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    HeinOnline, the online platform of legal publisher William S. Hein & Co. Inc., consists of a set of collections that provide access to digital facsimiles of a wide range of printed primary sources on the history of Anglo-American law. The content and interface of HeinOnline are reviewed here; its value for use in historical research is compared to other databases in a CRL topic guide.

    May 17, 2024 7:37pm
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    HeinOnline, the online platform of legal publisher William S. Hein & Co. Inc., is based on a series of collections that provide access to digital facsimiles of a wide range of printed primary sources on the history of Anglo-American law. HeinOnline’s core subscription package provides access to over 5,000 titles (in more than 92,000 volumes) related to the history and practice of law. The Hein core collection includes several constituent libraries: Canada Supreme Court Reports, English Reports Full Reprint (1220–1867), Federal Register/Code of Federal Regulations, Law Journal Library, Legal Classics, Pentagon Papers, Treaties and Agreements Library, U.S. Supreme Court Library, U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Presidential Library, U.S. Federal Legislative History Library, U.S. Attorney General Opinions, and the United States Code (U.S.C.). The documents represented in the collection span a wide swath of time and many countries but primarily concern 19th- and 20th-century North America and the United Kingdom. These documents cluster around the following core areas:

    United States Federal and Administrative Law 

    HeinOnline contains several collections that provide excellent coverage of U.S. federal law, including the Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, Treaties and Agreements Library, U.S. Supreme Court Library, U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Presidential Library, U.S. Federal Legislative History Library, U.S. Attorney General Opinions, and the United States Code (U.S.C.). These combined collections total more than 12 million page images and cover the history of the governmental apparatus of the United States from its founding to the present. Among a wealth of material, scholars can find the following in these collections:

    • All published treaties and international agreements entered into by the United States from its founding
    • All published reports of the United States Supreme Court
    • The published papers and speeches of the Presidents of the United States (1789–2009)
    • All published opinions of the Attorneys General of the United States (1791–1982)
    • The laws of the United States from 1789 to the present including the full text of the U.S. Code from 1925
    • The entire run of both the Federal Register (1936–present) and Code of Federal Regulations (1938–present). Both of these important compilations of federal administrative process are not commonly available elsewhere online for dates before 1980.

    For most of these document collections, Hein provides specialized interfaces that allow scholars to search by known citation and full-text keyword, as well as locating pertinent parts of documents by year, title, section, or document number. Many of the government publications included here are available through other online sources, notably LexisNexis and Westlaw. However, researchers may prefer Hein’s interface, which allows a granular search by printed volume that other databases lack.

    Canada Supreme Court Reports 

    This collection includes page images of all 211 volumes of Canada’s published Supreme Court Decisions from 1876 to 2010. The collection is searchable by known case citation (e.g., 15 S.C.R. 120) or full-text keyword, and can be browsed by year and volume. Users can also conduct advanced searches by date or search only the tables of cases for a particular named action (e.g., Smith v. Jones). Though these reports are available through other online databases, Hein’s interface makes this collection one of the easiest to search.

    English Reports Full Reprint (1220–1867)

    A staple for all scholars working in English legal history, this early 20th-century reprinting of the most important English case reports covers 600 years of judicial proceeding in 176 volumes. Hein provides several different modes of access to this often-confusing collection. Researchers can search by a named party in a case, the case citation from either the original or in the reprint, a free-text keyword, or restrict their search to cases from a particular court (e.g., King’s Bench, Chancery, etc.). This platform should be the first stop for those doing research in the English Reports.

    Law Journal Library

    One of the most important scholarly resources available in the Hein core package, this collection includes full runs of over 1,600 law journals. These journals, largely published in the U.S. and U.K., range in date from 1838 to the present though the majority are from the 20th and early 21st centuries. Hein provides a search interface that allows users to enter citations or perform advanced full text searching. For those without institutional access to LexisNexis or Westlaw law journals, Hein offers one of the only options for finding full-text law articles, with the broadest coverage. In addition, HeinOnline provides page-images of journal articles and includes older issues not included in LexisNexis or Westlaw.

    Legal Classics

    HeinOnline’s legal classics library, conceived originally around Morris Cohen’s Bibliography of Early American Law, contains around 2,500 titles written about the law and its practice, including treatises, manuals, and scholarly monographs from the 17th to the 20th centuries. The majority of these texts date from the 19th and 20th centuries and were published in the United States and United Kingdom. A good amount of overlap exists between Gale’s Making of Modern Law: Treatises database and LLMC-Digital’s collection. Hein’s legal classics library includes more than 500 titles also found in Gale’s similar database. In addition, nearly all of these texts are out of copyright and are freely available online.

    See Appendix A for a full list of the HeinOnline collections ("libraries"), with descriptions taken from the Hein website.



    Cassidy Cataloguing Services, Inc., the official cataloger for William S. Hein & Co., creates OCLC catalog records and metadata for collections in HeinOnline. Libraries can purchase records directly from Cassidy. Customers subscribe to receive MARC21 records and updates as part of Cassidy’s Monthly Update Services.21

    Hein employs several methods to promote discovery and access:

    • ScholarCheck is an annual citation analysis study noting the top 50 most cited authors from the approximately 1,450-plus legal periodicals and one million articles available in Hein’s Law Journal Library. This citation analysis is useful for lawyers, scholars, and librarians because it identifies important legal references as well as providing impact assessment for individual articles.
    • Hein allows Google Scholar to crawl and index the Law Journal Library content, exposing the metadata to researchers through that portal.
    • Beginning in 2007, Hein authorized Serials Solutions to provide a federated search connection to HeinOnline via its 360 Search service. Researchers can use a single query to search HeinOnline together with local holdings in a library’s OPAC.
    • In 2011, Hein released an app for HeinOnline for iPhones and iPads. For users with HeinOnline account/authentication, the app enables mobile access to content in image-based PDF files through a full range of searching options or navigating electronic tables of contents.

    Platform and tools

    In 2011, Hein introduced a “One Box Search,” allowing researchers at subscribing libraries to search across all collections at once, accessing by author, series, subject, publisher, or ID number. An advanced search utilizes Boolean operators, ranges, fuzzy searching, and “boosting.” Boosting allows a user to designate the importance of a search term, influencing results of relevance rankings. Results can be narrowed by facets, such as collection/library, date, or document section type. In addition, the database attempts to extract citations from the text of legal documents and articles and create on-screen links to cited content when available in the Hein collections.

    Within specific collections, researchers can also engage in full-text or more complex searches. Each collection offers its own specialized search interface designed to best fit a specific type of document. For example, scholars who only want results relating to Canadian Supreme Court cases can choose a search interface that allows careful searching of that collection.

    Not all HeinOnline libraries are structured the same way. Each title may have more than one volume, and the volume contents may be broken into sections determined by the content organization. For example, law journal volumes are typically divided into sections such as articles, columns, and legislation. In HeinOnline, each of these sections is tagged as a different content type, allowing searching on specific content types within a library.

    Search results offer to display highlighted text in context; clicking on a result leads to a page image with results highlighted. Users can read one page on the screen at a time, clicking through to other pages using a dropdown page number menu or arrows. Hein also offers interactive tables of contents for most of its texts, displaying each case or section of a court reports volume, for instance, in a browsing menu on the screen. Researchers to quickly browse cases without having to click through every page. Researchers can also download documents either as page images or as plain text from OCR. Hein allows downloading of up to 200 pages at a time as a PDF, but prohibits downloading of entire journal issues.


    The Digital Ownership Program allows customers to buy an annual “snapshot” of new HeinOnline content from 24 of its library collections. Subscribers receive PDFs of the scanned images of selected HeinOnline library collections on computer hard drives. Subscribing libraries may choose to update or “refresh” the hard drive every year by paying an additional fee to renew. The fee to update the libraries is based on the amount of new content that has been added to the library during the previous year. The price of the Digital Ownership Program varies from $2,500 to $25,195 for these collections.

    This program provides an instance of the HeinOnline database that purchasers can control and manipulate locally.

    Strengths and Weaknesses

    As seen above, one of HeinOnline’s greatest strengths is its nimble search interface, which is researcher-friendly and allows quick movement within documents and text. Many of its collections are also of particular comprehensive value. For instance, no other online service provides a complete set of both the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), making it indispensable for those who study the U.S. administrative state.

    With the important exception of the Federal Register and CFR, it is not clear how much of the HeinOnline core content is unique and not covered in other databases. For instance, all of the case reports and statute laws are duplicated in LexisNexis, Westlaw, Proquest Congressional, or LLMC-Digital.

    Some features could be improved. The many separate collections within HeinOnline can be searched in aggregate, but any really advanced searching, including by date, is only easily possible within a given collection (advanced search operators for date range will work in a general search but require special syntax).

    The multiple add-on libraries available from HeinOnline can also confuse users as to what is accessible in the core package versus the extra services to which their institution may not subscribe. The boundaries and overlap between particular subject collections, especially within the U.S. federal government collections, are not always intuitive and could cause researchers to repeat advanced searches across collections. In addition, it is impossible to download more than 200 pages of a text. Likewise, there is no easy way to scroll quickly through a document instead of relying on page-by-page retrieval. Finally, as with most similar databases, the plain text provided through OCR can be occasionally quite poor, requiring a great deal of cleanup on the user’s part.


    University of Pennsylvania

    • Mitch Fraas, Judith and William Bollinger Fellow in Library Innovation

    Center for Research Libraries

    • Marie Waltz, Special Projects Manager
    Additional Reviews in Other Sources

    Ashby, Ann-Marie. "HeinOnline." The Charleston Advisor. October 2003. p. 34. http://charleston.publisher.ingentaconnect.com/content/charleston/chadv… Accessed November 26, 2013.

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