Annual list of Best Free Reference Websites selected by RUSA’s Emerging Technologies in Reference Section

For Immediate Release
Sun, 02/01/2015


Leighann Wood

Membership and Awards Program Specialist

Reference and User Services Association (RUSA)

CHICAGO — The 16th annual Best Free Reference Websites list was announced at the Reference and User Services Association’s (RUSA) Book and Media Awards Ceremony at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting.

The list made its debut in the Fall 2014 issue of Reference and User Services Quarterly (RUSQ), RUSA’s research journal. Succinct and insightful annotations were written by the selection committee and reflect all subject areas useful for ready reference and valuable in most libraries. For a combined index of the Best Free Reference Websites lists, please visit

The list includes:

College Navigator
National Center for Educational Statistics

The College Navigator allows students and parents to search for colleges and universities of possible interest by a number of characteristics such as location and distance from home; programs and majors; institution type (public, private, two-year, four-year); institution size; cost; setting (rural, suburban, urban); and more. Special features include the ability to create a My Favorites List to compare schools; a map on which to pinpoint a school's location; a save your search function; and the ability to export results as a spreadsheet. This is a very useful and easy-to-use tool for creating a list of colleges and universities for further investigation and possible attendance.

Dino Directory
The Natural History Museum, London

Bone up on dinosaurs with this guide that provides facts, figures and images for over 300 dinosaurs. Explore them by name, timeline (Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods), country or body shape. Each dinosaur entry has a brief fact file with the phonetic pronunciation and meaning of its name, information on its length, height, weight, teeth, diet, food, how it moved, when it lived and where it was found. Images, general information, taxonomic details and links also are provided.

Encyclopedia Iranica
Encyclopaedia Iranica / Columbia University Center for Iranian Studies

"The Encyclopædia Iranica is a comprehensive research tool dedicated to the study of Iranian civilization in the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent." Entries are lengthy and in-depth, and contain extensive bibliographies. The content is searchable as well as browseable, and the website is easy-to-navigate. This is a collaborative resource; "entries are solicited through invitation only, and are subjected to peer review to ensure factual reliability, scholarly objectivity, and political independence." A Choice Outstanding Title in 2012, this is an excellent resource for information on Iranian history and culture from prehistoric times through the present.

Global Edge
Michigan State University

This website offers a wealth of information about international business. The Global Insights section "provides international business and trade information on over 200 countries, the 50 U.S. states, as well as nearly two dozen industry sectors, and many of the world's trade blocs." The "Reference Desk" provides access to resources on international trade laws and statistical data sources for international business. In the "Tools and Data" section, researchers can access the MPI (Market Potential Index) and DIBS (Database of International Business Statistics) free of charge, as long as it's for academic use (users must register with the website using a .gov or .edu email address).

Great Websites for Kids
Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), American Library Association

"Great Websites for Kids is a compilation of websites geared to children from birth to age 14. Suggested sites are evaluated by the Great Websites for Kids Committee using established selection criteria. The committee is made up of members of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association." This site allows for keyword searching or browsing through the listed headings of Animals, The Arts, History & Biography, Literature & Languages, Mathematics & Computers, Reference Desk, Sciences or Social Sciences. Each heading is further subdivided into special interest areas. An additional link leads to recommended sites for parents, caregivers, teachers and others. There are prominent links to Sites of the Week, Recent Sites, Most Popular and Top Rated.

Practical Money Skills – Financial Literacy for Everyone

"To help consumers and students of all ages learn the essentials of personal finance, Visa has partnered with leading consumer advocates, educators, and financial institutions to develop the Practical Money Skills program. At and, consumers, educators, parents, students and policymakers can access free educational resources, including personal finance articles, games and lesson plans." Available videos cover Personal Finance, Financial Football and Soccer (covers financial planning, not playing), Khan Academy and Financial Literacy Summits. Various calculators are offered to help explore options before buying a car, home, taking out a loan, paying for college or retirement.

Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics
University of Albany, Hindelang Criminal Justice Research Center

The online Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics is a treasure trove of criminal justice-related statistics. Among the broad categories of statistics included are criminal justice characteristics; public opinion; crime, victims; arrests, seizures; courts, prosecution, sentencing; and parole, jails, prisons and the death penalty. Data tables are provided in PDF or spreadsheet CSV formats and updated as new data arrives. An archive of past Sourcebooks is also available.

State of Working America
Economic Policy Institute

This website presents a by-the-numbers overview of how the economy affects the living standards of working Americans. It includes data on "family incomes, wages, jobs, unemployment, wealth, and poverty." The charts, graphs and data sets are easy to read and they also contain a very helpful "documentation and methodology" paragraph which explains how the data was gathered and how to make sense of it. Several "Fact Sheets" also provide overviews on sub-topics such as women, young workers, collective bargaining and inequality. This is an extremely well-designed and accessible website with a wealth of valuable information about US workers and the economy.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs

"The US Department of Veterans Affairs provides patient care and federal benefits to veterans and their dependents." The VA Website offers an abundance of important resources on benefits and services such as compensation, pension, survivor benefits, rehabilitation, employment assistance, education assistance (GI Bill), home loans and life insurance coverage. Another valuable section includes health care information & resources (including a useful hospital locator) and mental health resources and services (with links to the 24/7 Veteran's Crisis Line & the National Center for PTSD). Other information includes information for starting a business and end of life resources (burial, etc.).
Thinkmap, Inc.

By no means just a dictionary, this site offers vocabulary lists, a dictionary, and word challenges. They all work together to set a thorough, practical, and fun grounding in learning new words. Vocabulary lists have been created from items such as popular movies, historical documents, just for fun, political speeches, literature, or test prep. The challenge section quizzes you on word meanings, tracks words missed and adds them to a list of words being learned. All uses of a word are defined and usage examples given.
Create a free account for personalized vocabulary instruction, charts and graphs showing progress and other features.

What Should I Read Next? 
Thoughtplay Ltd

 This simple, user-friendly website provides quick book recommendations. The site allows someone to enter the title of a book they like so that the site can use its large database of readers' favorite books to make book suggestions related to the topics of the original book title entered. From the results page, one can also browse books by subject.

Opening the Book

Whichbook provides a unique, easy-to-use tool that helps readers choose a book to read based upon a wide variety of factors like mood, emotion, plot shape, type of main character, country the book is set in and more. Books in this database are fiction or poetry, written or translated into English and published in the last 10 years. All titles on Whichbook have been read by one of a changing team of 70 people drawn from libraries and literature organizations.

Wikitravel – The Free Travel Guide

Wikitravel is an open source world-wide travel guide with up-to-date information on attractions, hotels, restaurants, travel tips and more for many locations. Individuals from around the globe contribute their advice to this guide, inspired by Wikipedia. This site has a comprehensive search feature and nearly 95,000 pages in English.

World Public Opinion
Program on International Policy Attitudes

In our growing global environment, this website provides information and analysis about public opinion around the world and serves as a ready reference source for topical information as well as being fully embedded on a research level. "As the world becomes increasingly integrated, problems have become increasingly global, pointing to a greater need for understanding between nations and for elucidating global norms." The frequency at which the public opinion information is provided is very good for many regions and topics.

The Best Free Reference Websites selection committee consisted of Janice Wilson, chair, Georgia Baugh, Sarah Lehmann, Rosemary Meszaros, Ashley Rosener, Colleen Seale, Virginia Sojdehei and Paul Victor, Jr.

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of the American Library Association, represents librarians and library staff in the fields of reference, specialized reference, collection development, readers’ advisory and resource sharing. RUSA is the foremost organization of reference and information professionals who make the connections between people and the information sources, services, and collection materials they need. Learn more about the association at