Best Free Reference Web Sites 2009 Eleventh 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.

Best Free Web Committee Roster | Combined Index | Print the Complete List! 


Title: The American Presidency Project  
URL: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/
 
Established in 1999, this site is valuable for its extensive coverage of both historical and current information on United States presidencies and is easy to navigate. It provides a searchable database of over 85,000 documents, such as speeches, official papers, executive orders, proclamations, news conferences, and press briefings. Various retrieval options are available, including by keywords, dates, document type, and presidents. Additional in depth analyses are offered on topics that may be challenging to locate by other means, such as presidential relations with Congress. Lastly, Quick Time Player videos of important presidential election moments, addresses, and speeches are provided.
 
Author/Publisher: University of California, Santa Barbara - John Woolley and Gerhard Peters, Collaborators
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/09


Title: Arbor Day Foundation
URL: http://www.arborday.org/
 
While involvement and donations are desired by the Foundation, the “learn” section garners this site’s win. Packed with tree identification, regional hardiness zone recommendations, tips on planting and care, and youth education for all ages (and educators), the site links to additional resources including state foresters and extension services information. Searchable, the site offers detailed tree guides by species with size, shape, growth rate, and hardiness data; sun, soil, moisture preferences; as well as a description and information on its attributes, wildlife value, and history/lore. This site is intended especially for homeowners, but is useful for anyone interested in trees.
 
Author/Publisher: Arbor Day Foundation
Fee/Fee-based: Free; memberships and products available
Date reviewed: 03/01/09


Title: BBC Country Profiles
URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/country_profiles/default.stm
 
This site supplies information on the history, economy, and politics of countries and territories. Each profile includes an overview, map, facts, and current leaders. A media overview provides information on the press, television, radio, news agencies, and number of Internet users. Links provided on the side of the profile connect to the latest news and key stories, BBC links, background articles, related Internet sites and video and audio clips from the BBC archives. Additional features include timelines, recent news links, background articles, Internet sites, and BBC archive video and audio clips. Information on over 20 key international organizations is also included.
 
Author/Publisher: Compiled by BBC Monitoring
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/09


Title: Blue Letter Bible
URL: http://www.blueletterbible.org/
 
Containing 14 searchable versions of the Holy Bible, Blue Letter Bible offers an extensive insight into one of the world’s most popular books. Passages can be changed from version to version for easy comparison and various tools (an encyclopedia, a dictionary, 23 text commentaries, and 30 audio/video commentaries) help users explore chapter and verse. Additional resources include charts, outlines, timelines, and maps, plus four streaming audio versions, are available from each passage’s page. When appropriate for the passage, over 2,700 hymns are also available (lyrics are shown with link to a MIDI file to play music). This web resource is useful for anyone interested in biblical study and especially notable for comparing Bible versions.
 
Author/Publisher: Sowing Circle
Fee/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 03/01/09


Title: BookFinder.com
URL: http://www.bookfinder.com/
 
BookFinder.com is a “one-stop ecommerce search engine” that indexes over 150 million books for sale from the catalogs of over 150 million sellers in 50 countries. Included are new, used, rare and out-of-print titles. With its huge inventory, users can compare prices and selections quickly, particularly for hard to find items. It is easy to use and flexible. There are many ways to locate items: author, title, ISBN, first or signed copies, binding, price, language, and whether new or used. While Amazon is a gold mine, BookFinder.com is definitely a gem!
 
Author/Publisher: Launched by Anirvan Chatterjee, and now an independent subsidiary of AbeBooks.
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/09


Title: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
URL: http://www.business-humanrights.org/
 
This site is one of the fastest ways to find information about the exploitive practices of 4000 businesses worldwide, which would be difficult to locate by other means. Users can begin searching by company name, issue, country, or topic. Balanced coverage is provided via news, announcements, and special resources while providing responses from the accused companies. By making negative enterprise behavior more transparent, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre may help stop companies’ human rights abuses.
 
Author/Publisher: Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: February 17, 2009


Title: CareerOneStop
URL: http://www.careeronestop.org
 
CareerOneStop is a U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored portal that provides career resources and workforce information. With its occupation and industry information, salary data, self-assessment tools, and career exploration assistance, this rich resource will help those exploring career opportunities to make informed choices. It also has useful information for job seekers, students, and career counselors, such as where to file unemployment insurance, locations of career centers, resume advice, and relocating options. This thorough site even has a special section devoted to military transition. Fulfilling its promise to be a one-stop shop, CareerOneStop includes links to state job banks, the online version of Occupational Outlook Handbook, and other useful resources.
 
Author/Publisher: CareerOneStop
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/25/09


Title: Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
URL: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/
 
Sponsored jointly by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), this site provides select digital access to American newspapers from 1880 to 1910 and from mainly ten states. Additionally, access to an invaluable directory of newspapers published in the United States from 1690 to the present is available. The directory can be browsed by title or searched by state, county and city, date, keyword, frequency, language, or type of newspaper. The directory usually offers comprehensive information, such as titles, alternative titles, publication places, geographic coverage, persistent links, publishers, dates of publication, descriptions, frequencies, languages, subjects, general notes, LCCN, OCLC numbers, succeeding titles, and links to holdings.
 
Author/Publisher: Library of Congress
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/20/09


Title: English Short Title Catalog
URL: http://estc.bl.uk/
 
This resource for advanced research in the humanities indexes works published in the British Isles and North America between 1473 and 1800. Basic and advanced search options are available, as well as a browsing feature. Bibliographic data includes imprints and physical descriptions of each item. Because many of these works can be found in the Early English Books Online and the 18th Century Collection Online, this site also lists libraries holding physical copies and gives microfilm collection reel numbers. Finally, the site supplies information if the resources are available electronically or on the web.
 
Author/Publisher: British Library
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: February 22, 2009


Title: ePodunk (TM)
URL: http://www.epodunk.com/
 
Detailed, easily browsable profiles of cities and counties across the U.S. are the specialty of ePodunk, which has grown to include data on airports, cemeteries, museums, and other institutions as well. Profiles include historical postcard images from the Making of America project and all imaginable statistics at the city and county level: income, educational level, economic, crime. Not only does the site link to useful municipal/county government and chamber of commerce sites, but it also displays or links to harder-to-find information like local media outlets, community organizations, political reports, historical weather information, support for libraries, a “gay index” based on the Gay and Lesbian Atlas, films shot in the area, and celebrity residents.
 
Author/Publisher: ePodunk
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/09


Title: FamilyDoctor.org
URL: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home.html
 
The homepage of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) delivers “health information for the whole family.” There are many medical websites out there, but FamilyDoctor.org stands out for its ease of use. Visitors to the site can view it in English or Spanish, and the site contains a prominent link to make the text bigger. An impressive list of health tools—including dictionaries, an AAFP physician directory, calculators, immunization schedules, and more—complements a browsable list of symptoms and conditions by age and gender. In addition to information on diseases, the site also contains recommendations for healthy living.
 
Author/Publisher:  American Academy of Family Physicians
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed:  2/17/09


Title: FastWeb: Scholarships, Financial Aid, and Colleges
URL: http://www.fastweb.monster.com/
 
Students fill out a detailed questionnaire about academic achievement, future plans, interests, and awards and then receive information on scholarships and internships for which they are eligible. The beauty of this site rests in its organizational features. Students can set up e-mail reminders about application due dates, mark favorites or delete entries from their lists, e-mail descriptions to friends, and add personal notes about a scholarship. The site also contains advice on test preparation, navigating the admissions process, and transitioning to college. FastWeb boasts that their database searches “1.3 million scholarships worth over $3 billion,” making this a valuable resource for busy students.
 
Author/Publisher:  Monster
Free/Fee-based: Free registration required
Date Reviewed:  2/17/09


Title: Genetics Home Reference
URL: http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/
 
This valuable resource targeting health consumers describes itself as "Your Guide to Understanding Genetic Conditions."  The homepage presents a clean look and features six main sections in a centralized table: Genetic Conditions, Genes, Chromosomes, Handbook, Glossary, and Resources.  The left-hand area of the homepage provides quick access to timely and frequently requested information packaged under the headings: "What's New," "Newborn Screening," and "In the Spotlight."  The site also addresses the important question of "How can I find a genetics professional in my area?"
 
Author/Publisher: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: February 17, 2009


Title: Google Maps
URL: http://maps.google.com/
 
Ah, finally - a map system that does it all. This free service offers detailed street and terrain maps, robust locator tools to find addresses/businesses/places, and a route planner for traveling by car, public transport, or walking. Live traffic conditions for several cities are available as well. For those who need visual cues, Google Maps provides that too. Its fascinating "Street View" shows 360° panoramic street-level views, inviting users to virtually walk and explore the area. This is available in many U.S. cities and in several countries abroad. There is also a feature for those wanting to create their own maps. No more fumbling with folding paper maps, just click on this great site.
 
Author/Publisher: Google
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/09


Title: Lexicool
URL: http://www.lexicool.com/
 
This web site provides a searchable directory to over 6000 freely available online bilingual and multilingual dictionaries and glossaries. Searches may be entered by language(s), subject, or title/keyword. Search results provide the number of entries and links to the online dictionaries. The site also provides a directory of translation and interpreting courses, a listing of translator and interpreter associations worldwide, language resources, freeware to download and links to sites for currency conversion, text analysis and language identification. Language-related software and products may be purchased at the website.
 
Author/Publisher: The site is run by an international team of linguists and IT specialists based in France, headed by Sebastian Abbo.
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/09


Title: Local Harvest
URL: http://www.localharvest.org/
 
The LocalHarvest Web site offers a nationwide directory of farmers’ markets, small family farms, and organic food sources. Visitors to the site can find local farms, markets, Community Supported Agriculture programs, and food-related events searching by zip code or state, or by using the interactive map. The site also offers a monthly newsletter, recipes, and blogs written by LocalHarvest members. This is a definitive resource for anyone interested in buying local and/or organic food and produce.
 
Author/Publisher: LocalHarvest
Free/Fee-Based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/1/09


Title: LocalHikes
URL: http://www.localhikes.com/
 
LocalHikes “provides information on local hiking opportunities near both large and small metropolitan areas in the United States.” It’s possible to search the site for suggested hikes or walks nearest you, by drilling down by geography, hike “content,” or through a quick ZIP code search. Profiles of each hiking destination include highlights, a one-to-four-star ranking, hike time, elevation gain, and links to other useful content like a topographic map image, and photos.
 
Author/Publisher: LocalHikes, Inc.
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/09


Title: National Gardening Association
URL: http://www.garden.org/
 
The National Gardening Association (NGA) offers a wide array of useful gardening content for consumers and educators. Gardeners can consult the weed and pest libraries, food gardening and plant care guides, regional reports, and how-to articles. They can also browse the useful Q and A database and the buyer’s guide. The most impressive feature is the NGA Plant Finder, searchable by plant type, hardiness, light, flower color, and more. In addition, there is a special “Kids Gardening” section loaded with activities and classroom projects. For those who prefer to view gardens rather than dig in the dirt, there is a public garden locator. Two green thumbs up!
 
Author/Publisher: National Gardening Association
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/25/09


Title: National Ocean Service
URL: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/
 
The National Ocean Service (NOS) studies, monitors, and protects coastal and marine areas in the United States. The NOS web site offers detailed information about the agency’s activities, including access to educational videos and weekly podcasts on various coastal science topics. The site also hosts more than 1,000 up-to-date nautical charts, tide level data updated every 10 minutes, and beautiful photography in an image gallery. Teachers will find games, activity suggestions, and lesson plan ideas for students in grades 3-12. This site is an excellent resource for students, teachers, mariners, and anyone interested in America’s coastal ecology.
 
Author/Publisher: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/1/09


Title: OnlineConversion.com
URL: http://onlineconversion.com/
 
This site boasts that one can “convert just about anything to anything else.” And with 50,000 conversions and 5,000 units, it has an impressive range. Sure, it has the popular conversions: length, temperature, speed, volume, weight, cooking, area, fuel economy, and currency. But it also contains measurements for women’s clothing sizes between countries, light-years, density, torque, horse height, meeting room size needed for attendees, gauge and much more. There is even a “Fun Stuff” category that is practically addictive where users can find their age in dog years, convert their names into Morse code, determine their weight on Mars, and verify how many days until retirement! Indispensible.
 
Author/Publisher: Robert Fogt
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/25/09


Title: PDRhealth (TM)
URL: http://pdrhealth.com/
 
Drawing on the trusted Physicians' Desk Reference (PDR®), this site provides information for prescriptions drugs, over-the-counter medications, and herbals/supplements. Included are recommended dosage, side effects, possible food and drug reactions, and in many cases pictures to assist with drug identification. But PDRHealth extends far beyond drug information. It also offers excellent overviews of numerous diseases and conditions, from kidney stones and migraines to teething and Cushing Syndrome. And there is even of listing of clinical trials, searchable by region and illness, for those living with cancer or rare diseases. This well-organized, authoritative, and attractive site is a must-have for anyone needing drug information.
 
Author/Publisher: Thomson Reuters
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/25/09


Title: PubChem
URL: http://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
 
PubChem is a search tool for chemical information, divided into three areas: Compounds, Substances, and BioAssays. Full entries provide detailed information with the most basic information—a general description, the molecular weight and formula, the structure, plus a Table of Contents (ToC) for the full entry—all easily found “above the fold.” Use the ToC or scroll down to retrieve more advanced information, such as bioactivity results, synonyms, chemical actions, detailed properties, and more. Each module is fully interlinked with the other sections of PubChem as well as resources in ToxNet and PubMed, providing full access to toxicology resources and the medical literature, and allowing users access to as much or as little of the chemical information as they need.
 
Author/Publisher: National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: February 16, 2009


Title: Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)
URL: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/
 
The Writing Lab at Purdue houses 200 free writing resources and instructional materials for students, teachers, and trainers. Included are formatting and style guides, grammar and mechanics, internet literacy, ESL, job search and technical writing, and research. There are sections geared to writing for specific disciplines (e.g. experimental report writing in psychology) and forms (e.g. writing about poetry). This site provides the nuts and bolts needed to jump start any writing project.
 
Author/Publisher: The Online Writing Lab, English Department, Purdue University
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/09


Title: Sports Reference
URL: http://www.sports-reference.com/
 
Sports fans rejoice! This valuable resource provides statistics for four major sports: baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, and each sport’s section is browsable and searchable in many ways. Baseball aficionados will find regular season box scores back to 1957 along with minor league stats back to 1992. Football lovers can look up draft picks and review single season and career leaders in passing, rushing, and kicking. Basketball devotees can find the top performers and award winners of the NBA and WNBA. Hockey enthusiasts will be able to find all players who wore the sweater number 25. With all of this and an additional section focused on Olympics history, Sports Reference hits the ball out of the park!
 
Author/Publisher: Sports Reference, LLC.
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/25/09


Title: Traffic.com
URL: http://www.traffic.com/
 
The Traffic.com site provides “free, real-time traffic information for your daily drives” and features real-time traffic and road condition information with drive time estimates. Selected metro areas feature a profile page with a NAVTEQ traffic map, a traffic summary with current incidents affecting traffic flow, events, and ongoing roadwork. Main roadways are highlighted as “hotspots” with a numerical ranking on a 1-to-10 scale in which 1 is “clear” and 10 is “jammed.” Free registration allows users to receive newsletters and daily traffic alerts via email.
 
Author/Publisher: Traffic.com, Inc.
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/09


Title: United States Environmental Protection Agency
URL: http://www.epa.gov/
 
Well organized, very interactive, and full of information for all, the EPA site offers news, local information, teacher resources, multimedia (videos, photos, audios), resources, and even a trivia quiz, all accessible from the homepage. The “For Youth” section includes tabs for elementary, middle, and high school students while “Work with Us” offers career, grant, and contract information. The site shows lots of depth, too, with navigation tabs for “Learn the Issues”, “Science & Technology”, “Laws & Regulations”, “Newsroom”, and “About EPA”; each is a treasure trove of information in itself, adding to the usefulness and comprehensiveness of the site.
 
Author/Publisher: United States Environmental Protection Agency
Fee/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 03/08/09


Title: UrbanRail.Net
URL: http://www.urbanrail.net/
 
This site is a resource that has grown over the course of 15 years from a site focusing on the metro system in Barcelona to a site called “metroPlanet” to its current incarnation with an international scope and convenient, easy-to-use maps of urban railway systems in the world’s largest cities on 6 continents. Users will mainly appreciate UrbanRail.Net for its quick, simple maps, but the site put together by a Berlin public transportation enthusiast and historian also features practical information such as transit pricing, links, and timelines of transportation history for each rail service or line.
 
Author/Publisher: Robert Schwandl
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/09


Title: The White House
URL: http:// www.whitehouse.gov/
 
With prominent links to the President’s Weekly Address, the National Budget, and the economic recovery plan, the searchable site also provides links for both current news (“The Briefing Room”), the administration’s “Agenda” (nicely narrowed by topic), and ways to learn about “Our Government”, especially the Executive Branch. “The Administration” lists the President, First Lady, Cabinet members, White House Staff and even the Vice-President and his wife; “About the White House” tours the building itself and its former residents, Air Force One, and Camp David.
 
Author/Publisher: The White House
Fee/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 03/08/09


Title: World Health Organization
URL: http://www.who.int/en/
 
The web site of the World Health Organization (WHO) tracks current international health emergencies and disease outbreaks, and offers extensive information on diseases and health issues affecting the global population. Visitors to the site will find an interactive Global Health Atlas with mapping interface, statistical databases covering the health status of each WHO member country, and full-text access to WHO’s publications, including journals, reports, and bulletins. The web site’s Fact Sheets provide excellent overviews of various international health topics and are an ideal resource for high-school and college students beginning their research.
 
Author/Publisher: World Health Organization
Free/Fee-Based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/1/09