Date Posted: 9/28/2000

By Beth Goelzer Lyons

Law is grounded in the past, in the decisions and reasoning of generations of lawyers, judges, juries, professors.  Ready access to this history is vital to solid legal research, but until this summer much of it was buried in vast collections of aging paper journals.  Enter HeinOnline, an ambitious project to make the countrys law school journals available on the web, from each journals date of inception, and then to expand to an array of other classic legal materials. A collaboration among William S. Hein and Co. Inc. (the worlds largest distributor of legal periodicals), Cornell Law Library and Cornell Information Technologies, HeinOnline (http://heinonline/org/) currently spans more than 3000 journals, or over half a million pages.  Its expected to continue growing at more than 175,000 pages a month. 

"HeinOnline is nice because it shows the exact image of a page," said Claire Germain, Edward Cornell Law Librarian and professor of law.  "That protects the integrity of the original document and ensures its authenticity.  But is still allows you to cut and paste text, making it easy to use for research." 

Browsing the collections and searching for specific information are both supported, which means researchers dont have to trade the convenience of online access for the ability to "flip" through the pages of journals.  Another big plus is being able to enter a citation and instantly pull up the article. 

"Before HeinOnline, using these materials could be difficult," said Germain.  "You were dependent on the journals being on the shelf when you needed them, and the only tool you had for finding articles was paper-based indexes." 

Cornells involvement began three years ago when Hein was investigating ways to put its collections on the web and Cornell University Librarys "Making of America" project caught its attention.  "Making of America" focuses on 19th-century American social history.  Like HeinOnline, it relies on a Cornell-developed digital library protocol called Dienst. 

"Dienst attempts to bridge the gap between the ultra-organization of the traditional library and the chaos of the web. What Hein especially liked was its document-structuring capabilities," explained Carl Lagoze, digital library scientist in the Department of Computer Science and Dienst developer. 

"When Dienst is used to build a digital library, you specify how documents will be accessed -- table of contents, index, particular chapter, citation and so on.  Thats important for researchers and for managing copyright issues.  Dienst is also designed to work seamlessly with collections of materials housed across the Internet." 

What people actually see when they use HeinOnline is the interface designed by Rich Marisa, manager of digital library and electronic publishing applications for Cornell Information technologies, with input from Daniel Rosati of Hein, Germain and her colleagues at Cornell Law Library, and law school librarians at Yale, Boston University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, New York University and several other institutions.  

JSTOR, Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw -- other popular online research tools -- were used as the comparison standards, and second- and third-year Cornell law students in advanced legal research courses tested the prototypes. 

"There has been great synergy between what Hein has and the talents at Cornell," said Rosati.  "Weve been digitizing legal materials since 1994 and serving law libraries since 1920, but this is our first venture into digital libraries." 

Digital libraries are increasingly being considered by libraries as a way to ease shelf-space pressures.  Now that HeinOnline has put historical law journals online, law libraries have the flexibility of keeping only single copies of those journals on their shelves, putting them in storage or discarding them, depending on their preservation policies.  

Those outside the legal field may also benefit from HeinOnline.  "The experience of building HeinOnline puts us in a good position to apply the results of digital library research to digital asset management problems across the campus," noted Marisa. 

The digital library protocol Dienst is supported by the Digital Libraries Initiative phase two, which is coordinated by the National Science Foundation.  Details can be found at