HeinOnline and LLMC-Digital: Friends When We Need Them

I’ve written often about the preservation of and access to Canada’s print legal heritage, most recently last December here, and bemoaned the fact that we in Canada are doing so little – in fact, as good as nothing – to advance the matter. Fortunately, we have friends who are stepping up to the plate to do something about it for us, even without our having to ask. At the recent annual conferences of CALL (Canadian Association of Law Libraries, in Vancouver last May) and AALL (American Association of Law Libraries, in Chicago last July), there was good news for Canadians from both HeinOnline and LLMC-Digital that showcase their activities on our behalf.


As the major source for accessing and researching law review literature, HeinOnline is familiar to anyone who has attended law school in North America since its introduction in 2000. The most recently introduced HeinOnline library is Slavery in America and the World: History, Culture & Law. The big news for Canadians, however, is the new Canada Library which will be available soon, hopefully before September 2016. The Canada Library will include complete collections of annual/sessional statutes as well as revised statutes for five Canadian provinces – Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Ontario – to be joined by the others in the future. HeinOnline already provides access to the complete Canada Supreme Court Reports (1876+) as well as the complete Statutes of Canada, both annual/sessional and revised statutes for the period 1792+, all in imaged PDF format. Though the complete Supreme Court judgments are available from several other sources (free on CanLII or on the Court’s website, or for pay on Lexis/Quicklaw and Westlaw), a comparable collection of historical Canadian statutes, federal or provincial (with the laudable exception of Alberta), is not available from any Canadian source. In fact, of all the major common law jurisdictions – Australia, Britain, New Zealand, the United States – Canada is the only one that has not digitized its historical statutes at any level and made them available to the public. It’s a major failing and a national shame.

HeinOnline is available at all Canadian law schools, both common law and civil law/English and French, as well as to most Canadian lawyers through their law society libraries.


Though not as well known to legal professionals outside of the legal academy as HeinOnline, LLMC-Digital has played an even greater role in preserving, digitizing and providing access to historical Canadian legal information.

LLMC was founded in 1976 as the Law Library Microform Corporation, with the object of filming to microfiche historical collections of primary English-language legal materials. In 2003, the company was restructured as a nonprofit co-operative of libraries dedicated to the twin goals of preserving legal information and making it affordably available through its online service, LLMC Digital, embarking upon a program of converting its filmed titles to digital format. By 2005, all data-capture conducted by LLMC was accomplished exclusively through digital scanning. LLMC-Digital provides libraries with a reliable and budget-friendly source of digital replacement when their older, physically deteriorating books become too burdensome to store given diminished use. While aiding established libraries in their preservation and space recovery programs, it also provides an economical way for new libraries to access extensive collections of retrospective legal materials. For all researchers, the digital collections are just a practical and convenient resource for conducting research.

LLMC is governed by a Board of Directors composed of leading law librarians and is totally dependent on subscription revenues and donations to finance all of its important work. The executive and directors frequently consult a more broadly-composed Advisory Board, of which I am a member.

The majority of LLMC-Digital’s online offerings are made up of that great body of historical print sources of primary law which form the backbone of any serious common-law research collection – specifically, extensive runs of statutes and law reports from the major common law jurisdictions of the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.. These more common titles are sufficiently duplicated in member libraries that copies can be shipped for disbanding and high-speed scanning by LLMC at their own facility.

In recent years, LLMC has extended its digitization and preservation efforts to include large collections of monographs as well as regulatory and government publications. LLMC-Digital also places scanners on the premises of partner libraries, including the Library of Congress, to handle materials that are too rare or fragile to permit shipment. This outreach program is enriching the LLMC-Digital offerings with a great variety of rare and valuable titles such as: Native American constitutions and charters; Yale’s Blackstone collection; rare Canon and Civil Law titles; and scarce historical collections covering the colonial dependencies of Great Britain; unique materials from the Hawaiian Kingdom and Pacific island nations; and Iraq. LLMC’s most recent special projects are the Haiti Legal Patrimony Project and the Cuba Collection. Details of LLMC’s digital collections can be browsed here.

LLMC provides not only access to these digital collections but also preservation of the print originals. All of the digital images captured in the LLMC-Digital scanning program are backed up on multiple servers following best practices in the industry. In addition, the original paper blocks of the scanned books are preserved in ideal dark-archive conditions in space leased by LLMC-Digital in a retired salt mine in Kansas. (The largest tenants of the salt mine are the major Hollywood studios, who store the originals of their films there.)

LLMC’s Canada Library and Canadian Users

One of the largest collections on LLMC-Digital is the Canada Library, which includes not only a near-comprehensive collection of federal and provincial statutes and law reporters from the colonial period to the present but also extensive collections of legislative journals and Hansards (debates) as well as a growing collection of historical monographs. This is the single largest collection of historical Canadian legal materials anywhere, all of it produced with no assistance from any Canadian government or agency. Interestingly, the Canada Library is the most heavily used of all LLMC’s digital collections. In fact, the single largest user of LLMC’s databases is the Canadian federal Department of Justice. The University of Toronto, York Univeristy (Osgoode Hall Law School), the University of British Columbia and the University of Ottawa are all among LLMC’s top 10 users.

Most of the Canadian academic law libraries are charter members of the LLMC library co-operative. Our annual subscription fees that have made it possible for LLMC first to microform, then to digitize and make available online the great body of Canada’s print legal heritage. Because of the higher subscription fee paid by member law libraries, LLMC has been able to negotiate a substantially reduced consortium fee with CRL (the Centre for Research Libraries) to make the LLMC databases available to all CRL-member libraries (primarily university libraries) in Canada. It is only unfortunate that LLMC-Digital’s collections are not available to the wider legal profession in Canada or to the Canadian public.

LLMC has done more to digitize and provide access to our Canadian legal heritage than anyone. As Canadians and as Canadian law libraries, we should be ashamed that we collectively – that is, the National Library, our provincial legislative libraries, our law societies, our law foundations, our university libraries and ourselves – have done so little and seem so unconcerned. But we can consider ourselves fortunate that we have friends like LLMC-Digital and HeinOnline who have taken on the task of digitizing, preserving and providing access to our print legal heritage in our stead.

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