Best Free Reference Web Sites 2007 Ninth 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


 
American Hospital Directory
http://www.ahd.com/

Although this site provides a for-fee service for subscribers, it also features an easy-to-use free hospital look-up tool, which links to hospital websites and basic statistics. Users can also drill down by state to see statistics that have been gathered from both proprietary and public sources including Medicare cost reports and claims data. Non-subscribers can view data on total numbers of beds, discharges, patient days, and gross patient revenue. Users who are researching the health care industry or who are themselves health care professionals or administrators may require more detailed information that only comes with a subscription. American Hospital Directory is a well-designed and reliable source for the general public and users who may otherwise not have much luck locating hospital information.

Author/Publisher: American Hospital Directory, Inc.
Free/Fee-based: Free, with more data access for subscribers
Date reviewed: 2/28/07

Title: The Bill of Rights Institute
http://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/

Description: The Bill of Rights Institute, a non-profit organization whose mission to teach youth “about the words and ideas of America's Founders, the liberties guaranteed in our Founding documents, and how our Founding principles continue to affect and shape a free society,” includes a great deal of free information on its web site. Teachers (and others) can sign up for newsletters with links to lessons on the topics of Bill of Rights in the News, First Amendment in History, and Landmark Supreme Court cases. There is also a link to their web site for high school students, which includes video and audio clips and a study guide to the Constitution. This site is an excellent resource for both teachers and high school students.

Author/Publisher: Bill Of Rights Institute
Free/Fee-based: Free (primarily)
Date reviewed: 2/24/07


Doing Business
http://www.doingbusiness.org

This free Internet site, first launched in 2003, is a highly successful resource for “comparing business regulations.” In-depth data and reports about and rankings of regulations relevant to doing business are supplied for 175 economies, along with tools for comparative analyses. The rankings, data, and reports are derived from quantifiable data that are a reflection of the costs, number of requirements, and time involved in specific business functions and operations. Policymakers, the aid community, and researchers, as well as business executives and foreign investors can use this resource effectively.

Author/Publisher: World Bank
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/4/07


Export.gov
Helping U.S. Companies Export
http://www.export.gov

Produced by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Export.gov “brings together resources from across the U.S. Government to assist American business in international sales.” In this era of globalization, the benefits of exporting are enormous, and this Web resource assists with identifying important exporting opportunities and is an indispensable tool for anyone doing business abroad. The Web site provides trade leads and access to the U.S. Commercial Service’s extensive Market Research Library database. The Market Research Library furnishes documents, such as Country Commercial Guides, industry overviews, and market updates. Access to most of the materials is free but requires registration.

Author/Publisher: U.S. International Trade Administration
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/4/07

Gate2Home
http://www.gate2home.com/

Libraries with diverse user populations will find Gate2Home (a multilingual keyboard emulator), to be an important reference tool and desktop gadget. Created by Israeli Web designer Ilan Bar-Magen to circumvent the administrative or system settings that can plague public computing environments, Gate2Home gives users instant access to the keyboards of 65 languages. Keyboards include all major East and South Asian languages, as well as Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and Roman and Cyrillic key sets with various diacritics. Originally designed with travelers in mind, this Web tool is equally useful to language learners and immigrant populations.

Author/Publisher: Ilan Bar-Magen, Gate2Home.com
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/12/07

Genome.gov
National Human Genome Research Institute
http://www.genome.gov

This Internet resource, first launched in 1997, is a valuable resource for genomics research. The institute’s mission is to “encompass a broad range of studies aimed at understanding the structure and function of the human genome and its role in health and disease.” The site supplies information about consumer health and counseling information for genetic disorders; and in-depth information for medical and scientific professionals, such as grants, policies and ethics, educational resources, and careers and training information.

Author/Publisher: National Institutes of Health
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/4/07


gethuman
http://www.gethuman.com/

Description: The gethuman website, run by volunteers, is part of a project to improve customer telephone support by companies in the United States. Aimed at consumers, the gethuman database of 500 companies includes customer service telephone numbers, specific instructions for reaching a human being at each company, and quality of service grades. Users can click on a company name to rate the quality of telephone support. For public companies, a link to Yahoo! Finance displays company profiles. The site also includes a discussion board and information on the telephone support standards developed by the gethuman project. This website will be welcomed by all who have ever been frustrated in their attempts to reach a real human being to resolve a problem.

Author/Publisher: Paul M. English, gethuman Project
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/24/07

History Channel
http://history.com

While primarily a conduit for information on the current television programs and their schedule, the additional features at The History Channel make it well worth a visit. “This Day in History” provides a snapshot of what happened in a variety of topics (though most relate to modern wars) and “World Timeline” offers brief descriptions of events by year, decade, or century (500 BC to 2005 CE). Discussion lists and resources for classroom teachers abound, and “Speeches & Video” offers over 2,000 multimedia clips. The “Maps” section provides simple geopolitical and thematic (e.g., “Growth of the Roman Empire” and “World Tectonic Plates”) maps and “Games” have a weekly trivia quiz. This site is useful for learning about what happened and when.

Author/Publisher: A&E Television Networks
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 3/17/06 (edited 4/16/07)


Invention Dimension
http://web.mit.edu/invent

Potential inventors and innovators, as well as students of all ages, can use this one-stop informational center. This well-designed and highly-informative site advertises awards and opportunities; furnishes an Inventor’s Handbook of frequently asked questions (FAQ); and offers additional search options, including a Search button at the top of the main page and the ability to browse alphabetically by inventor and invention. The website is attractively packaged with value-added content, such as “What’s New”, the Invention of the Week, Games & Trivia, and how to apply for a patent for your own invention.

Author/Publisher: Lemelson-MIT Award Program
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/3/06 (edited 4/5/07)


Liber8™
An economic information portal for librarians and students
http://liber8.stlouisfed.org

Librarians at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis designed this indispensable portal to economic information. This site's goal is to provide information professionals, the academic community, and the public with centralized access to important free online economic materials, databases, and Web sites. A few valuable in-house databases are offered, such as the IES (International Economic Statistics) Database, an important aid in identifying other free Internet resources and sites available for specific countries.

Author/Publisher: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/4/07


MDBG Chinese-English Dictionary
http://www.xuezhongwen.net or  http://www.mdbg.net

The impressive Chinese-language learning site Xuezhongwen.net includes this powerful online Chinese-English dictionary, which has a simple, well designed interface that accepts both English, pinyin (transliterated Roman), and Chinese characters. The dictionary features sound files, radicals, stroke order, and links to online flash cards that users can flip through to learn new characters. The greatest advantage of the dictionary may be a drawback for some users: it has wiki functionality, so the amount of new content may seem overwhelming to students of Chinese who are learning basic vocabulary. As the site expands to include more specialized language as well as idioms and proverbs, it could easily become one of the most important tools for Western students of Chinese on the Web.

Author/Publisher: Dennis Vierkant, MDBG
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/28/07


Migration Information Source
http://www.migrationinformation.org/

For researchers interested in international, national, and local migration issues, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) has produced its Migration Information Source, which is chock full of reports and data. This think tank is funded by an assortment of philanthropy groups both in the U.S. and abroad, and benefactors include the Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, Danish, Norwegian, and Dutch groups, as well as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The data sources are authoritative and current, and the site is attractive and user-friendly. The Migration Information Source includes US census and Eurostat data, maps, charts that show migration history, country reports, feature stories and news. The site is a must for anyone researching immigration, asylum, and refugee questions.

Author/Publisher: Migration Policy Institute
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/2/07


National Institute of Mental Health
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/

The site of the National Institute of Mental Health, the major federal agency responsible for conducting research on mental illness and on behavioral disorders, provides comprehensive information for the general public on mental health, as well as information aimed at researchers seeking funding. In addition to basic data on various disorders, with links to sources of help and to additional resources and relevant research, there are links to related news articles. The website includes sections specifically addressing mental health problems in children and adolescents, older adults, men, and women. This well-organized site is a great place to start for anyone researching mental health issues.

Author/Publisher: National Institute of Mental Health
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/24/07


NatureServe Explorer
http://www.natureserve.org/

Non-profit conservation organization, NatureServe, with its colorful website and troves of animal, plant, and ecological data, is a superb resource for academics and members of the public. Two separate databases NatureServe makes available stand out: NatureServe Explorer: an Online Encyclopedia of Life and InfoNatura. NatureServe Explorer covers the United States and Canada, with information on more than 65,000 plants, animals, and ecosystems, particularly endangered species. InfoNatura focuses on 8,500 birds, mammals, and amphibians of Latin America, from the common to the rare and endangered. NatureServe draws its data from scholarly sources and databases compiled by local and national conservation organizations. NatureServe's detail and presentation will be of value to all users who are gathering biological and ecological data.

Author/Publisher: NatureServe
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/12/07


Paralysis.org
http://www.paralysis.org

This well-organized and easy-to-use portal provides access to a wealth of quality research and insightful information about all aspects of spinal cord injury, including life with such an injury. Major site sections provided are Health, Rehabilitation, Active Living, Tools & Tech, Rights & Benefits, Research, Resources, Caregivers, and the Lending Library. Select items are highlighted on the homepage, and relevant Internet resources are showcased on the various section pages. This resource is an important tool for librarians and researchers developing online allied health collections.

Author/Publisher: Christopher and Dana Reeve Occupational Resource Center
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/3/06 (edited 4/12/07)


SeatGuru
http://www.seatguru.com/

SeatGuru is “The ultimate source for airplane seating, in-flight amenities and airline information.” This site provides users with detailed maps of commercial airliners. Included are the locations of the galley, restrooms, exits, and closets. Color codes on the seats indicate uncomfortable or unpopular seats, average seats and preferred seats. In addition to seating information, SeatGuru provides information about each airline’s luggage restrictions, traveling with pets, and in-flight amenities such as meals and entertainment. Links to each airline’s web page are prominently displayed on the first review page. Web site directions are clear and easy to understand. Casual and frequent flyers will find this site very useful.

Author/Publisher: SeatGuru.com Inc.
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/11/06 (edited 4/16/07)

Shodor.org
A national resource for computational science education
http://www.shodor.org

The Shodor Foundation, a nonprofit education and research corporation, is “dedicated to the advancement of science and math education, specifically through the use of modeling and simulation technologies.” Shodor recognized that professional computational science tools, especially graphics and animations, could be adapted for classroom use. The foundation’s Web site offers access to a repertoire of software and provides value-added aids, such as curriculum materials for students, sorted by grade and subject, for students, teachers, and parents.

Author/Publisher: Shodor Foundation
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/4/07


SmallStep.gov
http://www.smallstep.gov/index.html

Many people would like to improve their health but are uncertain where to begin. Created by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, smallstep encourages people to make small changes in their diets and lives to achieve their goal of weight loss and to promote physical fitness. Information on the Web site includes how to create a healthy balanced meal, how to estimate serving size, and how to integrate physical activity into your life easily. Interactive menus help you determine if you are exceeding your daily intake of fats, sodium, cholesterol, and calories.

Author/Publisher: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/04/07


Smithsonian Institution
http://www.si.edu

Giving visitors detailed information about the world’s largest museum complex and its exhibits, the Smithsonian Institution’s site also includes interactive on-line exhibits, supplementary information on the physical exhibits, and an impressive collection of interactive, multimedia resources found under the “Explore & Learn” section, divided into three areas: Art & Design, History & Culture, and Science & Technology. Users also can find information on the Smithsonian Institution’s research centers and outreach programs of traveling exhibits and affiliate museums. This site is ideal for museum visitors and interesting for everyone.

Author/Publisher: Smithsonian Institution
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 3/17/06 (edited 4/12/07)


Son of Citation Machine
http://citationmachine.net/

Description: Son of Citation Machine is an “interactive web tool designed to assist high school, college, and university students, their teachers, and independent researchers in their effort to respect other people's intellectual properties.” This tool allows users to enter citation information for various types of print and electronic resources to produce a MLA, APA, or Chicago formatted bibliographic reference and parenthetical citation. The Turabian citation section is under construction. Son of Citation Machine is very simple and straightforward to use. Although advertising appears on the site, a registration and login procedure allows schools to block ads on the site. Teachers and students will appreciate the ability to simplify the process of creating citations.

Author/Publisher: David Warlick & The Landmark Project
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/24/07


Trip Advisor
http://www.tripadvisor.com

Trip Advisor is very useful for anyone planning a trip to somewhere. The site provides a brief overview of the city you are going to, and names and locations of hotels, attractions, and restaurants. Web site users are encouraged to post their experiences, videos, pictures, and advice about visiting the city. Names of hotels and restaurants can be sorted alphabetically or by user popularity. In addition to user reviews, reviews from professional travel organizations such as Frommers are also available. Although the web site does not make travel arrangements directly, airplane and hotel reservations can be made through their associates Expedia.com®, Orbitz, and Hotels.com A helpful search engine allows users to narrow their searches for information inside the web site.

Author/Publisher: Expedia, Inc
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/04/07


United Nations Environment Programme
http://na.unep.net/digital_atlas2/google.php

Google Maps drives this environmental atlas produced by the North American Node of UN's GRID group, which is co-located in Sioux Falls, S.D. at the USGS EROS Data Center. This group works to leverage technologies such as remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), and online mapping tools to create an information format to influence environmental policy decision makers. The atlas highlights sites around the world that have witnessed dramatic environmental changes. Each location is documented by striking satellite images that poignantly illustrate environmental changes such as glacial melt, desertification, deforestation, pollution, and population growth. The site's authors use quality information from scientific sources to produce an impressive online reference tool for geographers, political scientists, and environmental researchers.

Author/Publisher: United Nations Environment Programme's Global
Resource Information Database (GRID)
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 2/28/07


Who's alive and who's dead
http://www.wa-wd.com/

“Welcome to Who's Alive and Who's Dead - the site that helps you keep track of which famous people have died and which are still alive!” The web site lists each person’s date of birth, death (if applicable) and cause of death (if known). Hyperlinks from the person’s name display a _very_ brief synopsis of each person’s achievements. Categories include: Actors and actresses, sports, political figures, TV shows, musicians, and artists. The creator admits that his decision on what to include is somewhat subjective. Useful for seeing who has died from famous musical groups, or who is still alive from famous TV shows.

Author/Publisher: David Carson
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/04/07

WorldCat
http://worldcat.org

WorldCat promotes itself as “the world's largest network of library content and services.” This wonderful web resource is basically a mega-catalog of more than a billion items from OCLC libraries. Users can add a Worldcat search box to their Web sites, and download browser plug-ins to allow searching from browser toolbars. Librarians and students can use this tool to locate resources in local libraries as well as confirm the existence of resources in libraries around the world.

Author/Publisher: Online Computer Library Center, Inc. (OCLC)
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/4/07


WordReference.com
http://www.wordreference.com

The WordReference Dictionaries are superior translation dictionaries for French, Italian, and Spanish. Entries include useful links to word definitions and synonyms, discussion forums where users offer human translation help, and links to search Google for words or phrases used in context. This is especially helpful for users searching for translations of professional language in medicine, law, or business. The English language entries do not originate from a standard dictionary, but from the WordNet "lexical dictionary" developed at Princeton. The Spanish dictionary is derived from Espasa Calpe's 2005 "Diccionario de la lengua española" and features 250,000 translations. The French features 250,000 translations; the Italian "nearly 200,000" translations. This site is an excellent resource for students and translators working with Romance languages.

Author/Publisher: WordReference.com, Michael Kellogg
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: 03/09/06 (edited 4/12/07)


Zillow.com
http://www.zillow.com/
Zillow.com, a new venture of the founder and former employees of Expedia.com, provides estimates of home values and related data for over 70,000,000 properties to prospective buyers and sellers. Entering an address will produce a satellite photograph and street map, as well as data on home features such as number of bedrooms. Users can refine the valuation of a home by adding information on renovations and special features and by selecting comparable recent home sales. As a Beta site, data coverage is not completely even, but information is provided on data quantity and accuracy of estimates by state and for various metropolitan areas. Homeowners and buyers will find Zillow.com a quick and useful way to estimate a home’s current value.

Author/Publisher: Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: 3/11/06 (edited 4/12/07)