Best Free Reference Web Sites 2005
Seventh 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

All Recipes
Reviewed: 3 March 2005

Billing itself as the web site of "Real Recipes from Real People" TM, All Recipes contains over 25,000 recipes primarily submitted and reviewed by amateur home cooks. Recipes can be retrieved through a well-placed keyword search box or by consulting the Allrecipes Recipe Collections index that includes thirty subject categories ranging from appetizer to vegetarian. This index also features links to "Recipes of the Day" and "Top Ten Recipes." The web site offers free site registration where members can submit their own recipes to the web site community, rate and review recipes, compile shopping lists and save favorite recipes in their private online recipe box. Despite a proliferation of advertisements, All Recipes is an excellent resource for finding recipes online.

AltaVistas Babel Fish
Overture Services, Inc.
Reviewed: 18 March 2005

Inspired by the Douglas Adams' book, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, this site from AltaVista will translate individual words, short paragraphs (up to 150 words), or whole web pages between various languages. In addition to the Western European languages, the site also translates Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. A special virtual keyboard allows users to type accented or Russian characters. The program translates each word individually, which may create unusual looking syntax and grammar. The Help page warns about translation errors, particularly if the original material contains slang or poor grammar. While the results are by no means perfect, the site may be useful in providing a general idea of the subject matter of short passages or a web page. Center of Public Affairs - University of Virginia
Reviewed: 18 March 2005

Originally created in 2000 by PBS as the online companion to its miniseries, "The American Presidency," this site was acquired by the Miller Center in 2001 and revised and re-deployed in 2003. The site consists of two sections. The Presidency in History section presents biographies and timelines for each president, first lady, cabinet member, and staff along with a list of key events and an image gallery for each president. The Presidency in Action section includes an organizational chart of administrative units and office holders, along with essays and bibliographies on key areas of presidential responsibility such as economic and domestic policy, national security, and legislative affairs. This is an excellent resource about the American presidency for high school teachers and students, undergraduate students, and the general public.
GuruNet Corporation
Reviewed: 18 March 2005 is a search engine that searches and cross-indexes online research tools. Its 100 plus resources include The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Merriam Webster's Dictionary, Who2, and Wikipedia. displays the full result of your search on one page, unlike general search engines such as Google or Yahoo, which may produce many pages of results. The creators' goal is to "provide a topic based snapshot answer rather than thousands of pages that contain your word." can be a very useful resource for those looking for a fast succinct answer about a topic.

Background Notes
United States Department of State
Reviewed: 14 March 2005

Prepared by the regional bureaus of the U. S. Department of State, Background Notes are factual publications about the land, people, history, government, political conditions, economy, and foreign relations of independent states, some dependencies, and areas of special sovereignty. They include excellent overviews of history and economics for each country or region. Long available as a print series, the web versions are easy to navigate and read. The Background Notes are useful for those studying political science, economics, current events, and business, and the sections on foreign relations can be especially helpful for those studying international business.

Ben's Guide to the U.S. Government for Kids
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Reviewed: 2 March 2005

With the goal of "providing learning tools for K-12 students, parents, and teachers," Ben's Guide describes how the U.S. government works and shows students how to use GPO Access to locate primary source materials for school assignments. It is divided into four grade levels (K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12), each of which features some of the following topics: Our Nation, Historical Documents, Branches of Government, How Laws are Made, National Versus State Government, Election Process, Citizenship, a glossary and U.S. Government Web Sites for Kids. It also includes a section for parents and teachers which contains curriculum links, government web sites for children and U.S. government information found in libraries. Ben's Guide successfully provides children with an enjoyable yet educational way to learn about American government.

ConsumerSearch, Inc.
Reviewed: 13 March 2005

ConsumerSearch aims to be the starting place for consumers researching top-rated products in 13 categories including Photo & Video, Health & Fitness, Computers, Automotive, and Sports & Leisure. The site employs over 50 researchers who identify and rank product reviews based on their currency, credibility, testing methodology, and the reviewer's qualifications. Results are presented in an easy-to-use format highlighting links to the best-rated reviews and products. The "Fast Answers" page summarizes the research about each of the top rated products and provides links to "The Full Story" for additional background and price information. Links are also provided to ConsumerSearch's ranking of all reviews of the product and to sites offering the product for sale. This is an excellent resource for those trying to locate and evaluate product review information on the Internet.

Digital History
Reviewed: 27 March 2005

This is an extensive and well-organized site featuring "high-quality historical resources for teachers and students for free and without advertising," a feat accomplished through partnerships with a variety of museums and archives. In addition to primary-source material, including multimedia, the site, which is presented in the form of a digital textbook, features resources such as an interactive timeline of U.S. History from 1590-present, subject guides, handouts, and lesson plans. Users are also invited to direct questions to the "Hyperhistorian," Steven Mintz, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of History at the University of Houston. The archives of these queries and answers are accessible as well. This site will be especially useful for high school and post-secondary level history instructors and students.

DOAJ: Directory of Open Access Journals
Lund University Libraries
Reviewed: 27 March 2005; revised 20 June 2005

The DOAJ is a pan-disciplinary and lingual resource that allows users to identify and search free, full text, quality controlled open-access scientific and scholarly journals. At the time of this review, DOAJ included 1611 journals, 405 of which are searchable at the article level. In addition to offering search and browse capabilities by article or journal title, the DOAJ indexes journals by seventeen broad subject headings which can then be expanded into more specific subject listings. Each journal-level record includes the ISSN, publisher, start year, and language. As Open Access publishing becomes increasingly viable for scholarly communication, the DOAJ offers librarians and researchers a much needed high-quality tool to help them locate and access this material.
CNET Networks, Inc
Reviewed: 7 March 2005 provides free downloads of a collection of more than 30,000 free and trial-version programs, including utilities, music, and games. is published by CNET, an interactive content company. Users of Windows and MacIntosh computers, as well as handheld devices, can read reviews and rankings by CNET and by other users. CNET rates the software on the quality of its user interface, features, and download as well as the program's functionality and stability. Software with adware is allowed but identified. Although there are a number of advertisements on the site, provides a single, easy-to-use source of utility and other software for the home and business user.

Federal Citizen Information Center
U.S. General Services Administration
Reviewed: March 17 2005

As noted in the site's "About us" page, the Federal Citizen Information Center (FCIC) is a "one-stop source for answers to questions about consumer problems and government services." The web page complements the Center's long-standing telephone and mail services to the public, providing users with a single point of access for information from various government agencies. The site is easy to use, offering users both simple search interface and a comprehensive subject listing from which to choose. With its free offers, calls for consumer action, and links to dozens of government sites containing information on subjects ranging from product recalls to purchasing a home, this site is an example of how print information can be successfully translated into an attractive online resource to serve the general public.

glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Claude J. Summers, General Editor / glbtq, Inc.,
Reviewed: 13 March 2005

Glbtq is a comprehensive and accessible encyclopedia of art, literature and social science as they relate to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. The site offers scholarly and authoritative articles written for a broad audience. A hierarchical indexing system provides for easy browsing by topic, and entries are cross-indexed to lead the user to related topics. Entries are signed and include extensive bibliographies of both print and online sources. Special features include interviews with authors and other prominent gay and lesbian personalities, discussion boards, and "spotlights" that pull together groups of articles around a central theme. This is an excellent resource for anyone looking for information on individuals and topics related to these communities.

GrayLit Network: A Science Portal of Technical Reports
Department of Energy's Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI)
Reviewed: 18 March 2005

As described on the "About this Site" page, the GrayLIT Network "is a portal for technical report information generated through federally funded research and development projects." Such "grey" literature, although prolific and of great scientific value, is generally not distributed through conventional publication channels. The GrayLit Network allows patrons to search multiple government databases to retrieve this elusive scientific information. Among the indexed agencies are Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense (DOD), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Search results are based on searches of bibliographic records for some databases and full text searching ofothers depending on the search capabilities of the individual sites. However, the full text of all reports is available, making this an excellent resource for researchers needing this specialized information.

Modern Language Association Language Map
Modern Language Association
Reviewed: 21 March 2005,/p>

The Modern Language Association used responses to the 2000 Census question "Does this person speak a language other than English at home?" to create maps and tables for the number of people speaking one of thirty languages plus seven less commonly spoken groups of languages in the United States. Results can be viewed as color-coded maps by Mainland United States, state, county, or zip code; or in table form by entire United States, state, county, zip code, metropolitan area, or town. Directions for creating maps or tables are clear. For students, teachers and others looking for the number of native speakers of languages (including English) in the United States as well as for areas where the greatest number of people speaking each language live, this easily used site is an excellent resource.

National Criminal Justice Reference Service
U.S. Department of Justice
Reviewed: 31 March 2005

The goal of the NCJRS is to provide "justice and substance abuse information to support research, policy, and program development worldwide." From the home page users may access the Library Abstracts database containing summaries of more than 180,000 criminal justice publications and the NCJRS Virtual Library containing 7,000+ full-text publications from various government agencies. Entries in the Abstracts Database, which cover resources from the 1970's to the present, include title, author, sponsoring agency, purchasing address, and journal citation, as well as short summaries. Together, these two databases provide free access to a wealth of information, including statistics, research findings, program descriptions, congressional hearing transcripts, and training materials on topics such as crime, criminology, law enforcement, corrections, courts, juvenile justice, victims of crime and the justice system.; Luke Metcalfe, Manager / Developer
Reviewed: 17 March 2005

As described on the site, "NationMaster is a vast compilation of data from such sources as the CIA World Factbook, United Nations, World Health Organization, World Bank, World Resources Institute, UNESCO, UNICEF and OECD" and a "handy way to graphically compare nations." By using the available forms, the user "can generate maps and graphs on all kinds of statistics." This site aims "to be the web's one-stop resource for country statistics on anything and everything, whether it be soldiers, Olympic medals, tourists, English speakers or wall plug voltages. "Integrated into these is a full encyclopedia with over 200,000 articles." Aside from the Google ads at the top of each page, the data and graphs are informative and compelling.

New York Times Article Archives 1851-1995
The New York Times Company; hosted by ProQuest Archiver
Reviewed: 18 March 2005

Made available by the New York Times in cooperation with ProQuest Archiver, this site indexes over 15 million articles published in the New York Times from September 1851 to December 1995. Users can search for specific articles by keyword or phrase, author, headline, date, or date range. Searches may be limited to articles only or broadened to include advertisements and other listings. The full-text of articles, including accompanying photographs, graphs, and/or tables, may be purchased from ProQuest Archiver in PDF format for $2.95 per article or in 4 ,10, and 25 article packs. The site is well designed and easy to use. The New York Times Article Archives site is a wonderful resource for students, researchers, and the general public.

North American Mammals
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Reviewed: 18 March 2005

Developed by the Natural Partners for Education Outreach Program of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, this site provides a detailed description, distribution range, and a picture for over 400 North American mammal species with a current emphasis on those found in the United States. Searching is available by geographic area, scientific name, common name or conservation status. Users can browse by order, family, or genus. Eventually, species will be added from Canada and Mexico. This is a very useful resource for students and the general public seeking information about mammals in the United States.
National Agricultural Library, Food and Nutrition Information Center
Reviewed: 18 March 2005

Billing itself as "The Best Nutrition Information at Your Fingertips," provides access to nutritional information from numerous government databases. Sources include CDC, FDA, Health.Gov, and the USDA. The site answers numerous nutrition related questions, provides helpful hints on planning nutritional meals, food recalls, and food safety People trying to lose weight can find suggestions for weight control through exercise and proper nutrition. Users can also find useful information about food composition and how your diet can prevent or help manage diseases.

The Official Academy Awards® Database
Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
Reviewed: 13 February 2005

The Academy Awards® Database is a one-stop source of information about the Academy Awards. Intended for all users, the database contains a plethora of information from the first Academy Awards® in 1927/28 to the present. Users can search one of three search screens: Basic, Advanced and Statistical. The Basic screen allows searching by film title, nominee, over 40 award categories, song title, winners only, and award year. The results can be displayed in either chronological or alphabetical order. The Advanced screen allows Boolean searching and contains additional searchable fields. The currently updated award statistics page is organized by subject category. Before the current year's Oscar® winners are announced, the web site provides a link to Oscar®.com where current year nominees in all categories are listed.

OFFSTATS: Official Statistics on the Web
Rainer Wolcke, University of Auckland Library
Reviewed: 31 March 2005

OFFSTATS is a meta site that pulls together links to official statistics from countries, government agencies and intergovernmental organizations. This web resource is easy to navigate through pull down menus on its clean and sparse main page. Statistics can be found by country, region or topic. Links to sources are clearly displayed. Topic links also note the source of the statistics. The topic categories are especially useful for quickly finding statistics that compare countries and regions in areas such as environment, health, social indicators and dozens of other categories.

Papal Encyclicals Online
Papal Encyclicals Online
Reviewed: 21 March 2005

After the demise of the Catholic Resource Network (CRNET) and St. Michael's Depot, a Catholic layman created this site to keep important Catholic documents readily available. He maintains and supports this site, which provides papal encyclicals and other Catholic Church documents from 1226 to the present. It is currently the most complete Web site for these materials. Papal encyclicals and other documents may be browsed by Pope or searched by keyword. Navigation is clear and the site is easy to use. It is a treasure trove for anyone seeking the full text of papal encyclicals, apostolic letters, apostolic constitutions, apostolic exhortations, and other Papal communications.

National Library of Medicine
Reviewed: 31 March 2005

PubMed is "a database of over 15 million citations for articles published in more than 4800 biomedical journals and magazines from the United States and 70 other countries." Coverage dates back to the 1950's and includes the fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, the health care system, and the pre-clinical sciences. It includes links to many sites providing full text articles and other related resources. PubMed differs from MedlinePlus in content and audience. MedlinePlus is a carefully selected set of links to web resources aimed at a consumer health audience. PubMed, by contrast, has very sophisticated search options including fields such as MeSH (Medical Subject Headings), language, date, publication type, population type (human or animal) and age. PubMed is an unparalleled source for biomedical literature.
National Association of Realtors and Homestore, Inc.
Reviewed: 2 March 2005, the official web site of the National Association of Realtors, contains over 2 million listings of homes for sale throughout the United States and Canada. This well designed web resource prominently displays a "Find a Home" basic search tool where properties can be accessed by city, state/province, zip/postal code, price-range. This main search section also offers a "More Search Options" link to an advanced search page where searches can be limited to property type, property, community and lot features, financial options and Multiple Listing Service ID search. The web site features other home buying tools such as "Find a Realtor," "Find a Lender," "Find a Mover," "Market Conditions," and "Real Estate 101" for buyers and sellers. remains the definitive online resource for anyone wanting to purchase a new home.

SCORE: Counselors to America's Small Business
SCORE Association
Reviewed: 25 March 2005

As described on the home page, SCORE is a "nonprofit association dedicated to entrepreneurial education and the formation, growth and success of small businesses nationwide." This website provides expertise from retired business people nationwide who provide counseling and advice to people just getting started in opening their first business, or who are having trouble with a particular problem. The website has indexed relevant websites in various areas related to small business, and provides on-site assistance for questions. For questions, a person can search by keyword, pick out a counselor based on expertise or location and get an answer within 48 hours. Another excellent feature is the business toolbox that contains business financing guides, sample business plans and templates. SCORE is an excellent resource for people starting a business who wish to network with other small business owners.

TechWeb Network, CMP Media LLC
Reviewed: 13 March 2005

Offered by the TechWeb Network, a technology news firm providing original and aggregated news content on the IT industry, TechEncyclopedia provides definitions for over 20,000 information technology terms. Entries range from a brief definition to substantive background articles, many of which are credited to the Computer Desktop Encyclopedia. For anyone looking for a definition and/or background on an IT term ranging from the history of the Internet to the exact meaning of terms such as peripherals, mainframe, gigabyte, ultracard, or scsi, TechEncyclopedia is a highly useful resource.

Timeline of Art History
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Reviewed: 18 March 2005

According to the "About page," "The Timeline of Art History is a chronological, geographical, and thematic exploration of the history of art from around the world, as illustrated especially by the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection." Multiple access points allow users to browse and engage the history of art from many angles. Users can compare art across cultures and geographic areas for a given time span or pursue the development of art for a single place or culture over an extended time period. The integration of maps, timelines and special features makes navigation of the site fun and easy. Enlivening images from the Museum's collection create both an informative and entertaining web site.
John Nestoriak, Collaborative Content LLC; CNET Networks
Reviewed: 8 March 2005; revised: 12 July 2005 (formerly TV provides information on most current and many older television series and their casts. Volunteers who have an interest in a particular television show can apply to become editors, responsible for adding information about a show and editing others' contributions. Included are guides to episodes, reviews, information about the casts and crews, and forums on which users can discuss the shows. Clicking on the name of an actor or actress brings the user to biographical information and a list of other appearances. An appealing site for those who are interested in finding information about or discussing their favorite television show, also provides a venue for dedicated fans and aspiring editors and reviewers to share their work.

U.S. Naval Observatory. Astronomical Applications Department: Data Services
U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department
Reviewed: 1 March 2005

This comprehensive and practical web resource provides a myriad of information on all types of astronomical phenomena. Data covered includes moon phases, sun and moon positions, eclipses, date of Easter, the Earth's seasons, Julian calendar date conversion and information on sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset and twilight times. The link for complete sun and moon data for one day is the web site's most useful section. The user simply chooses "Form A - U.S. Cities or Towns," enters the appropriate date, state and city or town and the correct sunrise, sunset, twilight and moon data appears. This section also provides a form for locating international sun and moon data. The U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department's Data Services web page serves as an excellent web almanac devoted to all types of astronomical data.

Reviewed: 18 March 2005

Wikipedia is a free, web-based encyclopedia edited by its readers. Each of its over one million articles may be edited, corrected, or updated by anyone in the world. Readers are encouraged to correct spelling, fix grammatical errors, check the accuracy of information, translate articles into one of over 150 languages available on the site, and update biographical information. The site's aim is to "create a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge." The obvious drawback to this site is the potential for erroneous information. The site's creators rely on the popularity of the Internet to help maintain the information's integrity. Wikipedia also provides current information available with news feeds from various news sources.