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."
About.com, Inc. Reviewed 2/14/00.
About.com, a search engine of evaluated web sites formerly known as MiningCompany.com advertises itself as "a network of sites by expert guides." The well-organized main page contains a site index that can be searched alphabetically or by subject headings. The site can also be searched by keyword topic. If the site search index retrieves a specific meta guide for the topic, its home page will contain evaluated web sites and articles selected by an online expert guide. A useful part of these very navigable pages is the inclusion of briefly annotated Net Links concerning or related to the topic. If a keyword search does not locate an expert guide page, the search engine will provide related Internet sites or suggest searching for the topic by using Ask Jeeves, the popular natural language search service. This variety of search methods will serve searchers at all levels of expertise.
The Physician Select directory on the American Medical Association's web site can be searched by physician name or medical specialty. Before searching is permitted, a disclaimer indicates that the AMA does not endorse any physician appearing in the database nor is the information there sufficient for most healthcare entities to formally verify credentials. However, the introduction indicates that the database "provides information on virtually every licensed physician in the United States" and that "all physician credential data have been verified for accuracy ..." All individual listings include address, medical school and year of graduation, residency training, primary practice, specialty and whether or not the physician is an AMA member. AMA member listings generally include more information, such as a stated "practice philosophy" and a MapQuest map and detailed driving directions. Although this site should not be construed as a definitive aid to choosing or employing a physician, it is a useful tool for locating doctors and researching their background.
The intent of the AskERIC service is to provide "education information to teachers, librarians, counselors, administrators, parents, and others throughout the United States and the world." The Question & Answer (Q&A) Service offers users the opportunity to submit any education-related question and receive an e-mail response within two business days listing relevant ERIC database citations. The "Search ERIC" database comprises the full web-based version of ERIC, which is updated monthly and goes back to 1966. Another feature of the AskERIC site is the Virtual Library. Although many of the InfoGuides in this section are now in need of updating, there are still many other useful links to a variety of educational resources, including lesson plans.
AT&T's AnyWho directory functions as a single telephone listing so that the user does not have to search across multiple directories. Furthering the quick and easy search, AT&T claims that their directory is one of the fastest available, with web pages designed for dial-up use. Despite these claims, the interface is quite cluttered with options and services/advertising that reviewers found annoying. Another frustration is that unless your search yields less than 10 results, you cannot tell exactly how many listings you have until you come to the bottom of the last page of results. However, AT&T's AnyWho is still a comprehensive method for quickly locating listed telephone directory information. The reverse directory is useful and AT&T has also partnered with MapQuest (reviewed 1999) to easily allow users to retrieve a map and driving directions for the address information supplied in any given listing.
BigCharts is an investment charting and research web site that provides access to stock quotes, industry analysis, market news and commentary. The Historical Quotes area contains stock price information as far back as 1985. The BigReports section provides up to date information on the "Bigmovers," the "Bigpics," etc. "MarketPulse" news bulletins appear on the home page and pertinent news articles are linked to individual stock quotes and profiles. Of course, one of the major appeals of this site is the quality of the graphics used to present business information. It is not unusual to see BigCharts tables and graphs on other financial web sites. The interactive charting feature allows the user to customize charts to exact specifications, including the comparison or overlaying of data. Big Charts seems to set the web standard for graphic presentation of business data.
Britannica.com provides the complete text of the Encyclopædia Britannica along with selected magazine articles from more than 70 magazines and current U.S. and international news from Washingtonpost.com. Annotated Web sites relevant to one's search terms are also included. The sites are reviewed and rated by the Britannica editors. A link to the online Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary is available at the top level of the site. Although graphically busy with some server and traffic problems in 1999 when the database first became freely available to the public, access to the site now seems to be more stabilized and the content of this on-line encyclopædia and gateway can't be faulted.
This site is hosted and developed by Catholic Online Internet Services, a developer of web sites and networked services. The blatant advertising on the Saints & Angels site is a bit disconcerting for a religious site, but the information provided is thorough and overcomes the visuals. There is a comprehensive index of saints, along with a list of patron saints and a list of feast dates (chronologically through the year). The information on each saint includes background, feast date and patron saint information. (Did you know that Saint Jerome is the patron saint of librarians?) The site is extremely useful in its own right and is a saving grace when all of the books on the saints have been checked out of the library.
CI: Corporate Information, which merged in January 2000 with the Wright Research Center site, offers both company profiles and more extensive research reports on selected companies. The global scope of CI: Corporate Information is especially noteworthy; it is an excellent jumping off point for finding international business information. In addition to providing a search engine for approximately 300,000 public and private company profiles drawn from sites around the world, the site provides access to research reports on approximately 15,000 companies in over 50 countries. It should be noted that most of the linked sites are free, but the user will run into a few that are fee-based.
The well-organized CNET site is all about technology. Essentially, it provides the average computer user with an edge in keeping on top of computer and computer-related technology. CNET contains extensive reviews of new hardware and software products, a list of Internet Service Providers (with a review of each), tech news and tech stock information for investors, free software downloads, web development tips for beginners and experts, and a help and how-to page. This site is easy to navigate and packed with practical information. Every computer owner could benefit from having CNET.com bookmarked.
CNN is probably familiar to most cable television viewers as one of the major news & information sources rivaling the major networks. Now it has also become a mainstay of the Internet news world providing frequently updated news on the local, national, and international news fronts. The site is well organized and easy to use. The CNN.com home page provides a list of top stories or the news seeker short on time can go straight to the Headline News section. Users can also go to an index of topical sections to browse current news or may choose to do a keyword search on a particular section or the whole site. It's possible to listen to CNN live or view daily video features from this site. For more in-depth coverage, CNN.com provides access to CNNSI (Sports Illustrated), CNNFN (Financial News), the CNN weather service, and AllPolitics (a collaboration with Time).
Not only does ESPN offer up-to-the-minute scores and statistical and schedule information on all sports, it also provides profiles on professional and college athletes, job links for those looking for a career in sports, sports nutrition advice, and insightful commentary from some of the best sports reporters in the business. Daily broadcasts of selected ESPN events are available, as well as play-by-play online scores for major sporting events. The home page is a little too crowded, but navigation is still quite easy. ESPN.com is a must for the sports enthusiast or for anyone looking for sporting news.
This site, maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is a well-known and important source for most genealogists. The cleanly designed home page offers three search methods: Ancestor Search, which allows you to search for a person's name; Keyword Search, a subject search on the Web and in the SourceGuide; and Custom search, where you can limit your search to any of the specific files offered. The site also provides a secure archive and links to mailing lists where those researching the same family lines can discuss their research. For those seeking further information, there is a directory of Family History Centers in the United States and an online store offering helpful tools, publications, software, and supplies.
Findlaw is a comprehensive directory of free legal and governmental resources. It contains a career resource center, a consumer law section, multiple directories of legal organizations and lawyers, links to U.S. cases and legal codes, and a wide array of other governmental resources at the state, national, and international level. There is a link to the SEC EDGAR database and connections to business, general, and legal news resources are also plentiful. The directory at the top level is well organized and easy to use.
This nicely designed site contains a wealth of information for researchers on opinion polls and trends. Polls in the recent news are highlighted on the home page. Clicking on the "Gallup Poll" Tab brings you to the latest released poll and an archive of polls arranged by topic and going back to 1997. Special features include a guest scholar poll review featured each month, an informational FAQ section that explains the Gallup Polls' history and techniques, and special historical reports such as a list of "The Most Important Events of the Century From the Viewpoint of the People."
The "Go Ask Alice" website provides information on health related and sexuality topics in a question and answer format. It is produced by Columbia University's Health Education Program, a division of the Columbia University Health Service. The clean and vibrantly colored home page is arranged by topics such as relationships, sexuality, sexual health, emotional health, fitness and nutrition, alcohol, nicotine and other drugs, and general health. The search button allows the user to search an archive of previously answered topics using the basic or advanced search feature. If any records are found, the search index ranks the retrieved records by relevance. The user can also click on the "Ask Alice" button to submit a specific question. The replies appeared to be thorough but not taxing to the attention span. The friendly, anonymous format is probably quite appealing to young adults.
Great Buildings Online provides a wealth of information on many of the most famous buildings in the world. It includes photographs and architectural details for each building as well as links to information on the architects and a bibliography. The site enables users to view three-dimensional models of many of the buildings after downloading free viewing software. This is a commercial website and so many of the bibliographical entries link to items for sale by either Amazon or Artifice, but there is still a great deal of basic building information to be accessed here for free. The entire site is searchable by either simple or advanced methods and is easy to navigate.
The Healthfinder(r) web site is a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The authors describe the site as "a free gateway to reliable consumer health and human services information". The site is clearly arranged by categories: "Hot Topics," "News," "Smart Choices," "More Tools," "Just for You," and "About Us". All of these sections have clearly defined sub-categories. Healthfinder features a keyword search tool for the database that includes a help button and an index button. The search results lead the user to selected online publications, clearinghouses, databases, web sites, and support and self-help groups, as well as to government agencies and not-for-profit organizations.
IRS: Forms and Publications http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/prod/forms_pubs/index.html
While your local library and post office may very well have all the forms and instructions you'll need to complete your taxes, it is also very convenient to have the federal forms and information available on the web. The IRS site contains a nice selection of formats available to aid viewing and printing of forms. Multiple files can be selected on the site which means that you can begin downloading all the files in unison instead of one-by-one. Making the site even more convenient, links are provided to state tax forms and to federal forms for previous years.
This site is part of a collaborative effort by the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and Stanford University to provide access to documents of Dr. King and historical information on the social movements in which he participated. Some of his most frequently requested documents are listed prominently on the attractive home page. A side bar easily connects you with the text of his other papers, speeches, and sermons. The "links" button at the very bottom of the homepage can unfortunately be overlooked but it provides links to other important web sites relating to King or the civil rights movement. The Life magazine photo archive of King is a great resource of images. The site also contains a 2700 item searchable bibliography for researchers.
National Archives and Records Administration: Office of the Federal Register http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara
Hosted by the Government Printing Office's award-winning GPO Access site, the NARA link includes: the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) ("codification of the general and permanent rules published in the Federal Register by the Executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government"); the Federal Register ("official daily publication for Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as Executive Orders and other Presidential Documents"); the Government Manual ("the official handbook of the Federal Government"); and Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States ("papers and speeches of the President of the United States that were issued by the Office of the Press Secretary"). Links to a wealth of searchable Congressional information such as the Congressional Record and the United States Code are also available. While trying to locate legal and administrative governmental information is still not for the feint of heart, this collocation of resources combined with the ability to search them is noteworthy.
The News365 site is a no-frills index of links to some 10,000 media sites from around the world. Whether you're looking for the BBC or your hometown paper, the chances are good that a link to it will be found at News365. The listings on the home page are organized by broad subject category, geographic location and media type. It would be helpful if this site had a search tool, but the simplicity of the contents and organization still facilitate easy use. This is a very useful site for helping customers keep in touch with events in their native country.
From the legal beagles at Nolo Press comes this one-stop site for legal information geared toward the consumer and layperson. Most researchers will probably start with the section entitled "Self Help Law Centers." The Nolo Legal Encyclopedia is an essential part of this section and it is covered separately below. The Self Help area also includes a fairly basic legal dictionary that, according to the authors, is a "work in progress." The FAQ center facilitates submission of a query ("Ask Auntie Nolo") if the user's particular question is not covered in the extensive FAQ list. A research center includes links to the U.S. Constitution and other Federal law sites and information on statutes in all 50 states. Users interested in purchasing Nolo products can do so from the Law Store. Several of the members of the MARSBest group voted for the Nolo Legal Encyclopedia http://www.nolo.com/encyclopedia/index.html apart from the site as a whole and indeed, it does stand on its own as a valuable legal resource. Just as on the home page, the user can choose a subject from the guide, do a free-form search, or use the extensive list of suggested keywords. The retrieved information often includes some of the FAQ's as well as useful, abbreviated articles. Links to related articles are also provided.
OnHealth.Com is an independent consumer health information service that provides valuable information about wellness, health and medicine. It features relevant material from the publishers of The New England Journal of Medicine, the Cleveland Clinic and physicians who teach at Columbia, Harvard and Stanford. Most importantly, it provides an internal search engine for looking up specific topics on its web site. The search area also has a link to Medline. The home page includes special articles and daily announcements of on-line events and Webcasts. A "Diseases & Conditions" section features a "Symptom Checker" and a "Conditions A-Z" index that retrieves pertinent information on the symptoms, causes and treatments and recommended web sites for a myriad of conditions, diseases and health problems.
OneLook allows for easy, quick word searches in over 600 on-line dictionaries, including general, legal and foreign dictionaries. The user can search a word in all of the dictionaries, but a warning indicates that this type of search will take longer. Options are to search for English definitions only or to choose French, Spanish, Italian or German. The dictionaries range from something as well known as Merriam-Webster's WWWebster Dictionary to specialized resources like The Cadillac Performance Dictionary. The search results also contain links to the home page of the indexed dictionaries themselves if the user wants to further explore a particular resource. This site does indeed provide a great network of dictionary resources with "one look."
Begun in 1995 with the mission of "indexing quality Internet sites and assisting visitors in navigating these sites," Refdesk.com has won numerous web site awards and accolades from reference librarians as an essential reference tool. The Reference Resources and Facts Search sections provide links to a wide array of ready reference sources, from Acronym Finder to Zip+4 Code Lookup. Conveniently located links to Britannica, the Old Farmer's Almanac, Bartlett's Quotations and Roget's Thesaurus are available, to name just a few. Current News contains an impressive list of electronic journals, newspapers, and news services. Although the initial impression of the home page is that it is a little too densely packed with lists, it's still fairly easy to navigate by browsing the well organized categories on the home page or by using the well placed, user friendly search engine.
Topozone.com is an online map service providing topographical maps of the United States, down to the [quadrant] level: 1:100,000, 1:25,000, and 1:24,000. These maps do not provide most street names, but they do include features such as buildings, streams, woods, creeks, mountains, and of course, topographic contour lines. The maps will print out most successfully on a color printer, but will still be useful in black and white. Use of Topozone along with Mapquest or another street map tool would provide quite complete information on both natural and man-made features.
The U.S. Post Office site brings together a number of features of interest to the general public, businesses and stamp collectors. The most useful and frequently accessed part of the USPS web site is the zip code directory. By entering a street address, the 9-digit zip code can be located. Likewise, by entering a zip code you can locate the city and state in which it is located or you can enter a city name and see the zip codes associated with it. In addition to the zip code directory, users can purchase stamps online including collectibles from "The Collector's Corner," download various business forms, find the nearest post office, and track certain types of mail. Domestic and international rate calculators allow users to estimate the cost of mailing letters and packages. Tabs at the top make the various functions easy to locate.
Note: Site has changed content and is no longer free. 3/3/2003
This source for garden information, part of the Time/Life family of publications, allows the user to look up plants by name or keyword, or find plants that match certain attributes of your local conditions. Searching brings up a useful short description with Latin and common names for each plant retrieved. Linking to the entry on the plant gives a picture, description and growing information for the plant and also includes links to the garden.com website which includes more information and a mail order service. Virtual Garden has a somewhat cluttered interface, but extraneous stuff is kept to the sides of the screen. The site is easy to use and very useful for the gardening library patron.
Weather.Com, the official web site for Weather Channel Enterprises, Inc., is an excellent ready reference source for current forecasts and weather-related news stories as well as informational features like "storms of the century." Over 1700 U.S. city forecasts can be retrieved by zip code or city name. The forecast and current conditions page, which is updated regularly throughout the day, contains the seven-day forecast in graphic form as well as a link to a more detailed forecast issued by the National Weather Service. Regularly updated local and regional Doppler radar and satellite maps are linked from the current conditions page. The web site contains similar search indexes for locating international forecasts.
Contributors: LeiLani Freund and Lori Morse, Co-Chairs; Michael Ciccone; Andrea Copeland; Jennifer Heise; Carolyn Larson; Natalie McDonough; Timothy McDonough; Ann Robinson; Carol Rusinek; Alan Stewart; Amy Tracy Wells; and Deleyne Wentz