Best Free Reference Web Sites 2010 Twelfth 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! 


Abbreviations.com, http://www.abbreviations.com
An extensive collection of hundreds of thousands of acronyms, abbreviations, and initialisms, Abbriviations.com is neatly arranged by broad areas (e.g. Medical, Internet, International, Community). Each area is further broken down into more specific, browsable categories such as Veterinary, Emoticons, or Non-Profit. The "International" area is multilingual, featuring hundreds of entries in Spanish, German, French, and other languages. Users can contribute abbreviations as well as look them up. In addition to browsing, search options are also available: word to abbreviation, abbreviation to word, word in definition, There is also a metasearch option that seems deliver term use in Amazon and Google, but what it actually does is unexplained. Otherwise, this is a GR8 resource.
Author/Publisher: STANDS4 LLC
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/24/10

Ad*Access, http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/adaccess
This free digital collection from Duke University contains over 7,000 advertisements from print magazines and newspapers, published from the 1910s-1950s, primarily in the United States and Canada. Content focuses on five areas: radio, television, transportation, beauty/hygiene, and World War II. Users can search by keyword or browse the broad focus areas and then narrow results by company, product, subject, or year. Three different browse displays are available—grid, list, or scrolling wall. Individual images can be viewed in three different sizes, can be downloaded, may be used for research and teaching with attribution. Both black & white and color images are included. Ad*Access is of interest to anyone researching American history, culture, or advertising.
Author/Publisher: Duke University Libraries
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/25/2010

American Time Use Survey, http://www.bls.gov/tus/
The American Time Use Survey (ATUS) provides statistics and graphical data on the amount of time people in the U.S. spend on various activities: watching TV, eating, working in the yard. Use the ATUS Tables or Charts to find statistics by either demographic characteristic (older Americans or students, for example) or area of activity (such as work, leisure, or sleep). If existing tables and charts are not sufficient, microdata files from 2003-8 can be freely downloaded for more additional analysis. Supporting documentation explains how the data is used by the government. Useful for business or cultural research, the American Time Use Survey provides a snapshot of how Americans spend their days.
Author/Publisher: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Free/Fee-Based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/18/10

The Association of Religion Data Archives, http://www.thearda.com
Through the ARDA, the Association of Religion Data Archives provides statistics on religious bodies here--both the in U.S. and internationally. Data varies by location. Figures for U.S. denominations in the U.S. can be had at the state, county, and zip code level for 1980, 1990, and 2000 while profiles for the entire denomination can include more historic data. Statistics on religious adherents are available for entire countries along with various socio-economic measures. GIS Maps are available, and it is possible to cross-reference geographies with practices. Downloadable datasets allow users to work with data independently of the site. A research-oriented site, the ARDA includes much information of use to educators, journalists, religious workers, and the general public.
Author/Publisher: Association of Religion Data Archives, Department of Sociology, Pennsylvania State University
Free/Fee-Based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/12/10

Baby Names | The Baby Name Wizard, http://www.babynamewizard.com
The Baby Name Wizard helps a parent-to-be to find that perfect name. The Find a Name feature allows users to create a list of potential names by length and letter preference, heritage, and popularity. The Namipedia provides the etymologies, suggests popular sibling pairings, and presents reader-generated information and experiences related to particular names. Registration is required to add make contributions. Mapping and graphing features, recently upgraded to Flash technology, pull data from the Social Security Administration to track name popularity by state or by year, back to the 1880’s for the country, and to the 1960’s for states. Whether browsing for inspiration (or entertainment) or researching a short list, this is an informative and entertaining site with lots of visual appeal.
Author/Publisher: Generation Grownup, LLC
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/2010

Cars.com, http://www.cars.com
Car shoppers should drive over to Cars.com for easy to understand information on what to buy, where to buy and how much to pay for a new or used auto or truck. It includes comprehensive pricing and financing information, side-by-side comparison tools, photo galleries, videos, unbiased editorial content and a large selection of new- and used-car inventory. Search for specific makes, models, and years, or browse current models. Opinions are available from experts and consumers alike. Additional tools include an auto loan calculator and Kelley Blue Book values. Current car owners will also find this an excellent resource for recall data, repair cost estimates and tax credits.
Author/Publisher: Cars.com, Classified Ventures, LLC™
Free/Fee Based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/19/10

ebooks @ Adelaide, http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au
The University of Adelaide provides full-text ebooks of classic works of literature, philosophy, and history from a variety of countries, most available free online to anyone because the copyright has expired. Users can browse by subject, title, author or search by keywords. The formatting is attractive and very readable, with fonts and page layout that approximate to what the eye is used to seeing in a print book. Titles can be downloaded to eReader devices supporting the ePub standard (such as Sony, BeBook, Bookeen, B&N nook, or the iPhone). Brief author biographies and links to other resources are provided for each work, as are MARC records. Ebooks @ Adelaide is useful for any library seeking an additional source of electronic books.
Author/Publisher: University of Adelaide
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/11/10

FedSpending.org, http://www.fedspending.org
Launched in 2006, FedSpending is a project of OMB Watch, a non-governmental agency that works to increase government transparency and accountability. All data is collected from United States government sources, with the largest providers being the Federal Procurement Data System for federal contracts and the Federal Assistance Award Data System for federal financial assistance (e.g. grants, loans). With separate tabs for contracts, assistance and recovery, the user interface is simple and easy to use. Information is available by state, congressional district, contracting agency, product/service or other options depending on the tab selected. Information on the top 100 contractors or recipients begins in 2000; click dollar amounts for detailed profiles. The site is useful for anyone interested in government.
Author/Publisher: OMB Watch
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/22/10

GovTrack.us: Tracking the U.S. Congress, http://www.govtrack.us
GovTrack, a non-governmental resource, is a tool for tracking the current activities and researching the United States Congress. It offers the status of U.S. federal legislation, voting records for the Senate and House of Representatives, information on Members of Congress, district maps, congressional committee memberships, and the text of the Congressional Record. Archival material dates only dates back to the 1990’s, however. For recent congressional history, it is an easy-to-use option. Various tracking options enable users to follow GovTrack through Facebook, widgets, or RSS feeds; “trackers” are provided throughout the site to assist those who want updated material. Particularly useful for the general user, GovTrack simplifies legislative tracing.
Author/Publisher: Civic Impulse, LLC
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/11/10

Hathi Trust Digital Library, http://catalog.hathitrust.org
A collaboration among the members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation and institutions in the University of California system, Hathi Trust is a repository for the archiving and sharing of digitized collections, which can range from 19th century periodicals to historical bicycling to war to hard-to-find Government documents and congressional materials. The site’s main page allows for general catalog searching as well as the ability to browse collections or search within the full-text of collections. A limit to “Full View Only” retrieves items freely available online. Result lists can be narrowed by many options including subjects, language, and date, while full records include hotlinks on the author and subject and for similar items. Author/Publisher: Hathi Trust
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/25/10

Hulu, http://www.hulu.com
A site with free television episodes, full-length movies, and video clips may seem like a strange nomination for MARS, but if your library has a bustling media department, this is a good referral for patrons frustrated that Season X of Favorite-Cult-Classic is always checked out. Browse by genre, search for a particular show or movie, or create a free account for notification of new shows. From documentaries to popular series, huluTM’s varied collection has something for everyone—just don’t cancel cable yet. The downside is that the user’s computer must meet many system requirements and requires a high-speed internet connection; even so, huluTM is a nice alternative to lurking in wait for the DVD shelving cart.
Author/Publisher: Hulu LLC
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/2010

IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library, http://imslp.org/wiki/Main_Page
Finally there is a place to find free sheet music online! Petrucci Music Library is a collaborative virtual library of public domain music scores. It currently includes over 20,000 works from 3,000 composers with new works added every month. The site boasts the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach in the Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe (1851–99), Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin, Johannes Brahms, Corelli, Faure, Sibelius, Schumann, and a large percentage of Franz Liszt, among others. General keyword and composer name searching is available, as well as browsing by time period, genre, instrumentation and nationality. Want to find music such as Ave Maria? Need piano solos by Erik Satie? Looking for pieces featuring the tuba? You will find these and much more in this digital repository.
Author/Publisher: Project Petrucci LLC
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/18/10

ipl2: Information You Can Trust, http://www.ipl.org
In 2009 the Internet Public Library (IPL) and the Librarians Internet Index (LII) merged. Both sites had run independently until January 2010 when they launched a new site combining many of the features from both. The new site, IPL2: Information You Can Trust, features a searchable, subject-categorized directory of authoritative websites; links to online texts, newspapers, and magazines; special sections for kids and teens; and a collection on ipl2-generated special collections on a variety of topics (literary criticism, hurricane preparedness, Italian ready reference). The Ask an ipl2 Librarian online reference service is also available. With its wealth of reliable information, ipl2 is great site for all ages.
Author/Publisher: iSchool @ Drexel University, College of Information Science & Technology
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/11/10

LIFE photo archive hosted by Google, http://images.google.com/hosted/life
As amazing a resource as the photos printed in LIFE alone are, the LIFE Photo Archive, hosted by Google, is even more so. With millions of photos accessible at the click of a mouse, the archive is a rich resource for anyone seeking images relating to U.S. history and world events. Approximately 10 million images are available, and because most of the photos were never published, the collection contains many “never before seen” pictures. Users can search by keyword, browse by decade, or explore featured events, people, or places. Names of photographers and the dates that photos were taken are identified. With images ranging from 1750 to the 2000s, the site will be popular with users wanting images with historical context.
Author/Publisher: LIFE/Google
Free/Fee-based: Free (Framed reproductions offered for sale on selected images)
Date Reviewed: 2/26/2010

The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials, 1952-2008, http://www.livingroomcandidate.org
Video is as much a part of history as text. The Living Room Candidate presents video advertising for presidential candidates—Democrat, Republican, and significant third party, when applicable—from1952 to the present. Accompanying descriptive matter places the ads in context. Transcripts of the ads are included, along with full credits and production information. Numerous commercials are available for each election year, plus, text overviews of campaign years, information on party nominees, and election results. Other browse categories are thematic: biographical, ads utilizing fear, featuring children, etc. Useful for researchers and the general public of all ages, the site requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or above and a screen resolution of 1024x768 or higher. Major web browsers are supported.
Author/Publisher: Museum of the Moving Image
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/15/10

Muckety - Exploring the paths of power and influence, http://news.muckety.com
Muckety is a news site with a difference; taking the news, it charts relationships among players and other persons and events. Search on a celebrity name to see connections on an interactive graph. Categories for News & Politics, Business & Media, and Celebs provide automatically generated relationship maps, or—with registration—users can create their own. From a business perspective users can see relationships among companies or individuals; then find links to related news articles below the chart. Sources mined for information include government sites, top news providers, and more. Founded by award winning journalists, the site states that it strives for accuracy, timeliness, and objectivity with nonpartisan aims. Flash is required for the graphs.
Author/Publisher: Muckety, LLC. Laurie Bennett, Gary Jacobson and John Decker.
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/12/10

NASA Images, http://www.nasaimages.org
NASA Images, a free service of the Internet Archive and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, provides "access to NASA's image, video, and audio collections." Content is divided into five sections: Universe, Solar System, Earth, Aeronautics, and Astronauts. Users may browse or search for media, some of which is simply spectacular. This site aims to "promote education and facilitate scholarship in the math and sciences at all levels, and to build general interest and excitement around space exploration, aeronautics, and astronomy," and it certainly succeeds.
Author/Publisher: NASA and the Internet Archive
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/23/2010

Newseum | Today's Front Pages, http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/
Each morning, almost 800 newspapers from around the globe send the front page of their newspaper to the Newseum which posts these original, unedited pages online. Newspaper pages can be viewed as a gallery, list, or map, and may be sorted by region or continent, such as North or South America. Daily front pages from previous dates are not available but there is a newspaper archive where newspaper front pages are grouped by "events of historical significance." While some material may be objectionable to viewers, the content is undeniably worldwide in scope.
Author/Publisher: Newseum
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 1/26/10

Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps
More than 25,000 maps, most in the public domain, have been digitized at the Perry-Castañeda Library at the University of Texas at Austin. Although there is an emphasis on Texas, maps from around the world are also available. Of special interest is the Historical Collection, which contains earlier editions of U.S. Central Intelligence Agency maps, U.S. Army maps, and U.S. Geological Surveys, among others. In the unlikely event that you can't find a suitable map for your project, the site offers advice on searching for specific maps online. These quality images are a delight to view and would enhance any presentation.
Author/Publisher: University of Texas at Austin
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/28/2010

The Poetry Tool, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poetrytool.html
This is an excellent resource for finding poems in full-text and finding articles about poetry and poets. The Poetry Tool site can be searched or browsed by category, occasion, geographic area, first line, time period or popularity of a poem. There are articles, hundreds of podcasts, as well as audio versions of poems sometimes read by the author of the poem. College and high school students will find a wealth of information quickly and efficiently.
Author/Publisher: The Poetry Foundation
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 1/26/2010

Special Issues Index, http://www.hillsearch.org/special_issues.cfm
The Special Issues Index provides access to special issues from business trade journals and industry associations. Special issues provide key statistics on products, industries, markets, and consumers, and are indispensable for business research. Browse the Special Issues Index by subject or journal, or keyword search across report citations. When you've found a report of interest, use the Get Article drop-down menu at right to check on its availability. Most reports are freely available online, although some of those listed are only index entries to print journals.
Author/Publisher: James J. Hill Reference Library
Free/Fee-Based: Free, although optional fee-based document delivery available
Date Reviewed: 2/18/10

Speech Accent Archive, http://accent.gmu.edu
The Speech Accent Archive is a teaching and research tool for linguists, ESL teachers, and anyone interested in the accents of various English speakers. It provides short audio recordings of native and non-native speakers of English saying the same English paragraph. Basic demographic information, such as age, place of birth, and languages spoken, are provided for each speaker. Phonetic transcriptions and linguistic analysis of the recordings are available. Users need to download a free QuickTime plug-in to hear the recordings. The Archive is a project of the Linguistics Program in the Department of English, the College of Arts and Science's Technology across the Curriculum Program, and the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. This is a helpful site that is easy to use.
Author/Publisher: Steven H. Weinberger, Associate Professor and Director of Linguistics in the Department of English at George Mason University
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/23/2010

The Supreme Court Database, http://scdb.wustl.edu
This database includes information about Supreme Court decisions from 1953-2008. Clicking on the "Analysis" section allows users to search for a specific decision. This database is a "definitive source for researchers, students, journalists, and citizens interested in the U.S. Supreme Court." Examples of information about each case available include “the parties to the suit, the legal provisions considered in the case, and the votes of the Justices.” A Getting Started section is helpful to first-time database users.
Author/Publisher: Washington University in St Louis School of Law
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 1/26/10

Test Reviews Online, http://buros.unl.edu/buros/jsp/search.jsp
This site helps users identify tests and instruments used in education, business, psychology, etc. Ways to search the Reviews include an alphabetical search, a category search, and a keyword search. The online index provides author, title, purpose of the measure, publisher address and other contact information, along with a cross-reference to the volume and page of the review in Mental Measurements Yearbook (1985-present). This feature makes the site particularly useful for libraries with print volumes but no online access. Full reviews are available in pay-per-view.
Author/Publisher: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements
Free/Fee-Based: Free (index); reviews (Fee)
Review Date: 2/12/10

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, http://www.cpsc.gov
The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website is an essential resource for anyone concerned about the safety and potential health risks of consumer products. One of the most useful features on the site is the Recall and Product Safety News database, which is searchable by date, product type, company, country of manufacture, and more. Visitors to the site will also find information about safety in the home, product safety standards, and a section with kid-friendly articles about safety.
Author/Publisher: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/24/10

U.S. Department of State: Travel, http://www.state.gov/travel
The State Department’s Travel website contains indispensable information for domestic and international travelers. Here, visitors can learn about applying for passports and visas, airport security restrictions (including traveling with liquids), currency exchange rates, and much more. Of particular note is the country-specific list of travel warnings and alerts, which describes potentially dangerous situations for Americans traveling abroad. International travelers will also want to look at the section containing emergency assistance resources for American citizens traveling abroad. Any first- time international traveler (and many seasoned travelers) will want to check out this website.
Author/Publisher: U.S. Department of State
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/24/10

U.S. Economy at a Glance, http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.us.htm
For up-to-date statistics and easy access to U.S. economic information, this is a site to bookmark. Users can browse monthly unemployment rates and also track changes in payroll employment, average hourly earnings, and the consumer price index. Statistics are provided by month or quarter, and users can access back data as well. Besides national data, users can narrow results by state, region, or metro area. This site is ideal for users seeking quick information and basic economic data.
Author/Publisher: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/26/2010

UNdata: A world of information, http://data.un.org
For international statistics on a broad range of topics, this is the place to go. A collection of statistics and data sets from nearly 30 United Nations databases, UNdata contains over 60 million records from various UN groups (UNESCO, UNHCR, Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization). Users can use the keyword search, view country profiles, limit results to specific UN organizations, and explore popular topics (population, crime, health). Statistics are presented full-text and data is downloadable. Updated frequently, this source is helpful for librarians, researchers, and general users.
Author/Publisher: United Nations Statistics Division
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/25/2010

Wordnik: All the Words, http://www.wordnik.com
Wordnik is much more than an interactive online dictionary of English. Beyond giving definitions (from the 2008 American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language and other sources), Wordnik provides example sentences showing words in context, information about words' frequency and use patterns, related words, and more. It allows users to contribute information, such as recorded pronunciations, tags, and suggestions for new words. Flickr images are used to illustrate some words. This is definitely a site for “anyone who wants to know more about a word than they can find out in a traditional dictionary.”
Author/Publisher: CEO and Co-Founder is Erin McKean, previously editor in chief for American Dictionaries at Oxford University Press.
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/23/2010

World Digital Library, http://www.wdl.org
" The WDL makes it possible to discover, study, and enjoy cultural treasures from around the world on one site, in a variety of ways. These cultural treasures include, but are not limited to, manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings." The site was developed by "the U.S. Library of Congress, with contributions by partner institutions in many countries; the support of the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and the financial support of a number of companies and private foundations." After selecting a region the user is able to narrow the documents by time period, country, topic, type of item, or institution. Ease of use encourages exploration.
Author/Publisher: Hosted by the Library of Congress with the Support of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 2/15/10