Monday, January 13, 2014

Mobile Apps for Legal Research #8: HeinOnline

I approached the HeinOnline app with some skepticism. The main reason I use HeinOnline is its PDF page images of law review articles and other print legal resources. HeinOnline offers a powerful search, but I view it primarily as a digital archive, not a legal research platform. I go to HeinOnline when I want to see a reproduction of an article as it appeared in print or when I want to read an article that predates the collections in other legal research products. The thought of HeinOnline on a mobile device gave me pause. In my experience, tablets and smartphones do not handle PDF documents well. So I expected the HeinOnline app to perform poorly on the one aspect of the platform I care most about: the document reproductions.

The app surprised me. Its focus is on the documents themselves, and it does a great job of presenting the PDF page images in a readable and easily navigable form. The app does not deliver the full HeinOnline platform's search capabilities, but it surpasses the full platform as a means of browsing and reading the document reproductions.

I tested the HeinOnline app on an iPad. The app is also available for the iPhone. The functionality is the same on both devices, but the iPhone's smaller screen may detract from the experience of reading articles through the app.

The first step in using the app is gaining access. The app is available for free download in the App Store, but access requires a HeinOnline subscription. Here at Western New England University, access to HeinOnline is via IP authentication. In order to use HeinOnline, students must either be on campus and connected to the university network, or they must log into our proxy server. The app works the same way: you can log into the app while on campus by tapping the "IP Authentication" button. But the app does allow you to enter proxy server information. That means that if you are off campus, you cannot log into the app using Western New England University's HeinOnline subscription. Log in on campus, and the app will save your credentials for 30 days, allowing you to use the app off campus during that time. Otherwise, off-campus access to the app is not an option.

Once I was on campus and able to access the app, I found it simple and easy to use. This app offers very little in the way of bells and whistles. It opens to a list of the available collections. Selecting a collection, such as the Law Journal Library, takes you to a title list. You can scroll through the title list or search for particular title. If you select a title, the app displays a list of available volumes. You then select a volume to open a PDF page image of the volume's contents, starting from the first page of the volume.

The search feature is extremely stripped down from the full HeinOnline platform. Two types of searches are available: a keyword search and a citation search. The citation search takes a title, volume, and page number in Bluebook style and returns an article.

The keyword search operates via a simple search box. The app does not provide any sort of advance search, though the basic keyword search does support Boolean terms and connectors (AND, OR, proximity operators, etc.).

The search results page is equally bare bones. The app does not offer any of the result filtering options of the full HeinOnline platform, such as the ability to limit a search to a specific year or range of years. The app's results page displays nothing but the search box and a list of articles returned by the search. The app does not even display the total number of results; you must scroll through all of the results to determine how many there are.

Select an article from the search results, and the app takes you to the PDF page image reproduction of the article.

The document view is the star of this app. The app displays each page of the PDF document as a separate page in the app. To move between pages, you swipe left and right just as you would to navigate through an ebook in standard ereader. By default, pages are displayed so that the entire page fits on the screen with a small amount of space for margins. But you can zoom in or out depending on the text size and your reading preferences.

The app does not offer any highlighting or annotation tools. The only tools accessible in the document view are a PDF button to save the document, an email button, and a table of contents button. Using the table of contents, you can jump to other articles in the same title and volume as the article you are viewing.

The HeinOnline app is designed for reading, not studying or researching. Every aspect of the app serves to get users into a document quickly and let them read that document without distraction. If I needed to search for articles on a topic, I would not turn to this app. The functionality that I depend on for efficient and effective research just isn't available. But if I wanted to read an article from a legal journal on my iPad, I would choose the HeinOnline app over any other app I have tried.

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