Derek Austin

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Derek Austin (11 August 1921 – 22 May 2001) was a librarian and an author.[1]


From 1963 to 1967, he was a Subject Editor at the British National Bibliography. He was also a developer of innovative digital cataloguing systems and the creator of the PRECIS indexing language in 1974, which was used worldwide and for the British National Bibliography. "His aim was to create an indexing system that would liberate indexers from the constraints of 'relative significance' (main entries). ...As by-products of his indexing theories he worked out drafts that in the mid-1980s were accepted as British and International Standards for examining documents, and for establishing multilingual and monolingual thesauri".[2] PRECIS was an example of the application of syntactical devises in indexing.[3] It was replaced at the British National Biography by COMPASS in 1996, which was later replaced by Library of Congress Subject Headings.[2]

After 1974, Austin was head of the Subject System Office, The British Library.[4]


  • 1976 Ranganathan Award, from FID/CR and the Documentation Research and Training Centre (Bangalore)
  • 1978 Margaret Mann Citation, from the American Library Association
  • 1982 Received his Ph.D. from Sheffield University

Austin was a supernumerary Fellow at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford. He was also a member of the Royal Corps of Signals from 1941-1946.[2]

Published works[edit]

  • Austin, Derek (1975). "The Role of Indexing in Subject Retrieval". In Henderson, K. L. Major classification systems : the Dewey Centennial. Papers presented at the 21st Allerton Park Institute. Urbana, Il: Graduate School of Library Science. pp. 124–156. ISBN 0-87845-044-0. ISSN 0536-4604. hdl:2142/1775. 
  • Austin, Derek (Jan 1974). PRECIS: A Manual of Concept Analysis and Subject Indexing. London: Council of the British National Bibliography. ISBN 978-0-900220-42-5. 

Reviews of Austin's works[edit]

  • Richmond, Phyllis A. (January 1985). "Reviews: PRECIS: A Manual of Concept Analysis and Subject Indexing". The Library Quarterly. 55 (1): 92–3. doi:10.1086/601562. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cataloging News". Cataloging & Classification Quarterly. 33 (1). In Memoriam: Derek Austin (b. 1921) died May 22, 2001. His work influenced the principles and practice of indexing and thesaurus construction. His career included membership in the [UK] Classification Research Group, and the creation of the PRECIS system. Austin received many awards including the first Ranganathan Award (1976) from FID/CR and the Documentation Research and Training Centre (Bangalore), and the Margaret Mann Citation (1978) from the American Library Association. In "Derek Austin: Developing PRECIS, Preserved Context Index System" (v.25 no.2-3, pp 23-66), also published in Portraits in Cataloging and Classification: Theorists, Educators, and Practitioners of the Late Twentieth Century, he describes his career, the contentment he found in retirement, and concludes with reasons he believed that librarians will become more rather than less necessary in the future 
  2. ^ a b c Larsen, Poul Steen (August 2001). "Obituary: Derek Austin". LA Record. 103 (8): 498. ISSN 0024-2195. 
  3. ^ Hjørland, Birger (5 December 2007). "PRECIS (Preserved Context Index System)". Lifeboat for Knowledge Organization. 
  4. ^ Henderson, Kathryn Luther, ed. (1975). "Contributors". 1975: Major classification systems : the Dewey Centennial (PDF). 21st Allerton Park Institute. DEREK AUSTIN worked in public libraries for a number of years, usually as a reference librarian or a subject specialist, learning, as he says, "the hard way how to use indexes and classifications, and generally being disillusioned with existing schemes." From 1963 to 1967, he served as subject editor at the British National Bibliography, "learning as a practitioner just how difficult it is to make a good index or classification." Under the auspices of the NATO Science Foundation and the Classification Research Group, he worked on research into general principles for a new bibliographic classification from 1967 to 1969. From 1969 to 1973 he served as Principal Investigator for the PRECIS Project (UK MARC) trying to translate the general principles into practice. Since 1974, he has served as Head, Subject Systems Office, The British Library.