Best Free Reference Web Sites 2003
Fifth 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

AIDSInfo ( U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Reviewed 6 March 2003.

Aimed at HIV/AIDS patients, the general public, health care providers, and researchers, this easily navigated site provides a central source for information on clinical trials for patients with HIV and AIDS, federally approved HIV treatment and prevention guidelines, and medical practice guidelines. By clicking on the "Drugs" link, users can locate information on anti-HIV medications, including side effects, dosages, and interactions with other drugs or food. The site also provides access to brochures, fact sheets, and other web resources on HIV/AIDS, downloadable copies of current and archived versions of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines, and a searchable glossary, available in both English and Spanish, of HIV/AIDS-related terms. A useful resource for anyone seeking in-depth information on this topic.

American Presidents: Life Portraits ( National Cable Satellite Corporation. Reviewed 2 Feb. 2003.

Constructed as a companion to C-SPAN's 1999 series, American Presidents: Life Portraits, the site features basic biographical information and interesting facts about our nation's 43 presidents along with a wide variety of video and sound clips and links to other sites of interest on the Web. Texts of speeches and addresses are included, as well as extensive bibliographies. One unique feature of the site is the "Presidential Places" search engine, which allows searching for geographical places of relevance by president's name or by state. There are also links to photographs of the burial sites of the U.S. Presidents and Vice-Presidents. A great site for K-12 students as well asas a bibliographical resource for older students and history buffs.

American Memory: Historical Collections for the National Digital Library ( Library of Congress. Reviewed 1 March 2003

American Memory is an ongoing resource of digital images, audio and media clips embracing all aspects of American history and culture. This extensive collection provides access to over 7 million digital reproductions of primary sources from over 100 important historical collections from the Library of Congress and other participating museums and institutions. In addition to the digital resources, the site includes The Learning Page, a teacher's guide to assist in instructional support and learning, and Today in History which gives a brief historical account of an important event in American history occurring on that day. This excellent, frequently updated site is highly recommended for librarians, researchers, teachers, and students seeking to incorporate digital images into their presentations and class assignments.

AskART ( Reviewed 11 Feb. 2003.

AskART, is "dedicated to the creation and maintenance of the world's most comprehensive centralized database about American artists" and is "committed to the inclusion of painters, sculptors, and illustrators." The database contains detailed information on nearly 28,000 American artists and can be accessed through a name keyword search, an alphabetically arranged artist index, or by category on a more selective basis (e.g., California Artists, Hudson River School). Artist entries include a biography, information about museums that display their work, a bibliography of books and periodicals about the artist and a superb color image gallery. In addition to artist information, the web site also provides directories of museums, dealers, auction houses, and professional organizations and a glossary of art terms. Although AskART does offer fee-based services through optional registered membership, the content on the site's main page (e.g. artist and museum ! information) is free.

Baseball-Almanac: The "Official" Baseball History Site ( Marvin Terry. Reviewed 5 March 2003.

This site offers one-stop shopping for facts, statistics, and trivia on professional baseball. Organized by categories such as all-star games, awards, fabulous feats, famous firsts, hall of fame, player stats, record book and year in review, the site also features current baseball news and "Today in Baseball History" notes. Advertising is present on the site, as are some links to eCommerce sites such as eBay offering baseball related memorabilia ; however, all of the information on the Baseball Almanac site itself is free. This is a useful site both for baseball fanatics as well as for those just wanting to check a fact or brush up on their baseball knowledge.

Best of History Web Sites ( Thomas Daacord, with Sumita Chakraborty. Reviewed 2 Feb. 2003.

This site's mission is to be a "portal created for students, history educators, and general history enthusiasts" and consists of annotated lists of recommended history sites that are divided by topic and rated by the site's creators for "usefulness and accuracy." Broad periods such as Prehistory, Medieval, and 20th Century history are listed and further subdivided into manageable topics and periods. Best of History Websites also identifies sites that are particularly useful for lesson plans, research and multimedia. Although coverage of the period between the Middle Ages and the modern/20th century is not particularly strong, overall this frequently updated site lives up to its name and its mission.

BBB: Better Business Bureau ( Council of Better Business Bureaus. Reviewed 3 March 2003.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus, a nonprofit umbrella organization of US and Canadian Better Business Bureaus, works to foster "fair and honest relationships between businesses and consumers...through voluntary self-regulation." On this well-laid-out site, users can locate their local Better Business Bureau; check out companies, including length of time in business, BBB membership, and complaint history; users may also submit complaints online, get information on charities through the Council's affiliated site, , and shop online from over 12,000 companies belonging to local Better Business Bureaus, as well as review general consumer information and news. This is a convenient site for linking to local BBB information and for obtaining information on individual companies, as well as on national charities for which the BBB has prepared reports.

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 - Present ( United States Congress. Senate Historical Office and the Legislative Resource Center of the House of Representatives. Reviewed 7 Feb. and 3 March 2003.

This searchable directory provides biographical information on the more than 13,000 persons who have served in the U.S. Congress, including those who served in the Continental Congress. Also included are territorial delegates, resident commissioners, and U.S. Vice presidents. Based on the print publication Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, the online version has been augmented with images from Congressional photo collections, information on related research collections including personal and business papers and oral histories, as well as bibliographies from related publications. The interface is clean and simple, allowing users to search by first and/or last name, state, party, position or year or Congress, or any combination of these. This is an authoritative source about those who have served in the country's national legislature, useful both for younger students as well as more advanced researchers.

EDGAR ( U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Reviewed 28 Feb. 2003.

Through its Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval site EDGAR, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) makes all submissions by U.S. public companies since 1993 available in full-text. Beginning in November 2002, all foreign companies listed on U.S. exchanges are also required to file registration statements, periodic reports, and other forms electronically through EDGAR. Filings include annual (10K) and quarterly (10Q) reports, annual reports to shareholders, and other filings that provide a comprehensive overview of a company's financial condition and business practices. Users may search by company name, the SEC's CIK (Central Index Key), File number, State or SIC (Standard Industrial Classification code). EDGAR is a key source for detailed company financial information for business and investment research.

Fact Monster TM ( Family Education Network Inc. Reviewed 11 Feb. 2003.

Launched in 2000 by the Learning Network, Fact (formerly ) describes its site as combining "essential reference materials, fun facts, features and individualized homework help." Intended for children aged 9 to 14, the well designed and easily navigable resource presents the following 10 subject categories in both text and graphic formats: World & News, U.S., People, Word Wise, Science, Math, Sports, Cool Stuff, Games and Quizzes and Homework Center. Each category has an Almanac, Special Features and a Games and Quizzes section which offer appropriate links. An atlas, almanac, dictionary and an encyclopedia can also be accessed directly from the home page. Fact Monster TM serves as a useful and unique web tool for school children looking for authoritative and reliable reference information when completing school projects and homework assignments.

Farmers Almanac ( Almanac Publishing Co. Reviewed: 5 March 2003.

This well-organized resource is the online version of the popular Farmers' Almanac. In keeping with the Almanac's goal of being informative as well as entertaining, the site, which provides only a selection of the features contained in the print version, offers astronomical data, gardening information, and cooking and household hints. In addition, the Almanac online also provides a list of links to other useful resources. The publishers do promote the sale of the print version of the Farmers' Almanac. A special feature is the interactive bulletin board where users can share information on such topics as the weather, gardening, hobbies, or recipes, with other enthusiasts. Overall, the site is a useful and entertaining resource for a miscellany of information.

Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names Online. ( Getty Research Institute, Getty Vocabulary Program. Reviewed 27 Feb. 2003.

"A structured vocabulary of more than 1,000,000 geographic names, including vernacular and historical names, coordinates, and place types, focusing on places important for the study of art and architecture," the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names Online is a gazetteer and much more. Searching for a place name yields information such as a location "hierarchy," basic information such as longitude and latitude, and where available, short descriptive passages on the history and political, cultural, or commercial significance of the location over time. Information is easy to locate and well-documented (information comes from sources such as geographical dictionaries, atlases, and encyclopedias), and while the amount of information can be almost overwhelming, context sensitive help is available on each page. This is an excellent tool for detailed historical research on place names.

Google News ( Reviewed 6 March 2003.

This Beta site searches 4500 news sources worldwide, displaying related headlines and photos, so users may quickly compare how different news organizations are reporting the same story. A unique feature is the use of an automated grouping system based on computer algorithms which match stories with search terms without human intervention. When a headline is displayed, a link to that news story is displayed along with a link to other reports on the subject. The site also offers preset categories such as sports, business, scitech, entertainment and health, as well as a search function across the full Google news site. Results may be resorted by date in order to follow the development of a story. Google News is an excellent reference tool for studying how the news is reported around the world.

GPO Access( U.S. Government Printing Office. Reviewed 5 March 2003.

GPO Access provides "access to a wealth of important information products produced by the Federal Government," including the use of "over 2,200 databases of Federal information in over 80 applications," many containing full text. This site includes the Budget of the United States, numerous Congressional resources, the Code of Federal Regulations, core documents of U.S. democracy, Economic Indicators, the Federal Register, the U.S. Code, U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents and more. GPO Access offers a clean, well-organized gateway to a wide spectrum of U.S government information resources useful for anyone seeking to locate the text of recent United States government documents.

Hoaxbusters ( CIAC (Computer Incident Advisory Capability ), U.S. Dept. of Energy. Reveiwed 3 March 2003.

Anyone who has received the Bill Gates money-back offer or an urgent email from a pseudo-Nigerian official needing a place to deposit untold sums of money will find this site, created and maintained by the CIAC (Computer Incident Advisory Capability), helpful. The objective of this site is to "describe some of the warnings, offers, and pleas for help that are filling our mailboxes, clogging our mailservers, and that generally do not have any basis in fact." Suspected hoaxes can easily be verified by keyword searching, through an index, or by investigating pre-set categories such as Urban Myths, Giveaways, etc.

HyperHistory Online ( World History Online. 7 Feb. 2003.

"HyperHistory is an expanding scientific project presenting 3,000 years of world history with an interactive combination of synchronoptic [simultaneously presented and viewable] lifelines, timelines, and maps." The unique construction of the site allows history to be "viewed" rather than read, although the option of browsing and searching brief text biographies (1010 total) is available. The collection of timelines can be viewed by time period, event (including a new chronology of the 2001-02 terrorist attacks), and person; names on the timeline are color-coded to indicate area of primary influence (science, arts, religion, politics). There is also an extensive collection of event and time period-related maps. The site is complemented by linked text of a "comprehensive world history" that features bibliographies and web links for further research. A valuable site, especially for K-12 and undergraduate use.

Informacion en Vivo: Servicios de referencia en español ( The New York Public Library Reviewed 14 March 2003.

This site is a one of a kind reference resource in the United States. In addition to offering Spanish language chat reference without requiring local library barcode authentication, there is also a comprehensive list of Spanish web sites, classified under thirty plus subject categories, entitled "sitios del Web," useful to Spanish-speakers for answering a range of questions. Both services are available from the link, "Información en Vivo / Pídalo Aquí."

Latin American Network Information Center ( Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas, Austin. Reviewed 14 March 2003.

The ambitious mission of this site is " facilitate access to Internet-based information to, from, or on Latin America." From Peruvian recipes to Chilean economic policies, LANIC provides vast resources, and can be accessed in English, Spanish, or Portuguese. The resources available will be of use to anyone with an interest in most any subject related to Latin America, including academic researchers, primary, and secondary educators. An editorial staff has selected the site's 12,000 plus URLs, which can be accessed either via a subject directory or a Google-powered search engine.

LII: Legal Information Institute ( Cornell Law School. Reviewed 4 Feb. 2003.

Produced by the Cornell Law School, this comprehensive, well-organized site provides easy access to a vast selection of legal information. Resources include recent and historic U.S. Supreme Court decisions, full-text access to every U.S. state statute and constitution, complete full-text of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and the U.S. Code, as well as bills pending in state legislatures. LII also offers a "spotlight section" which highlights specific Supreme Court decisions during the current term and also includes links to law cases recently in the news. The site features a well-placed search box for locating federal and state court decisions, statutes or regulations on myriad legal subjects. Ultimately, a reliable web resource for retrieving legal documents.

The Making of America Project ( and University of Michigan, Cornell University. Reviewed 7 Feb. 2003.

The Making of America (MOA) is a digital library of primary sources in American social history from the Antebellum period through Reconstruction. A joint effort of the University of Michigan and Cornell University, the database is housed on two servers, one at Cornell and one at Michigan. At this writing, MOA contains 1.5 million pages from 19th century monographs and journals. According to the site, particular strengths of the Michigan collection are education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology, while Cornell focuses mainly on digitizing general interest periodicals. The sites are comprised of pages scanned from the original volumes using Optical Character Recognition software, and are full-text searchable and accessible through screen reader software. The collections can be searched using limiters, proximity operators, material types and time periods. It is also possible to browse by journal title and volume or article title and author. Both sites also feature excellent help guides. Given the wide variety of resources, MOA is useful for upper-elementary through graduate school study.

Movie Review Query Engine ( Stewart M. Clamen. Reviewed 7 Feb. and 2 March 2003

The Movie Review Query Engine (MRQE) is a database of links to online reviews (written by professionals and amateurs and drawn from hundreds of sources including newspapers, magazines and fan sites) along with other articles covering over 30,000 movies from all over the world. Users can search the MRQE using all or part of a film's title or consult pre-compiled lists of films, including films featured at various festivals, the top 10 films at the U.S. Box Office, recent video releases, most reviewed titles, and Academy Award nominees. Although the lack of search capability by any field other than film title could be seen as a drawback, the MRQE does provide links wherever possible to the vast Internet Movie Database, ( selected for the MARS Best 1999 list. (RUSQ. Fall 1999)

NASA ( U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Reviewed 6 March 2003., the official web site of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, features an extensive collection of information related to our nation's space program and the cosmos. Redesigned in 2003, the site is well-organized and can be accessed by audience (educators, children, students, or the media) by resource category (about NASA, News and Events, Multimedia, Missions, Popular Topics), or by a handy search engine on each page that facilitates "Finding it @ NASA." A highlight of the site is the section entitled Human Space Flight (, which includes comprehensive information about the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, the history of human space flight and a photo gallery. A special section called "Behind the Scenes" is an unexpected gem, giving details about all the technical work that takes place on the ground to put the Space Shuttle and Space Station into orbit. The featured trilogy of slogans,! "Improve Life Here," "Extend Life to There," and "Find Life Beyond" evokes memories of the many remarkable individuals who have taken those "small steps" and "giant leaps" on behalf of all mankind.

NCES: National Center for Education Statistics ( National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education Reviewed 28 Feb. and 12 March 2003.

Aimed at educators, students, and the general public, this site "is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data that are related to education in the U.S. and other nations." The site provides page-image or other full-text access to its major statistical reference publications, including The Digest of Education Statistics , the Projection of Education Data, and The Condition of Education. Other resources include Postsecondary Education Data (IPEDS), Information on Public Schools and School Districts in the United States; College Opportunities On-Line (COOL,) which can be used for searching and comparing colleges that match user selected criteria; and The Nation's Report Card, a national assessment of educational progress. The site also includes a search option to quickly locate information or publications. This comprehensive source site is indispensable for statistical information and reports about various aspects of education at all levels in the United States.

The New York Times on the Web ( The New York Times Company. Reviewed 4 Feb. 2003.

Updated frequently throughout the day, the New York Times' web site offers comprehensive and detailed coverage of national and international news, business, technology, sports and the arts. While selected areas of the site are available to all, users are required to complete a free registration in order to access all of the information provided on the site. Registration also provides searching access to the NYT's web archive of over 500,000 articles dating back to January 1996. Full-text articles published within the past seven days can be accessed without charge while searches for older articles generate free abstracts with an option to purchase the full text of these articles. Registered users can also sign up to receive e-mail updates on specific topics such as new books, breaking news and today's headlines.

OAIster ( University of Michigan Digital Library Production Service (DLPS). Reviewed 5 March 2003.

OAIster serves as a search portal for digital collections of electronic books, online journals, audio and image files, and movies provided by the research library community. Users can search by keyword, title, creator, subject or resource type, and searches yield a detailed and well-organized description of the resource and a link to the resource itself. Indexed content includes the Library of Congress' American Memory Project, various pre-print and e-print servers, and digital thesis and dissertation collections. Currently OAIster contains over a 1.26 million records harvested from over 185 institutions. OAIster increases the visibility and accessibility of these unique resources by providing a "broad, generic, information retrieval resource for information about publicly available digital library resources" via a single point of entry.

The Online Books Page ( John Mark Ockerbloom, University of Pennsylvania. Reviewed 6 March 2003.

The goal of the Online Books Page is to facilitate "access to books that are freely readable over the Internet. Now in its tenth year, this site includes a searchable database of over 20,000 book titles available from many different sources, including such well known sites as the University of Virginia's Electronic Text Center and Project Gutenberg (, also a Mars Best 2003 winner. In addition to keyword searching, there are options to browse by author, title or subject, this latter category arranged by Library of Congress call number. New to the site are links to several runs of serial archives. Primarily an index to English language materials, there is a page of links provided to several foreign language sites. The look is very spare, but with few graphics and easy-to-read pages, navigation is very fast and easy.

Perseus Digital Library ( Perseus Project, Department of the Classics, Tufts University. Reviewed 7 Feb. 2003.

The Perseus Digital Library is "an evolving digital library of resources for the study of the humanities." Though the Project initially focused on texts relating to ancient Greece, the site's contents gradually expanded to include Latin text and tools and Renaissance-related materials. Further collaborations with the site's host, Tufts University Digital Collections and Archives led to the inclusion of Tufts University historical material, the Bolles Collection on (19th century) London, and materials on the United States' westward expansion and other materials of early American history including the American Civil War. The site features powerful search tools as well as access via tables of contents, subject, collection, and material type browsing. The word study tool, one of the most valuable tools for Classicists, generates a page of links to all the uses of a particular Latin word in the Perseus online collection. The site includes literally countless texts, i! mages, maps, and facsimiles from Ancient Egypt to the Civil War and 19th-century London.

Project Gutenberg ( Michael Hart. Reviewed March 2003.

Project Gutenberg was created by Michael Hart in 1971 at the University of Illinois with the ambitious vision of providing access to books in electronic text format a short time after they entered the public domain. Now, more than thirty years later, over 6,000 titles have been posted to the site. Texts available in Project Gutenberg include light literature (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs), heavy literature (such as the works of Shakespeare); and reference sources such as almanacs, encyclopedias, and dictionaries. The works may be searched or browsed by author or title and are stored in zip files. From perennial classics to more obscure works, Project Gutenberg's e-text archive is an amazing resource, reflecting the work of countless volunteers who select and digitize the resources included.

StartSpot Network ( StartSpot MediaWorks, Inc. Reviewed June 2003.

The StartSpot Network is a family of "Spot" sites, each serving as an indepth web portal for its category by guiding users to a wealth of outstanding resources which have been selected by an editorial team. Current spots include BookSpot, CinemaSpot, EmploymentSpot, GovernmentSpot, GenealogySpot, HomeworkSpot, HeadlineSpot, LibrarySpot, MuseumSpot, and TripSpot. Of particular note are LibrarySpot and BookSpot. LibrarySpot provides links to the web pages of public, K-12, academic, and other specialized libraries and a reference desk linking to reference works of all types. The site also links to sources of speeches, full-text articles, library associations, conferences and jobs, as well as some categories overlapping in part with BookSpot, such as sources of literary criticism. Among the offerings of BookSpot are links to best seller lists, pre-pub alerts, book club titles and read-a! likes as well as book reviews, book awards, poetry, and links to full text classics. Although these sites do carry advertising, in comparison with many such sites, their lack of annoying pop-up-boxes greatly increases their appeal and makes them outstanding starting points for anyone seeking to quickly and easily find first-rate information on the Web.

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ( U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Reviewed March 2003.

In line with its historic mission "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing for limited times to inventors the exclusive right to their respective discoveries ", the PTO now offers the ability to investigate patents and trademarks on its web site. The site also provides information about applying for patents, careers with USPTO and in patent law, and intellectual property. "Special Pages for First Time Visitors" are available to help users get started. Appropriate forms and fee structures are available for those interested in securing their own patent or trademark. The search capabilities of the USPTO site provide access to unique and previously difficult-to-access information through a straightforward, clean interface. Further highlights of the USPTO site are the patent full-text and image databases, which contain the full-text of over 3,000,000 patents from 1976 to the present and limited bibliographic data for over 4,0! 00,000 earlier patents, along with more than 70,000,000 full-page images of over 7,000,000 patents from 1790 forward. A TIFF plug-in is needed to see the full-page images, but the site links to free download sources of the plug-in.

Unbound Bible ( Biola University. Reviewed 7 March 2003.

Aimed at both the layperson and the serious student of the Christian Bible, this straightforward site allows users either to retrieve specific passages or do Boolean/keyword searching (limited by book, chapter and/or verse) in 10 English versions, 11 ancient language versions, and 42 non-English modern language of the Christian Bible. The power search allows users to bring up parallel versions of the same text in different Bible versions. The site also includes a variety of online study guides and reference works. Users can sign up for a free account allowing them to customize the interface and tools available to them. An excellent resource for anyone seeking to identify the source of a Biblical quote or to compare alternate translations of a Biblical passage.

Weather Underground ( The Weather Underground, Inc. Reviewed 5 March 2003.

Using information provided by the National Weather Service, users can locate weather information and forecasts for over 60,000 US and international cities. Users may also search by state, ZIP code, airport code or country. In addition, the site includes historical data back to 1994, as well as an astronomy area for sun rise, sun set information and the moon phases. The format is easy-to-use and can be personalized by language, time zone, metric or English units, and "favorite" cities to display on the opening screen. For a $5.00 membership fee per year users can access an "ad-free" version of the site and receive weather forecasts and weather alerts by email for cities of their choosing.