades that followed, the more than 4,400 linear feet of materials that comprise the Pauling collection have been arranged, described and made available, many of them in digital form. (Currently, fourteen online resources related to Pauling, including this blog, have been released by the OSU Libraries Special Collections.) At the same time, the department has added more than two dozen ancillary book and manuscript collections, most of which focus on the history of science and technology in the twentieth century.

Linus Pauling, Cliff Mead and members of the Special Collections student staff. 1987.

With Cliff’s retirement, the library loses its last employee who worked closely with Linus Pauling. So too will it lose a wealth of knowledge concerning the history of the book, for Cliff is surely among the region’s most capable evaluators of rare book collections. Cliff has headed the organization of three conferences of international import, overseen the awarding of six Pauling Legacy Awards and coordinated the month-long visits of five Resident Scholars. In twenty-four years, he has attended countless meetings, led innumerable tours and taught scores of classes, acting always as a knowledgeable and enthusiastic ambassador for Special Collections.

As an emeritus professor, Cliff plans, among other pursuits, to continue working on a book project of his own and to follow his beloved Yankees with the same energy that he has devoted to his professional work. To those of us on staff in Special Collections, he will remain a generous mentor, gracious colleague and loyal friend.

Oregon State University has released an official press release announcing Cliff’s retirement, the text of which is appended below. For those interested in watching Cliff in action, check out this ten-minute tour of our facility, recorded in 2008.


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Clifford Mead, an expert on the life of one of Oregon State University’s most celebrated alumni, Linus Pauling, and the man responsible for the growth of OSU Libraries’ world-class collections, is retiring after 24 years at the university.

Mead, who is head of Special Collections for OSU Libraries, will retire Jan. 1. His expertise in special collections administration has resulted in the development and growth of a collection that serves as a resource not only for the OSU community but for scholars from across the globe.

Mead has dedicated himself to making the OSU collections available to the public, explained Mary Jo Nye, the Horning Professor of Humanities and Professor of History emeritus.

Cliff Mead, Linus Pauling and biographer Thomas Hager on the OSU campus, March 1991.

“Cliff and his staff have pioneered online website communication of historically valuable documents, photographs, films, and other resources to the public,” Nye said. “He has been a real treasure at OSU whom countless visitors have found to be their engaging and omniscient guide in Special Collections.”

The focus of OSU Special Collections is on the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, with a broader emphasis on the history of 20th century science and technology. Mead has led the Special Collections’ development of digital resources, especially those that provide in-depth coverage of the life and work of Linus Pauling, the only recipient of two unshared Nobel Prizes.

“In addition to Professor Mead’s leadership in developing a truly innovative and world-renowned web presence for displaying the vast resources of the Special Collections department, he has provided exceptional opportunities for OSU students to have first-hand experience working with primary research materials,” said Karyle Butcher, former OSU University librarian and director of the OSU Press.

Cliff Mead with Warren Washington, 2010 recipient of the National Medal of Science.

Mead is recognized as the authority on the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. He has authored several publications, and most recently co-edited with OSU’s Chris Petersen, “The Pauling Catalogue: Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers at Oregon State University” (2006).

Mead received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Syracuse University.

Paul Farber, an OSU distinguished professor emeritus, said Mead’s personality drove the collection.

“Cliff has that rare combination of intelligence, organization, personality, wit and humor that makes a university collection of papers and books into a Special Collection,” Farber said. “He has been at the center of creating this major asset at OSU, one that has large portions available online, and one that brings scholars from around the world to campus. He cannot be replaced, but he has built an institution that will persist.”

Larry Landis, OSU’s university archivist, will serve as interim director of Special Collections beginning Jan. 1. He has been at OSU since 1991.

3 Responses

  1. NOOOOOO! Cliff can’t retire, it won’t be the same there without him!

    I am bereft….

  2. Thanks for all you have done, Cliff. The stewardship may pass on to another, but you will always be remembered as the first. Congratulations on your retirement and a job well done. LP’s legacy was left to excellent hands. The Archives that Cliff built = A wonderful and honorable achievement.

  3. […] papers to their undergraduate alma mater.  Under the leadership of it’s first head, Cliff Mead, the department spent the better part of a decade arranging and describing the massive Pauling […]

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