From 25 to 2500: How the Growth of the Law Journal Library Represents the Evolution of HeinOnline


For many of us, the year 2000 doesn’t seem that long ago. At a company like William S. Hein & Co., Inc., some things haven’t changed at all in 18 years. While the building, furniture, and technology have all been significantly upgraded, many of the same people who were here back then sit behind modern desks, striving to fulfill the same company mission:  deliver the highest quality products and service to librarians, legal professionals, and researchers worldwide.

For some of Hein’s younger employees, it’s impossible to imagine a time when HeinOnline didn’t exist and the world revolved around print books and, later, microform products, for information dissemination. Since 2000, a digital revolution of epic proportion and consequence has transpired, and HeinOnline not only came along for the ride, but in many ways paved the road for knowledge management innovation in the library industry.

HeinOnline contained a small collection of law reviews when it was launched in May of 2000—before the world was forever changed by the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and when Facebook wasn’t even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s 16-year-old eyes. What’s now known as the Law Journal Library was originally called Retrospective Legal Journals and it was composed of only 25 journals and 250,000 pages. This article from Trends in Law Library Management and Technology announced its upcoming release:

Screenshot of news article announcing first title in HeinOnline's collection

Many years later, librarian Joe Gerken wrote The Invention of HeinOnlinea fantastic article published in AALL Spectrum detailing the remarkable history of HeinOnline. In the article, Gerken described a memo written by company President Kevin Marmion in 1995. The memo outlined the benefits of an online law review library and included insightful speculation on how the product would work. Thanks to his close relationship with many of Hein’s customers, Kevin knew that libraries were running out of shelf space. At the same time, technology had developed which made HeinOnline’s creation possible, and the internet was rapidly becoming a viable source of information. Hein, the world’s largest distributor of legal periodicals, had established a trust with its customer and vendor bases that was unique for any industry. These factors made it possible for Hein to acquire the content and systems needed to create what’s now the Law Journal Library. It took off almost instantly, and within six years, more than 800 journals were included in the collection.

The initial library had journal coverage up to 1923, and the plan was then to continue up to the early 1980s, but HeinOnline’s users soon realized the value of the image-based PDF format, which preserved original charts and footnotes. HeinOnline became a cite-checker’s dream: gone were the days of retrieving print copies to ensure accurate citation. Therefore, librarians and other research gurus basically demanded current content in addition to historical coverage.

The initial success of the Law Journal Library led to the addition of new databases, such as the Federal Register and the U.S. Supreme Court Library. As confidence in both the internet and HeinOnline grew, libraries were able to discard old, crumbling materials and save valuable shelf space and funds simultaneously by replacing print materials with online subscriptions.

Today, HeinOnline is composed of more than 75 individual modules containing more than 200,000 titles and nearly 160 million pages. It has thousands of subscribers in more than 150 countries and is routinely included in lists of must-have research resources.

Did Kevin Marmion predict this level of growth back in 1995?

“No,” he said. “75 databases? Subscribers in 150 countries? I wish I could say I was smart enough to predict how successful it would be. I viewed HeinOnline as a good replacement for microfiche and I knew we had to have a solid digital product, but no. I didn’t anticipate this.”
Kevin Marmion

2,500 Title Milestone Reached in January 2018!

Today, the Law Journal Library contains more than 2,500 titles,and it will continue to grow. Content for every journal is back to inception and most journals are available to the current issue or volume. In addition to unprecedented coverage of academic law reviews, the title list includes journals on hundreds of topics including civil rights, political science, gender studies, and much more.  Incredible tools, such as ScholarCheckMyHein, and More Like This, have been added to enhance research experiences for novices and pro users alike.

In the past 12 months alone, the Law Journal Library has received nearly 230 million hits. More than 2.4 million articles have been downloaded and about 7 million searches have been conducted. The popularity of this collection, while anticipated by Kevin Marmion and other Hein veterans back in the mid-1990s, has surpassed even their expectations. Hein continues to partner with other publishers to increase the value and diversity of this database. Most recently, journals from SAGE PublicationsEdward Elgar Publishing, and the McGill Institute and Centre of Air and Space Law were added.

The HeinOnline Difference

What makes HeinOnline’s journal (and other) content unique is its image-based, fully searchable PDF format—having HeinOnline is like having print resources at your fingertips. HeinOnline’s content also differs from other databases because coverage of titles is, whenever possible, comprehensive. While many resources have journal coverage dating back to the 1980s, HeinOnline’s coverage for every single journal is back to inception. In July of 2016, we conducted a study comparing HeinOnline’s coverage of the top 100 law journals across multiple legal research databases. The results were unsurprising in that it was already known that HeinOnline dated back farther than other resources, but the sheer number of volumes contained in HeinOnline in comparison to even the next best database was surprising. This original blog post and this follow-up post describe the methodology, sources, and findings in detail. The chart below summarizes the findings in terms of full-text volumes available:

Chart of full-text volumes available in HeinOnline versus other databases

Another factor setting HeinOnline apart from other resources is the support service provided by its staff. Humans answer the phone when customers call, emails are answered promptly, and the live chat service assists users from students to seasoned research experts. Customer suggestions are valued and regularly turned into helpful features. Lastly, HeinOnline is dedicated to increasing the value of a subscription without significantly increasing the cost.

Growth of Other HeinOnline Content

The development, launch, and success of the Law Journal Library set the pace for the evolution of HeinOnline as a whole. While the Law Journal Library remains a favorite among HeinOnline users, other popular resources have also grown exponentially alongside the flagship collection. For example, the U.S. Congressional Documents database was launched in 2007 and contained only the Congressional Record and its predecessor volumes. This July 2017 blog post details various content and tool additions; since even then, hundreds of thousands of pages and thousands of titles have been added. Today, U.S. Congressional Documents contains nearly 24 million pages and will continue to expand as hearings and other key documents are located and added.

The Legal Classics database also reached a milestone with last month’s content release: it now contains 11,000 titles! It began with just 100 titles in 2005 and expanded rapidly each year. This blog post from about a year ago explores one of our most favorite topics: BOOKS, many of which are contained in Legal Classics.

Subject-specific collections are also regularly added and updated. A great example is Taxation & Economic Reform in America Parts I & II. In 2011, this database contained about 400 titles and 1.7 million pages. Today, it boasts more than 4,000 titles and 3.7 million pages. In addition to updating the content and subcollections within the database itself, the resource now includes access to the Tax Foundation Archive Publications. Academic subscribers also recently received access to historical volumes of Standard Federal Tax Reporter.

In total, HeinOnline adds about a million pages each month. In addition to content, features are frequently added or updated to enhance research experiences for novice and experienced researchers. A great way to stay on top of new content and feature announcements is to subscribe to the HeinOnline Blog, which not only covers new items but also provides strategies and insights on researching current events in HeinOnline. We will continue to grow—in fact, we’re working on a major project which will be announced in the next few months. Stay tuned!

As always, we welcome customer suggestions for both content and tools. Contact us at (800) 828-7571, email us, or chat with us anytime for help using the interface, finding a crucial document quickly, or to provide feedback.

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