MARSBestRef1999

MARS Best Free Reference Web Sites: 1999

Selected by the
1999 MARS Ad Hoc Best of Reference Task Force


MARS Best of Reference Web Sites: 1999 represents the first in what is planned as 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.

"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."

Go to: About This List | Selection Criteria | Index of Sites Selected

1) All-Music Guide

URL: http://www.allmusic.com/
Author/Publisher: Matrix Software, Inc.
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/25/99

Description:

A comprehensive guide to all forms of popular music and musicians. (Classical music is covered on a sister site, allclassical.com.) The site is searchable by artist name, album or song title, music genre, or record label. Detailed biographies, reviews, and links to other Internet resources are offered for most artists. Discographies include detailed credits which are hyperlinked to other entries for performers or production personnel. Overviews of genres trace the development of musical styles and identify key artists and albums. This is a very good starting point for anyone's exploration of popular music.

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2) Amazon.com

URL: http://www.amazon.com/
Author/Publisher: Amazon.com, Inc.
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/24/99

Description:

This online bookstore provides access to several million titles. One feature that is particularly helpful, and gives it the edge over Books in Print, is the indication of whether a title is "permanently out of stock" and, therefore, more difficult to locate; however, Amazon does sell out-of-print books. Because Amazon is selling a product, they give the customers more information than Books in Print on how long it will take to find a given title. They will also run a search for a title if given contact information. This site also offers book reviews, from the publishers as well as the general public.

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3) Bankrate

URL: http://www.bankrate.com/
Author/Publisher: Intelligent Life Corporation
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/28/99

Description:

Bankrate.com provides consumers with financial data, research and editorial information on investment and non-investment financial products. Information on mortgages, credit cards, new and used auto loans, money market accounts and CDs, checking and ATM fees, home equity lines and loans, and online banking fees is gathered from more than 2500 financial institutions in 120 markets in 50 states and Puerto Rico. Credit union rates are also included. Six calculators also assist patrons with mortgages, credit cards, savings, auto leasing, loans, and relocation. In existence since 1982 as a banking newsletter, Bank Rate Monitor went on the Web in April of 1995 and is updated weekly

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4) Country Studies/Area Handbook

URL: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/cshome.html
Author/Publisher: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/24/99

Description:

Covering approximately 100 countries, this site contains the full text of the most recent volumes of the Country Studies/Area Studies series, prepared by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress under the sponsorship of the Department of the Army. Each book, which is searchable and browsable, focuses on " … a particular foreign country, describing and analyzing its political, economic, social, and national security systems and institutions, and examining the interrelationships of those systems and the ways they are shaped by cultural factors." Photographs, maps, and charts from the print versions are added on an ongoing basis, except when the graphic files are not available. You can search all the books (i.e. countries) at once, a combination, or just one. Each book has an extensive Table of Contents. This is a great site for those who need an overview of a country.

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5) FedStats

URL: http://www.fedstats.gov/
Author/Publisher: Federal Interagency Council on Statistical Policy
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/25/99

Description:
A product of a multi-agency development effort led by the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy, FedStats provides one-stop access to publicly available statistics produced by more than 70 U.S. government agencies, including Agriculture, Census, Education, Health and Human Services, Interior, Justice, Labor, Transportation, and Treasury. It permits several access points to the agency sites, including an A-Z subject index; keyword searching; and searches by state, county and locality. There is also a "Fast Facts" section which links to the online versions of such frequently requested publications as the Statistical Abstract of the United States, State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, Economic Report of the President, and other budget documents, in addition to providing direct access to economic and social indicators via the Federal Statistics Briefing Rooms: http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/html/briefroom.html#fsbr .

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6) 50 States and Capitals

URL: http://www.50states.com/
Author/Publisher: Ray Weber; Weber Publications
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 3/08/99

Description:

50 States and Capitals organizes links to a very large array of information on each state; also five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. Besides the usual geographic, demographic, political, historical, economic, and tourist information, there are links and images for state birds, flags, songs, flowers, trees, maps, license plates, and symbols, and to whatever live "web cams" are available online. There are links to educational systems and departments, libraries, community web pages, weather, genealogical societies, motor vehicle departments, and some features that may be unique to a particular state, e.g., California missions. There is also a separate College and University Directory, and for basic information on all the world's countries and territories, a link to the E-Conflict World Encyclopedia

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7) Foreign Government Resources on the Web

URL: http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/foreign.html
Author/Publisher: John Downey and Grace York
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 3/8/99

Description:

This collection of resources offers much more than the name implies. From the home page, one column of choices is arranged geographically, by region, with links to every official government web site that could be located, including as well those of embassies, U.N. Missions, and tourist authorities, and many unofficial ones as well. Regional and international agency web sites are also included and even collections of local government resources. A second column provides "related foreign information" sources, including background sites such as the C.I.A. World Fact book or Parliaments of the World; comprehensive listings of foreign governments; constitutions, laws and treaties; embassies; and collections of news source on the web. The majority of geographical collections had been updated within the past month.

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8) Foundation Center Online

URL: http://fdncenter.org/
Author/Publisher: The Foundation Center
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/21/99

Description:

This well-organized site is created by the same organization that produces the print source, The Foundation Directory. The two most salient sections of the site are the "Online Library" and "Grantmaker Info." The "Online Library" provides resources for learning more about foundations and non-profits, training for the research process, and access to a librarian via email. "Grantmaker Info" provides a directory of grantmakers covering private, corporate, public charities, and community sources with links to more than 600 sites.

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9) How Stuff Works

URL: http://www.howstuffworks.com/
Author/Publisher: BYG Publishing, Inc.
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/13/99

Description:

A collection of articles written by Marshall Brain, who, according to the web site is "nationally recognized for his ability to communicate complex ideas clearly." The articles describe how common "stuff," such as how an appendix, electricity, car engines, modems, etc. work. Both fun and informative, the articles contain exceptionally simple and descriptive graphics and numerous links to relevant information throughout. It features a table of contents and a search engine to help move around but a better web design would greatly improve access to this gold mine of information.

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10) Information Please

URL: http://www.infoplease.com/
Author/Publisher: Information Please LLC
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/27/99

Description:

A one-stop source for ready reference with material from the Information Please Almanac, the ESPN Information Please Sports Almanac, and the A&E Entertainment Almanac as well as the Random House Webster's College Dictionary and The Columbia Encyclopedia. The main page is designed for quick access with both a search form and an index of hot links under nine broad topics. Other handy features include: facts behind the news, today in history, a biography search and phone and e- mail directories.

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11) The Internet Movie Database

URL: http://www.imdb.com/
Author/Publisher: The Internet Movie Database Ltd
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/21/99

Description:

The database is a highly comprehensive and easy to use movie reference tool. The core of the database is the over 2,250,000 filmographies covering some 180,000 movie titles and over 560,000 people. The hyperlinks within the database make cross-referencing the following categories effortless: actors, directors, writers, composers, cinematographers, editors, production designers, costume designers, and producers. Award and biographical information is also readily available.

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12) Internet Public Library

URL: http://www.ipl.org/
Author/Publisher: Internet Public Library
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/26/99

Description:

An excellent jumping off point for anyone doing research on the Internet, the main "Collections" include: "Reference," "Exhibits," "Especially for Librarians," "Magazines and Serials," "Newspapers," "Online Texts," and "Web Searching" as well as extensive "Teen" and "Youth" collections. "Reference" covers all academic disciplines and there is an extensive tutorial on the research process itself. The "Online Literary Criticism Collection" part of the "Ready Reference Collection" as well as the "Magazines and Serials" and "Newspapers" are especially noteworthy.

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13) Kelley Blue Book

URL: http://www.kbb.com/
Author/Publisher: Kelley Blue Book
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/28/99

Description:

The online version of the printed work, Kelley Blue Book, has been on the web since late 1995. It offers used and new car pricing; values on used motorcycles, dirt bikes, ATVs, scooters, mopeds, and sidecars. New car reviews and a list of the 50 most popular selling cars are also given. Links for selling and purchasing vehicles, financing and insuring as well as checking for lemons through Carfax are also provided.

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14) Learn2.com

URL: http://www.learn2.com/
Author/Publisher: Panmedia Corporation
Fee/Free: Free (NOTE: Site is no longer free, 3/3/2003)
Reviewed: 2/25/99

Description:

Calling itself the "ability utility," this site provides practical information on a wide range of subjects using clear language and simple illustrations. "2torials" include topics as varied as "how to tie a necktie" to "how to choose wine." The site is organized into "channels" including Arts & Crafts, Automotive, Business & Money, Family & Pets, Food & Drink, Health & Fitness, and so on. A user may browse or may search for specific tutorials by keyword.

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15) MapQuest

URL: http://www.mapquest.com/
Author/Publisher: MapQuest.com, Inc.
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/24/99

Description:

This travel site provides free access to driving directions (door-to-door or city- to-city) between any two points in the U.S. and Canada. It also can provide a map, given an address, in either country. Since the maps can be sized, users can get an overview of an area or city, or specific streets within a city. It is possible to register, for free, to get a wider range of services; but it is not necessary to get any of the types of maps mentioned above.

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16) Martindale's "The Reference Desk"

URL: http://www-sci.lib.uci.edu/~martindale/Ref.html
Author/Publisher: Jim Martindale
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/21/99

Description:

James Martindale has maintained this extraordinary reference resource site since 1994. The resource covers a wide range of topics including international business, astronomy, entertainment, and the arts, that are divided into "Information Centers" for easier browsing. While this virtual reference desk covers everything from world postal maps to periodic tables to British poets, the organization does require some patience.

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17) MEDLINEplus

URL: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/
Author/Publisher: National Library of Medicine
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/25/99

Description:

MEDLINEplus offers free public searches to MEDLINE, long the premier bibliographic database for medical information, as well as access to a vast amount of other information for the health care consumer. There are seven major access points: "Health Topic," "Dictionaries," "Search Database," "Clearinghouses," "Directories," MEDLINE," "Organizations," "Publications/News," and "Libraries." By selecting a particular Health Topic, a user may access Internet resources from government agencies or private sites such as Mayo Health Oasis. A notable limitation of this site is the fact that many documents retrieved in searches of the MEDLINE database itself are not freely available.

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18) Nobel Foundation

URL: http://www.nobel.se/
Author/Publisher: The Nobel Foundation
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/24/99

Description:

This is the official site of the Nobel Foundation which awards prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. This site includes a list of all winners from 1901 to date (plus a searchable database), biographical information on the awardees, information on the selection process for all six of the Nobel prize awarding institutions/areas, history behind the prizes, and more. Information on the recipients can include a biographical summary, bibliography and presentation speech as well as graphics of the various Nobel stamps issued by the Swedish Post Office.

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19) Occupational Outlook Handbook

URL: http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Author/Publisher: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/27/99

Description:

An invaluable tool for students and career-changers as well as economists. The Handbook lists close to eight hundred occupations and the following characteristics of each: nature of work, working conditions, employment, training, job outlook, earnings, related occupations, and sources of additional information. Three methods of access are provided: a keyword search, an index to all identified occupations, and occupational clusters.

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20) Project Vote Smart

URL: http://www.vote-smart.org/
Author/Publisher: Project Vote Smart
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 3/1/99

Description:

This product of a national non-partisan, non-profit organization provides information about elected officials and political candidates on the state and national level. The information offered includes voting records, campaign issue positions, performance evaluations by special interests, campaign contributions, backgrounds, previous experience, and contact information. Levels of government featured on the site include the United States Congress, state governors, and state legislatures. Less information is available on the latter level, although the site managers state that they are working on this. Site users may determine who their current representatives are by searching by their zip code.

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21) RxList: The Internet Drug Index

URL: http://rxlist.com/
Author/Publisher: Neil Sandow, Parm D.
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/21/99

Description:

Rxlist is a resource for in-depth drug information covering over 4,000 U.S. products. Each drug entry will contain the following information: description, clinical pharmacology, indications, usage, contraindications, warnings, precautions, drug interactions, adverse reactions, drug abuse and dependence, dosage and administration, and animal pharmacology. The fuzzy logic search engine allows for broad searching: drug names, categories, actions, and misspellings.

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22) Scout Report Signpost

URL: No longer available on the Web
Author/Publisher: Internet Scout Project
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/14/99

Description:

Composed of annotated sites from the Scout Reports as well the Scout Reports for Science & Engineering, Business & Economics, and Social Sciences, the Scout Report Signpost offers subject-based access to over 6000 Internet resources. Primarily designed for the U.S. higher education audience, Signpost contains general resources as well. There are four primary methods to accessing content: Browse of Library of Congress Subject Headings or Classification and Quick and Advanced Search. New resources are added on a weekly basis.

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23) Thomas: Legislative Information on the Internet

URL: http://thomas.loc.gov/
Author/Publisher: Library of Congress
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/24/99

Description:

This site, sponsored by the Library of Congress, provides access to a wealth of congressional information on Bills under consideration, Public Laws, Committee Reports, the Congressional Record, and the Senators and Representatives themselves that is well organized making the site easy to navigate. The site also provides links to other government web sites, including the GPO Access, a site that could be used, hand-in-hand, with this one for a larger picture of government publications available to the public.

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24) Travlang

URL: http://www.travlang.com/
Author/Publisher: The travlang Company
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 3/1/99

Description:

Travlang contains pointers to 17 online translation dictionaries including one for Spanish, French, German, Italian, and even Latin as well as some 70 language training modules which include accompanying RealAudio files so that you can read and listen to a foreign language. The site also includes a currency converter, international traffic rules, and calendars. There are also many links to travel-related information including weather, hotels, airfares, rental cars etc. Parts of this site are graphically intensive.

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25) World Factbook: 1998

URL: http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/
Author/Publisher: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
Fee/Free: Free
Reviewed: 2/27/99

Description:

The C.I.A. produces the World Factbook to meet the needs of government officials for background material on economic, geographic, and political conditions in 267 countries around the globe. Locations can be accessed within the "Country Listing" or by "Reference Maps." Over fifteen government entities contribute to its production as well as other public and private sources. Since it is in the public domain, it may be copied freely. Published annually, it includes the latest material at the time of publication.

Task Force: Amy Tracy Wells and Becki Whitaker, Co-Chairs; Michael Ciccone; Andrea Copeland; LeiLani Freund; Elliot Kanter; Carolyn Larson; Jian Liu; Tim McDonough; Lori Morse; Natalie Power; Ann E. Robinson; Alan Stewart; and Deleyne Wentz

Edited: June 12, 1999