Best Free Reference Web Sites 2002
Fourth 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

AMDOCS: Documents for the Study of American History (  Lynn Nelson and Kendall Simmons. Reviewed 11 Feb. 2002.

AMDOCS is part of the University of Kansas' digital library, CARRIE: A Full Text Electronic Library. It contains links to the full text of over 400 primary source documents relating to the study of American history which have been digitized by a variety of academic institutions. The documents, which cover the 15th century through the 21st century, are easily accessible from a straightforward chronological listing of the events that inspired them. Because these documents have been created by many different institutions as part of separate digital projects, users will find considerable variation in the type of accompanying materials available for each and should take particular note of any copyright or other use restrictions noted.  

American Family Immigration History Center (   The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.  Reviewed 11 Feb. 2002.

Created in 2001, the American Family Immigration History Center (AFIHC) site reports that it contains archival information on over “22 million passengers and members of ships' crews [who] entered the United States through Ellis Island and the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924." These records can be accessed by clicking the "Passenger Search" area on the site's home page and may be searched by name and gender.  Results may be edited to display close matches only, alternate spellings, or limited by ethnicity, age, or year of arrival. This site also features a section called "The Immigrant Experience" which chronicles the history of immigration in America. Free registration is required, but the AFIHC's site is truly a remarkable resource for genealogical research.  

American Law Sources On-line (ALSO!) ( LawSource, Inc. Reviewed 9 March 2002.

ALSO! describes itself as "a comprehensive, uniform, and useful compilation of links to freely accessible on-line sources of law for the United States and Canada." In addition, there are links to commentary and practice aids which are either freely available or can be obtained for a modest fee from governmental and nonprofit sources. Also included is a link to the Mexican Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, which maintains a separate listing of online legal sources for Mexico. Users of the ALSO! site should note that the sources to which it links have been created and are maintained as part of many different projects and appear in a variety of file formats.  ( A&E Television Networks.  Reviewed 21 Feb. 2002.

This Web site, from A&E Television Network, offers over 25,000 biographies for people past and present. The site is searchable, and each biography includes links to related people, places, and organizations, as well as A&E's videos-for-sale section. The site features "Born on This Day" and "Also Born On This Day" biographies. Upcoming features on A&E's Biography television program are given, and the left sidebar on the home page lists and links to the "Ten Top Bios." Optimized for Internet Explorer 5 and above, the only drawbacks to this busy site are large banner ads and infrequent pop-up windows with featured movies/videos for sale.  This extensive site is the perfect source for anyone looking for background or historical and biographical information.  

Calendars through the Ages  ( Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement (IDEA) by WebExhibits. Reviewed  25 Feb. 2002.

Created as a complement to, this site provides links to calendars and descriptive histories. Divided into four sections, this site is browsable and keyword searchable too. By following the link to the section called "Various Calendars," the user will find information for calendars currently in use (like the Indian calendar) and out of use (like the Mayan calendar). From the home page link to "credits and feedback," an extensive bibliography is given for further reading. This site is helpful to anyone interested in calendars, history, and learning about holidays in other cultures.  

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (  U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reviewed 20 Feb. 2002.

The CDC has put together an excellent site for public health and safety information. It includes fact sheets, information and CDC journal articles on diseases and chronic conditions, and statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics. The full text of several CDC publications, including "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report" and "Emerging Infectious Diseases," is also available. The site provides information vital to those traveling to other parts of the globe. This includes data on vaccinations, outbreaks, and safe food and water. It also provides links to local health departments wherever the user may be traveling. The site is well put together and easily navigated. Some pages of the site are available in Spanish.

College and University Rankings (  Education and Social Science Library, University of Illinois. Reviewed 24 Feb. 2002.

This site is a useful resource for responding to requests to identify "top colleges and universities" of various types. The site provides annotated lists of online sources of information on the ranking of institutions of higher education, as well as a prominent and well-designed section (with hot-linked footnotes) entitled "Caution and Controversy" on the validity and usefulness of such rankings, and a bibliography of related print and online resources. Sites which rank institutions are arranged by type of program: General/Undergraduate, Graduate/Research, Business, Law, and International.  

Economist Country Briefings  ( Economist Newspaper, Ltd.   Reviewed 26 Feb. 2002.

This up-and-coming resource is a good way to get a quick, relatively up-to-date profile on 60 major world countries. Compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, this resource gives access to a fact sheet with basic data (similar to the World Almanac) as well as an economic and political forecast for the month. The site provides quick access to up-to-date gross domestic product data, policy issues, taxation information and other material not found in the World Almanac or related Web sites. Although there is substantial information available without charge, not all of the content on the site is freely available. Full country reports, including reports on countries not for which there are no Economist Country Briefings, as well as other Economist premium content, are available only with payment of a substantial fee.  

Elemental Data Index (   Physics Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology. Reviewed 27 Feb. 2002.

The Elemental Data Index provides access to online scientific data from the NIST Physics Laboratory  for each specific chemical element. There are three versions of the index: frames, no-frames, and text-only. In all three versions, you search by clicking on the element in the periodic table. The results screen displays the element's atomic weight, ionization energy, ground-state level, and ground-state configuration, as well as links to all of the NIST databases in which that element appears, including Atomic Spectra Data, X-Ray and Gamma Ray, Radiation Dosimetry Data, Nuclear Physics Data, and Condensed Matter Physics Data. The information on this site serves as a complement to the WebElements Periodic Table ( selected for the MARS Best 2001 list.  (RUSQ. Fall 2001. (  Gale Group and LookSmart. Reviewed 26 Feb. 2002. describes itself as “a vast archive of published articles that you can search for free. Constantly updated, it contains articles dating back to 1998 from more than 300 magazines and journals. You will find articles on a range of topics, including business, health, society, entertainment, sports and more." Though some of these articles are also available on the magazines' Web sites, has a very nice search function, as well as browse capability. The site is easy to use and generally speedy.  

Free Medical Journals  (  AmedeoGroup. Reviewed 25 Feb. 2002.

This site provides links to approximately one thousand medical journals which are available on the Internet in full-text for free. Foreign language journals are provided, including those in Italian, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. Some journals do have limitations on their availability - such as a delay of six months or a year after publication before they become available. Journals are listed by title and by specialty. Once on the journal site, a click on the date or issue number will bring up the table of contents. Some articles are available in PDF format so Adobe Acrobat Reader is necessary. This is an excellent collection of medical journals both for the scholarly researcher and for the general public, listed in one place for free.  

Geographic Names Information System (    U.S. Geological Survey. Reviewed 27 Feb. 2002.

The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) home page notes that the site "contains information about almost 2 million physical and cultural geographic features in the United States."  The GNIS is searchable by name, state or territory, feature type (e.g., cemetery, beach, hospital), county, elevation, and population. Results pages provide longitude and latitude, USGS map names, elevation (if applicable), estimated population of cities and towns, and links to online maps. To search GNIS, follow the links in the table below the words "Query the GNIS Online Data Bases" and search the U.S. or Antarctica. The site is easy to search and the results are linked to the U.S. Census Bureau's map server.  

Guide to Philosophy on the Internet (   Peter Suber (Philosophy Department, Earlham College). Reviewed 18 Feb. 2002.

The Guide to Philosophy on the Internet is a comprehensive, peer-reviewed resource of collected links to scholarly works, Web sites, and texts of philosophers that are online. The site also links to other guides in English and foreign languages. The site may be navigated either by the table of contents or by the limited area search engine. A search on Heidegger, for example,  produces papers explaining his philosophy, Web sites in several languages and references to papers that mention Heidegger in context with other philosophers. The Guide is easy to navigate, and includes contact information and an FAQ.  The site is undergoing revision, and when complete, will be maintained by the International Association for Computing and Philosophy.  

GuideStar  (  Philanthropic Research, Inc. Reviewed 23 Feb. 2002.

GuideStar, produced by Philanthropic Research, Inc. (PRI),  is a searchable directory that provides detailed information on more than 850,000 nonprofit organizations. The database covers "IRS-registered 501  nonprofit organizations that may accept tax-deductible contributions." Free profiles cover mission and programs, financials, leaders, and most importantly, full text via PDF of the charity's IRS 990 filing from1998 forward in most cases. Form 990 provides information on revenues, expenses, programs, activities, executive salaries and board members. Be aware that information not drawn from the 990 is self-reported by the organization to PRI. Nonetheless, GuideStar has made researching and comparing public charitable organizations much easier and is appropriate for any public or academic library user.  

Industry Research Desk  (   Polson Enterprises. Reviewed 9 March 2002.

The Industry Research Desk brings together an extensive set of online tools, most freely available, for researching industries, markets, companies, and manufacturing processes. Included are links to portals for individual industries, home pages for specific manufacturing processes (like welding), search engines, and office tools (like phone books, shipping information, and maps). Unique to this site are step-by-step guides to finding information on a specific industry or company, including information on related print resources available in many libraries.  

The Internet Archive ( The Internet Archive with Prelinger Archives.  Reviewed 19 Feb. 2002.

The Internet Archive was "was founded [in 1996] to build an ‘Internet library,’ with the purpose of offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format," such as Internet sites and other cultural digital artifacts (i.e. movies, interviews, images, etc.). Using the Internet Archive's "Wayback Machine," users can look at their own Web site and track how it has evolved. Plug-ins are made available as needed. "Special Wayback Collections" provide a sense of how events such as September 11, 2001, were recorded digitally. This site is appropriate for anyone doing research on the history of the Internet and for those who want to see how the Internet has changed over the years.  

Internet Broadway Database (  League of American Theaters and Producers, Inc. Reviewed 22 Feb. 2002.

According to the IBDB Web site, this resource offers “a comprehensive database of shows produced on Broadway [dating from the 1700's to the present], including all ‘title page’ [program] information about each production. IBDB also offers historical information about theaters and various statistics and fun facts related to Broadway." Simple search allows you to search by show, people/organization, theatre, and season while advanced search allows many more options including function (director, actor, playwright, etc.), gender, opening and  closing dates, character name and more. From serious research to more trivial pursuits, the IBDB is a excellent source for Broadway production information.  

Internet History Sourcebooks Project  ( Paul Halsall, Fordham University.  Reviewed 27 Feb. 2002.

According to the home page, the “Internet History Sourcebooks Project [IHSP] is a world wide web project designed to provide easy access to primary sources and other teaching materials in a non-commercial environment." There are 3 main sourcebooks (Ancient, Medieval, Modern) and 9 subsidiary sourcebooks (African, East Asian, Global, Indian, Islamic, Jewish, History of Science, Women's History, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans* History). All the sourcebooks are keyword searchable, and many include Internet and multimedia resource listings. The site also includes a citation guide, related links, and comprehensive bibliographies. This site is appropriate for high school and college students, as well as their teachers and professors.  

iTools   (    iTools.  Reviewed 11 Feb. 2002 and 5 June 2002.

A revision of iTools' former Research-It! and Find-It! pages, the site brings together many useful online tools under six main headings. Search Tools provide links to search engines, subject directories, and phone numbers or email directories while Language Tools provide links to a variety of dictionaries, thesauri, and language translators.  Research Tools link to such resources as encyclopedias, newspapers and magazines, and the Financial Tools provide currency converters.  Map Tools provide links to driving directions and maps, and the Internet Tools allow the user to search networking, web and html sources.  For resources in all six broad categories, you may either use the search interface provided by iTools or link directly to the source sites.  ( Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.  Reviewed 11 Feb. 2002., formerly Mayo Health Oasis, is a consumer-oriented online health resource providing, as described on its web pages, "access to the experience and knowledge of the more than 2,000 physicians and scientists of the Mayo Clinic." The nicely-designed and easily-navigated Web site allows the user to search for information through a well-placed search engine where any term can be searched through the entire site or limited to specific sections like "Diseases and Conditions" or "Drugs." This resource also features specific categories including "Diseases and Conditions A-Z," "Drug Information," "First Aid & Self-Care Guide," "Condition Centers," and "Healthy Living Centers." remains one of the most respected web resources for disseminating accurate and easy-to-understand health information to the general public.  

The Merck Manual Home Edition ( Merck & Company, Inc.  Reviewed 12 Feb. 2002.

This site contains the full-text online version of  The Merck Manual Home Edition (MMHE) specifically written for the lay person by nearly 200 leading medical experts. Users can select from two formats: the original text-based version and an interactive version. The interactive version contains photos, animations, videos, pronunciations, and illustrations along with a comprehensive search engine to locate specific terms. Links to free downloads for RealPlayer(tm), Netscape and Internet Explorer are provided.  Both versions, updated frequently, provide an easy-to-use detailed table of contents, comprised of 24 sections plus an appendix, which covers topics ranging from medical fundamentals to accidents and injuries. The online MMHE undoubtedly is an excellent resource for anyone seeking accurate, up-to-date, yet understandable, medical information.  

Monster  (  TMP Worldwide.  Reviewed 9 March 2002., which bills itself as "the leading global online careers website," is an extensive  site that helps workers  locate a job or advance within a profession. This site offers services such as resume help, salary data, and industry information. To post a personal resume, users create a free account and are allowed up to five resumes and cover letters. also provides the user with a way to track online applications and with relocation tools.  Employers benefit by advertising positions and tracking applicants.  The small banner ads on the pages do not distract from the excellent content available here. is for all levels of employees and employers, and is a great tool when patrons need help writing/updating resumes. (  The Center for Responsive Politics. Reviewed 19 Feb. 2002.

The Center for Responsive Politics describes itself as  "a non-partisan, non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C. that tracks money in politics, and its effect on elections and public policy.", the Center's Web site, provides information from the Federal Election Commission about campaign contributions to Congress, to the political parties and the presidential campaigns. The site may be navigated by tabs at the top of the web page, by search engines within the site, or by links to current issues. Everything is documented with citations and methodology. The mission statement, contact information, and funding sources are clearly noted. is a goldmine of data on contributions in politics, helpful both for students writing papers and for avid followers of politics.  

Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection (   General Libraries, University of Texas at Austin. Reviewed 17 Feb. 2002.

This site, produced by the University of Texas at Austin, includes maps scanned from the  Perry-Castañeda Library collection, as well as links to other map sites on the web. The Library’s digital collection contains more than 5,000 maps including population density maps, reference maps, vegetation maps, and a variety of others. The site provides information on how to effectively view the maps, suggested shareware, and printing instructions. The site is easily navigated, enabling patrons to determine easily what maps have been digitized by the Library for a particular region.  

Resource Discovery Network ( RDNC,  coordinated by staff from UKOLN (University of Bath) and Kings College London.  Reviewed 25 Feb. 2002.

The Resource Directory Network (RDN) is a searchable web directory that links to over 35,000 Invisible Web sites and other excellent Internet resources that are not captured by conventional search engines. Material is identified and cataloged by subject and information experts in colleges, universities, and other organizations. The "hubs" of RDN, including BIOME (Health and Life Sciences), EEVL (Engineering, Mathematics and Computing), Humbul (Humanities), PSIgate (Physical Sciences) and SOSIG (Social Sciences, Business and Law), allow RDN users to browse with a single interface and conduct cross-disciplinary searching. RDN also offers "Behind the Headlines," a news service and "Virtual Training Suite," a comprehensive set of online interactive tutorials.  RDN is "aimed at Internet users in further and higher education."  (   Reviewed 20 Feb. 2002., whose banner reads "the oldest and largest free online community for genealogists," is made up of "extensive interactive guides and numerous research tools for tracing family histories." The searcher can type in a name in the search box or follow the link to "The World Connect Project," which contains more than 204 million ancestor names. Another search box is provided on the home page to search records in, a fee-based subscription site and the funder/supporter of RootsWeb. The RootsWeb Surname List consists of a register of over one million surnames submitted by more than 250,000 genealogists. This Web site is great to offer to the beginning online genealogist who visits your library.  

Search Engine Watch (  Danny Sullivan and Chris Sherman. Reviewed 13 Feb. 2002.

Search Engine Watch seeks to arm the Internet searcher with "tips and information about searching the web, analysis of the search engine industry, and [to] help ... site owners trying to improve their ability to be found in search engines."  This searchable site provides a comprehensive listing of search engines including metacrawlers, kids search engines, and multimedia, with reviews and ratings plus statistics regarding engine usage. Links to "Recent Articles" on the home page provide background and helpful information about what is happening on the web.  This site could help many of us use the Internet more efficiently.  

Search jake (jointly administered knowledge environment) (  Todd Holbrook, Simon Fraser University.    Reviewed 21 January 2002.

Developed by Dan Chudnov and others at Yale University's Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, this version of jake allows users to search by journal title or ISSN to determine which databases include the journal. The SFU implementation also features searches by subject. Results indicate which databases contain citations, which full text, and, if available, dates of coverage. jake can also be used to decipher title abbreviations. A beta version ( provides direct links to search results, which work with successful IP-address authentication, as well as links to related jake sites, including the original site maintained by Dan Chudnov (  As the site notes, jake  "makes finding, managing, and linking online journals and journal articles easier for students, researchers, and librarians."  

The Universal Currency Converter (   XE Corporation. Reviewed 27 Feb. 2002.

The Universal Currency Converter allows you to perform interactive foreign exchange rate calculations using live, up-to-the-minute currency rates. Conversion is very easy to do. Type in the amount of the currency you want to convert, select the type of currency you are converting from, select the type of currency you are converting to, and click the conversion button. The site features both a standard version containing approximately 90 major currencies and a full version containing 180 plus currencies from more than 250 geographical locations. This site is helpful to those with international travel plans and students trying to compare international financial data.  

Webopedia  (  INT Media Group, Inc.  Reviewed 18 Feb. 2002.

This Web site advertises itself as the"only online dictionary and search engine you need for computer and Internet technology."  The Webopedia is more than a dictionary; it is really similar to a concise encyclopedia. In addition to a searchable database of terms, there are short articles on topics such as "The Science of Color," found under the "Did You Know" link on the home page. A "Term of the Day" feature, which can be sent to your e-mail address, and a list of the "Top 15 Terms" provide starting points for the casual browser. One banner ad at the top of each page hardly detracts from the site's extensive content. Webopedia offers an easy way to keep up with ever-changing computer terminology. (    Marius Kazokaitis, Vilnius, Lithuania. Reviewed 5 March 2002.

This site covers world newspapers online and news sites in English and also links to selected online magazines arranged under broad subject. According to its creators, "this non-profit and non-partisan web site was initiated by the group of freelance journalists to provide our colleagues as well as readers worldwide with reliable information about international news sources," a key goal being to provide access to current resources around the world  not included in similar sites. Online newspapers are listed by country under region.  Annotated lists of selected news sources are also included under broad categories such as world news, business, Internet, sports, weather, news photos, personalized news (including news by email), and alternative news.    

Contributors:  Carolyn Larson and Lori Morse, Co-Chairs;  Amy W. Boykin, Kristin Carlson, Andrea Copeland, Ann Goebel, Marilyn Grant, Jennifer Heise, Danianne Mizzy, Mimi Pappas, Ann E. Robinson, and Carol Rusinek.