Best Free Reference Web Sites 2008 Tenth Annual List RUSA Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS)

This is an annual series initiated under the auspices of the Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of ALA to recognize outstanding reference sites on the World Wide Web. View selection criteria .

"Since the Web is a changing world, readers should note that these Web sites were as annotated on the date the member reviewed the site. Reviewing previous lists is not part of the charge of the Committee (formerly the Task Force on the Best of Free Reference Web Sites). However, we will make note of updated links, or other very substantial changes (such as a conversion from free to fee-based), if they are brought to our attention." RUSA Quarterly Fall 2001


Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy

Avalon Project is a growing collection of documents "relevant to the fields of law, history, economics, politics, diplomacy and government." Aimed at providing primary source content, it includes documents dating back to Ancient Greece. Its emphasis, however, is on European and United States history from the 18th through 21st centuries. Searchable by date, subject, author, and title, the Avalon Project includes the texts of significant documents as well as lesser known documents which marked the turning points in the history of law and rights. At the same site is Project Diana, a human rights archive. Students and instructors in European or United States history courses will find Avalon‘s site invaluable when they need to find primary source material.

Author/Publisher:  Yale Law School
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed:  2/15/08

The BookHive

Subtitled "Your Guide to Children's Literature and Books," the Book Hive’s audience encompasses infancy to early adolescence.
“Providing reader's advisory service, this site contains hundreds of recommended book reviews in a variety of reading levels and interest areas." Site "users can search for books by author, title, reading level, interest area, number of pages, and even favorite illustrator."
Areas of interest include graphic novels, multicultural books, fantasy, history, and sports. This colorful, attractive site has won many awards and is easy to use.

Author/Publisher: Staff of the Public Library of Charlotte-Mecklenburg
County (Charlotte, NC)
Free/Fee-based:  Free
Date Reviewed:  2/16/08 Revised 4/16/08

Child Care & Early Education Research

This valuable portal to data sets and research for many aspects of child care and early education is a collaboration of four authoritative institutions interested in advancing the body of knowledge available to early childhood educators and policymakers: the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health; the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR); the Child Care Bureau; and the Office of Planning, Research and Education (OPRE), Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Despite the wealth of information provided, navigating to key documents, including citations to peer-reviewed journal articles and select full-text, is straightforward because of the exemplary design of this web site.

Author/Publisher: Child Care and Early Childhood Research Connections
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: February 17, 2008

Cooking Light

For anyone who has wondered, “What is for dinner?” Cooking light can improve not only your nutrition, but also your life. The cooking 101 section lists helpful tips in the kitchen, including everything from avocado preparation to Tamaki shaping. Their partner web site, My recipies (, contains over 20,000 recipes available online. Nutritional information included in each recipe lists fat content, sodium, protein, and calories. Step by step illustrations and a selected video section show meals being prepared. The travel section includes tips on some of the
healthiest cities and the best places to eat out when traveling. Exercise and lifestyle guides offer suggestions on how to become active, stay active, or find new activities.

Author/Publisher: Cooking Light Magazine
Free/Fee-based:  Free
Date Reviewed:  2/17/08

Council on Foreign Relations

This think tank, which describes itself as “A Nonpartisan Resource for Information and Analysis,” assists policymakers, corporations, and citizens of the world to better understand the complex modern issues that affect national security and peace. The web page enables users to access up-to-date news and analyses by different approaches, including searches by region, by topical issue, and by publication type.  The topical issues
address a dozen relevant subjects, ranging from Defense and Homeland Security to Terrorism. The Terrorism section is especially detailed and is further subdivided into twelve relevant subheadings. The Publications section supplies daily analyses and offers a one-stop center for a variety of media, such as audio, podcasts, and video.

Author/Publisher: Council on Foreign Relations
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: February 17, 2008

Discovery School

Comprised of a wide range of educational resources, Discovery School is designed to make a positive impact on student learning at the primary and secondary levels. Teachers, students, and parents will find hundreds of lessons, interactive games, and brain boosters, plus a puzzlemaker tool, lesson plan library, gallery of clip art, and science fair central. Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators and the classroom materials are especially useful resources for aspiring teachers.  Fun, colorful, and simple to use, DiscoverySchool is a curriculum library and student learning center rolled into one.

Author/Publisher: Discovery Education
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed:  2/13/08

Education Research Information Center (ERIC)

This free search interface allows educators and researchers across the United States to search 1.2 million educational documents, providing access to full-text of articles when available. ERIC's mission "is to provide a comprehensive, easy-to-use, searchable, Internet-based bibliographic and full-text database of education research and information." Materials relevant to creating lesson plans or developing curriculum can be found using the database. Researchers intent on staying abreast of current education research will find the most up to date studies. ERIC is an invaluable source for educators and researchers alike and is beneficial for both public and academic libraries alike.

Author/Publisher: Institute of Education Sciences / U.S. Department of Education
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 02/07/08 Revised: 4/15/08

 Europa - The European Union at a Glance

The 27-member European Union, often called by its acronym EU, is one of the US's strongest trading partners and the largest donor of world development aid. The EU at a Glance page permits readers to learn quickly about the history of the EU, its current structure, as well as other information relevant to understanding the diversity of cultures that form the EU. The publication, Europe in 12 Lessons, is particularly informative for those unfamiliar with the European Union's structure.
The site, which offers information on each member country, is an excellent resource for those looking for information on a particular country. Travel information is provided for those who are traveling to a EU state or are interested in visiting Europe.

Author/Publisher: The European Union
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 02/07/08 Revised: 4/16/08


This authoritative site from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania also referred to as the Annenberg Political FactCheck “monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major US political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.”  Original articles analyze and offer commentary about politicians’ claims and statements. Individuals can browse by date or search by keywords to access the last four years of the Ask FactCheck archives.  If the answer cannot be found using these archives, individuals can ask their questions directly using the AskFactCheck e-mail form. This site also features vid-casts and a Fact of the Day section.

Author/Publisher: Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed:  2/14/08


This publisher, well known for producing well-designed and detailed travel guidebooks, has produced a companion website that is easy-to-navigate and rich in travel and destination information.  For example, the North American section covers 23 major cities.  An extremely helpful feature is the Neighborhoods option that gives the Top Reasons to go to specific neighborhoods and that enables searchers to compare up to three neighborhoods with side-by-side descriptions, sightseeing recommendations, and ratings for categories, such as shopping and nightlife. Registered users assist with the creation of the site's content by having capabilities to submit restaurant and hotel ratings.  Forums are also available to chat about traveling and to ask for advice.

Author/Publisher: Fodor’s
Free/Fee-based: free, with products available from store
Date reviewed: 02/19/2008

IIHS-HLDI: Crash Testing & Highway Safety

This authoritative resource from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute is especially useful for its motor vehicle ratings. The ratings are searchable by make, model, type, and size.  The site also provides news, research, and statistics, as well as laws and regulations pertaining to automobile and highway safety. Additional information is provided in an extensive FAQ section. Finally, special status reports and videos plus copies of consumer brochures round out this informative site.

Author/Publisher: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway
Loss Data Institute
Free/Fee-based:  Free
Date Reviewed:  2/16/08  Revised: 4/15/08


This site with the logo "one search, all jobs." was created in 2004 to furnish streamlined access to employment opportunities in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The homepage offers a straightforward search engine for job seekers.  Visitors can search by job category, geographic location, and keywords. The site also provides a forum for individuals to discuss employment openings and links to Google maps showing job locations, as well as relevant blogs discussing the employment marketplace and trends.  Unlike, users cannot post their resumes, but links are provided to contact the recruiting organizations directly.  Alerts can be set up to be delivered via e-mail.

Author/Publisher: indeed
Free/Fee-based:  Free
Date Reviewed:  2/17/08

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP)

Description:  This high-quality site is an excellent starting point for beginning philosophical research and gaining overviews of the people and ideas in the discipline of philosophy. It is a peer-reviewed resource that contains articles that "are original contributions by specialized philosophers around the Internet” or public domain articles identified by IEP editors.  All the articles are copyrighted, and proper citation guidelines are explained.  Because the site permits keyword searching and includes an alphabetical index searchers will find it easy to use.

Author/Publisher: General Editors, James Fieser, PH.D and Bradley Dowden, PH.D
Free/Fee-based:  Free
Date Reviewed:  2/16/08


KidsHealth is an award-winning resource on children's health from gestation through adolescence.  There are separate areas for kids, teens, and parents - "each with its own design, age-appropriate content, and tone." Many of the hundreds of signed feature articles are also available in Spanish.  Sample teacher and parental topics include growth and development by age and topic, emotions and behavior, infections, and sexual development. Children, for example, can find information on a range of topics from body functions, feelings, and safety issues to the affects of swallowing gum. Adolescents can explore topics, such as snoozing in class, food and fitness, coping skills, and body image.
With its inviting design, clearly written yet, authoritative, articles, and broad coverage and potential user base, KidsHealth is a valuable resource.

Author/Publisher:  Nemours Foundation
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed:  2/15/08 Revised 4/15/08

As the “official kids' portal for the U.S. Government,” offers access to more than 1,200 educational links from government and other sources. The intended audience includes both teachers and children. The homepage includes a Site of the Month and clearly labeled sections for educators, children in grades K-5, and children in grades 6-8.  Within each section, there are links to 11 different categories, including Fun Stuff and academic subjects, such as math, social studies, government, and careers. Links are tailored to the appropriate age group. Government and non-government sites are clearly distinguished. This well-organized and appealing site is an excellent resource for youngsters looking for information and for teachers developing lesson plans.

Author/Publisher: Federal Citizen Information Center, U.S. General Services Administration
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/10/08
The colorful web site offers book reviews and author interviews for children, as well as book-themed games and contests. Children can browse by author, title, keyword, or read reviews of new publications.  Also included are reviews of numerous popular series and books recently made into movies. Book club guides, lists of upcoming releases and award winning books, addresses where children can write to authors and a newsletter enhance the usefulness and appeal of this site. Additional features, including podcasts, are shown as coming soon. This engaging site would appeal to children, parents, librarians and teachers.
Author/Publisher: Carol Fitzgerald, Founder/President,
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/10/08

Maps of War

Using Macromedia Flash maps, satellite imaging, and links to secondary web sites, Maps of War highlights the history of war.  The author, a self-proclaimed history buff, "wanted to create something that showed the 'Big Picture' of war instead of the battle-by-battle view we always see through the narrow spyglass of the mainstream media."
The Maps section contains animated presentations on subjects like the spread of democracy or religion in the world. In the Library section, the web site links to other authoritative maps and web sites, including Amnesty International's Eyes on Darfur and the BBC's site for mapping violence in Baghdad. Flash software is required.

Author/Publisher: Maps of War
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 02/20/08 Revised: 04/16/08

Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT)

This think tank, whose motto is "Countering Terrorism with Knowledge," furnishes knowledge databases, best practices, lessons learned, and information for first responders.  From their homepage, users can access four main pages of information: the Terrorism Knowledge Base, the Terrorism Information Center, the Responder Knowledge Base, and
Lessons Learned Information Sharing.  The Terrorism Knowledge Base is specially detailed and provides information about specific groups, leaders, or incidents. This knowledge base also offers analytical tools to study and compare data by various attributes.  Some sections of this site require registration to ensure that information does not fall into the wrong hands. Registration is free and will lead to a wealth of targeted information.

Author/Publisher: Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/17/08 Revised: 4/15/08

National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP)
This one-stop center whose goal is "Putting Research to Work for Children and Families" is produced by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and is a valuable resource for streamlined access to research and datasets about children and poverty.
Childcare professionals, such as educators, social workers, and policymakers can use this resource to find quick facts, demographic profiles, and other useful information that may not be readily available by other means.

Author/Publisher: National Center for Children in Poverty,
Mailman School of   Public Health, Columbia University
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/17/08
National Public Radio

This is the official website for National Public Radio, the producer and distributor of noncommercial news, music, radio programming, podcasts, and more.  Geared for a general audience, this sprawling resource is especially rich in its international coverage and in-depth look at arts & culture, health, science, books, and music across all spectrums. Also included are interviews, interactive polls, daily news quizzes, local radio schedule information, live audio and music, news feeds, desktop alerts, and searchable program archives.
While users may find the sponsored ads and the busyness of the screens somewhat distracting, this hardly detracts from the unparalleled range of up-to-date, quality news and entertainment offered.

Author/Publisher:  National Public Radio
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed:  2/14/08 Revised: 4/15/08

Office of Minority Health (OMH)

This resource from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides health professionals and citizens of the United States with valuable information about improving the health and reducing the risks among prominent ethnic and minority groups in the United States, including African Americans, American Indians, Latinos, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.  To fulfill their mission, this Web site provides statistics and data relevant to these groups and is a premier site about funding and cultural competencies, best practices, and related health topics.  The OMH provides their toll-free telephone number 1-800-444-6472 at the top of their homepage.

Author/Publisher: Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/17/08 Revised: 4/15/08
The Political Graveyard

The site describes it’s self as the Internet's most comprehensive source for American political biography, listing 138,150 politicians, living and dead."  The site is indexed by people and place names, and includes indexes by age, office or election, special recognition or distinction, occupation, organizational affiliation, and may other categories.  This is a fascinating and award-winning site for political trivia junkies and is a useful tool for answering most questions about federal, state, and local politicians.

Author/Publisher: Lawrence Kestenbaum
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed:  2/16/08 Revised: 4/15/08

Rotten Tomatoes

According to the web site, "Over 7 million readers each month use RT [Rotten Tomatoes] globally as a dependable, objective resource for [opinions] of movies and DVDs.” Good films receive a "fresh" tomato rating and bad movies receive a "rotten" rating.  In addition to film reviews, there is entertainment news, links to celebrity information, and the Weekly Ketchup (a newsy Web column).  The site is easy to search and includes well-placed navigation aids, making it an excellent companion to the Internet Movie Database (

Author/Publisher: IGN Entertainment, Inc
Free/Fee-based: Free
Reviewed:  2/16/08 Revised: 4/16/08


ReliefWeb is an online gateway to a gold mine of information related to humanitarian emergencies and disasters. Created by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in late 1996, the site provides the most up-to-date information regarding humanitarian crises.
Information updates are made around the clock and include maps and documents from other UN offices, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academic institutions, and media outlets. The site also has a searchable database so users can locate the amount of funding that has been given to a crisis, as well as the amount of funding believed necessary to help those individuals in a crisis area.

Author/Publisher: ReliefWeb/OCHA
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 02/07/08 Revised: 4/15/08

Time Magazine

Access to current headlines is just the beginning of the site's scope. The ability to view editions from Europe or Asia, lets users see what other people are reading, and lets them compare, side-by-side, alternate editions' covers.  The For Kids edition links to its own website and is designed for teachers of children in Grades K-6.
Various topical blogs are available at the site, and the Multimedia tab leads users to graphics, photos, podcasts, and videos.  Articles can be printed, e-mailed, or linked to a variety of Web 2.0 sites such as, Technorati, and Google. A Sphere link allows users to search for related articles or blogs.  Most impressively, the magazine's entire run is full-text searchable and provides journal cover images as well.

Author/Publisher: Time in partnership with CNN
Free/Fee-based: free
Date reviewed: 02/19/2008 Revised: 4/15/08

Transportation Security Administration Area for Travelers

The Transportation Security Administration's Area for Travelers provides information on almost everything a traveler would need to know about security related requirements for a trip on public transportation. The primary emphasis is on air travel, but there are also links to information on prohibited items and travel resources for motor coach, rail, maritime, and mass transit passengers.
Travelers will find indispensable information such as a detailed description of security screening; lists of items prohibited in carry-on and/or checked baggage, tips for traveling with children, information for travelers with disabilities, and charts of average security checkpoint wait times. This site is an easy to use resource for anyone planning to travel in the U.S. by public transportation.

Author/Publisher: Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/10/08

Visual Dictionary Online

Visual dictionaries allow users to match images to words. In this stunning online version, 6,000 illustrations and twenty-thousand full definitions are included from all aspects of life. Access is provided two ways:  users may browse by broad themes such as food, architecture, machinery, or sports or they may search using the index search box.  Students might search for illustrated science topics like cicadas and plant cells, while homeowners can surf through the House or Gardening sections. With pronunciation audio clips, the Dictionary is aimed at English learners and translators. Weaknesses include animated advertising, small typeface, a distracting corporate logo watermark, and difficulty working in older browsers.  This dictionary is the place to go for accurately labeled, detailed illustrations of everyday objects from soup to nuts.

Author/Publisher: QA International / Merriam-Webster
Free/Fee-based: Free                
Date Reviewed:  2/12/08 

Volunteer Match

With this site, organizations can find a great volunteer, or volunteers can find a great organization.  Search results can be narrowed to as close as five miles from home or expanded to encompass the volunteer’s state. Opportunities to volunteer include arts and culture, education, homelessness, immigration and many others. Understandably, users living near large metropolitan areas will see the greatest number of volunteer opportunities, while searchers living in rural areas may see listings for a few local or virtual organizations.   

Author/Publisher: Volunteer Match
Free/Fee-based:  Free
Date Reviewed:  2/17/08

Yahoo! Finance

Yahoo! Finance provides an extensive range of current and historical financial information for investing and personal finance.
Users can access stock quotes, with a fifteen to twenty minute delay, as well as historical stock quotes in daily, weekly or monthly formats. Users can also find company information including financials, Securities and Exchange Commission filings, and insider ownership.  Information on industries, bonds, mutual funds, and currency is also provided.  Yahoo! Finance allows users to read the very latest news on a company or industry, while finding links to stories from sources like the Wall Street Journal Online, The Motley Fool, and  Aside from distracting advertisements, the columns on personal finance and the effects of markets and the economy on everyday life broaden the appeal of this excellent, meaty site.

Author/Publisher: Yahoo
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed:  2/12/08 Revised: 4/15/08