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best Free Reference Web Sites by p155sed0ff


									From committees oF rusa

                                           Welcome to the ninth annual Best Free Reference Web Sites

best Free                                  List. In 1998, the Reference and User Services Association’s
                                           (RUSA) Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) appointed
                                           an ad hoc task force to develop a method of recognizing out-

Reference                                  standing reference Web sites. The task force became a formal
                                           committee at the 2001 ALA Annual Conference. This is the
                                           ninth Best Free Reference Web Sites list produced by the group.

Web Sites                                  Past lists and all future lists will be published in each year’s fall
                                           issue of Reference & User Services Quarterly. The annotations
                                           also are included in electronic resource records for the sites in

Ninth Annual List                          the Online Catalog of the Library of Congress. An online ver-
                                           sion of the list appears on the MARS publications portion of
                                           the RUSA Web site along with a new combined index to sites
                                           included in previous lists. A subject index is being created;
                                           links to it will be included on the Web page in the future.
                                                Because the Web is a changing world, readers should note
                                           that the 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.
                                                Once again, the committee considered sites in all subject
                                           areas, selecting only free sites that meet the definition of ready
RUSA Machine-Assisted Reference            reference and that would be of value in all types of librar-
Section (MARS) contributing mem-           ies. The committee has established the following criteria for
bers:	James	Langan	and	Margaret	Y.	        nominated Web sites:
Perkins,	Co-Chairs;	Charles	J.	Cobine,	
Christopher	S.	Dunham,	Caroline	E.	        n	   quality, depth, and usefulness of content
Geck,	Rosemary	Meszaros.                   n	   clear statement of the content, including any intended
                                           n	   appropriateness for the intended audience
                                           n	   appropriate links to other Web sites
                                           n	   attention to detail; absence of grammatical errors and so
                                           n	   ready reference; usefulness for reference to answer specific
                                           n	   may also give a broad perspective of a particular subject
                                           n	   uniqueness of content
                                           n	   uniqueness of the resouArce as a whole; creativity
                                           n	   useful in a variety of reference settings
                                           n	   currency of content
                                           n	   links are kept up to date
                                           n	   update frequency is appropriate for the subject matter
                                           n	   authority of producer
                                           n	   authority and legality clearly stated
                                           n	   if not easily recognizable, an explanation of the history
                                                and purpose of the organization
                                           n	   ease of use
                                           n	   user-friendly design; easy navigation
                                           n	   good search engine

3 | Reference & User Services Quarterly
                                                                                                       Best Free Reference Web Sites

n	   attractive; graphic design makes a good impression on the       	The	Bill	of	Rights	Institute,
     user                                                                The Bill of Rights Institute is a nonprofit organization
n	   easy output (printing or downloading)                           whose mission is to teach youth “about the words and ideas
n	   customer service                                                of America’s Founders, the liberties guaranteed in our Found-
n	   contacts are responsive; e-mail addresses are correct           ing documents, and how our Founding principles continue to
n	   authority of producer                                           affect and shape a free society.” The institute includes a great
n	   authority and legality clearly stated                           deal of free information on its Web site.
n	   if not recognizable, an explanation of the history and              Teachers (and others) can sign up for newsletters with
     purpose of the organization                                     links to lessons on the topics of Bill of Rights in the news,
n	   efficiency (note: efficiency is affected by the user’s method   First Amendment in history, and landmark Supreme Court
     of Internet access—dial-up access, for example, will no         cases. There also is a link to their Web site for high school
     doubt be less efficient for all sites—and evaluators en-        students, which includes video and audio clips and a study
     deavored to take such differences into account)                 guide to the Constitution. This site is an excellent resource
n	   graphics load quickly or are not so intensive as to seri-       for both teachers and high school students.
     ously degrade access                                            Author/publisher: Bill Of Rights Institute
n	   any required plug-ins are available for easy download           Free/fee-based: Free (primarily)
n	   reliable, speedy server; information is there when need-        Date reviewed: Feb. 24, 2007
n	   appropriate use of the Web as a medium                          Doing	Business,
n	   components are well integrated (audio, video, text, and             This free Internet site, first launched in 2003, is a highly
     so on)                                                          successful resource for “comparing business regulations.”
n	   useful information is still available, even if the user does    In-depth data and reports about and rankings of regulations
     not have all the plug-ins and media components                  relevant to doing business are supplied for 175 economies,
n	   effective use of Java, other newer technologies                 along with tools for comparative analyses. The rankings, data,
                                                                     and reports are derived from quantifiable data that reflect the
     As in previous years, the committee worked virtually, and       costs, number of requirements, and time involved in specific
the process went smoothly, especially as many of the members         business functions and operations. Policymakers, the aid
were returning for a third or fourth year. Each member of the        community, and researchers as well as business executives
committee nominated five to seven sites using the criteria           and foreign investors can use this resource effectively.
specified above. The committee members then reviewed the             Author/publisher: World Bank
annotated nominations and voted for their favorite sites. Pre-       Free/fee-based: Free
vious years’ winners were not eligible for this year’s list, but a   Date reviewed: Mar. 4, 2007
site that did not win previously could be re-nominated.
     Selected sites were notified electronically with a recogni-,	Helping U.S. Companies Export, www.export.
tion certificate. They are also invited to use the MARS logo         gov
and link to the online version of this list, located on the MARS         Produced by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Export.
publications portion of the RUSA Web page.                           gov “brings together resources from across the U.S. Govern-
                                                                     ment to assist American business in international sales.” In
American	Hospital	Directory,                             this era of globalization, the benefits of exporting are enor-
    Although this site provides a for-fee service for subscrib-      mous, and this Web resource assists with identifying impor-
ers, it also features an easy-to-use, free hospital look-up tool     tant exporting opportunities and is an indispensable tool for
that links to hospital Web sites and basic statistics. Users         anyone doing business abroad. The Web site provides trade
also can drill down by state to see statistics that have been        leads and access to the U.S. Commercial Service’s extensive
gathered from both proprietary and public sources, includ-           Market Research Library database, which furnishes such doc-
ing Medicare cost reports and claims data. Nonsubscribers            uments as country commercial guides, industry overviews,
can view data on total numbers of beds, discharges, patient          and market updates. Access to most of the materials is free,
days, and gross patient revenue. Users who are researching           but requires registration.
the healthcare industry or who are themselves healthcare             Author/publisher: U.S. International Trade Administration
professionals or administrators may require more detailed in-        Free/fee-based: Free
formation that only comes with a subscription. The American          Date reviewed: Mar. 4, 2007
Hospital Directory is a well-designed, reliable source for the
general public and users who may otherwise not have much             Gate2Home,
luck locating hospital information.                                      Libraries with diverse user populations will find Gate-
Author/publisher: American Hospital Directory, Inc.                  2Home (a multilingual keyboard emulator) to be an impor-
Free/fee-based: Free, with more data access for subscribers          tant reference tool and desktop gadget. Created by Israeli Web
Date reviewed: Feb. 28, 2007                                         designer Ilan Bar-Magen to circumvent the administrative or

                                                                                                      volume 47, issue 1 | 37
From committees oF rusa
system settings that can plague public computing environ-           maps, and “Games” features a weekly trivia quiz. This site is
ments, Gate2Home gives users instant access to the keyboards        useful for learning about what happened and when.
of sixty-five languages. Keyboards include all major East and       Author/publisher: A&E Television Networks
South Asian languages, as well as Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Ro-        Free/fee-based: Free
man, and Cyrillic key sets with various diacritics. Originally      Date reviewed: Mar. 17, 2006 (edited Apr. 16, 2007)
designed with travelers in mind, this Web tool is equally use-
ful to language learners and immigrant populations.                 Invention	Dimension,
Author/publisher: Ilan Bar-Magen,                          Potential inventors and innovators, as well as students of
Free/fee-based: Free                                                all ages, can use this one-stop informational center. This well-
Date reviewed: Feb. 12, 2007                                        designed, highly informative site advertises awards and oppor-
                                                                    tunities, furnishes an Inventor’s Handbook of frequently asked,	National Human Genome Research Institute,               questions (FAQ), and offers additional search options, includ-                                                      ing a search button at the top of the main page and the ability
    This Internet resource, first launched in 1997, is a valuable   to browse alphabetically by inventor and invention. The Web
resource for genomics research. The institute’s mission is to       site is attractively packaged with value-added content, such as
“encompass a broad range of studies aimed at understanding          “What’s New,” the Invention of the Week, games and trivia, and
the structure and function of the human genome and its role         how to apply for a patent for your own invention.
in health and disease.” The site supplies information about         Author/publisher: Lemelson-MIT Award Program
consumer health and counseling information for genetic disor-       Free/fee-based: Free
ders as well as in-depth information for medical and scientific     Date reviewed: Mar. 3, 2006 (edited Apr. 5, 2007)
professionals, such as grants, policies and ethics, educational
resources, and careers and training information.                    Liber8,	An economic information portal for librarians and
Author/publisher: National Institutes of Health                     students,
Free/fee-based: Free                                                     Librarians at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve
Date reviewed: Mar. 4, 2007                                         Bank of St. Louis designed this indispensable portal to eco-
                                                                    nomic information. This site’s goal is to provide information
Gethuman,                                          professionals, the academic community, and the public with
    The gethuman Web site, run by volunteers, is part of a          centralized access to important, free online economic materi-
project to improve customer telephone support by companies          als, databases, and Web sites. A few valuable in-house data-
in the United States. Aimed at consumers, the gethuman da-          bases are offered, such as the International Economic Statis-
tabase of five hundred companies includes customer service          tics (IES) database, an important aid in identifying other free
telephone numbers, specific instructions for reaching a hu-         Internet resources and sites available for specific countries.
man being at each company, and quality of service grades.           Author/publisher: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Users can click on a company name to rate the quality of            Free/fee-based: Free
telephone support. For public companies, a link to Yahoo!           Date reviewed: Mar. 4, 2007
Finance displays company profiles. The site also includes a
discussion board and information on the telephone support           MDBG	 Chinese-English	 Dictionary,	 www.xuezhongwen.
standards developed by the gethuman project. This Web site          net or
will be welcomed by all who have ever been frustrated in their           The impressive Chinese-language learning site Xuezhon-
attempts to reach a real human being to resolve a problem. includes this powerful online Chinese-English dic-
Author/publisher: Paul M. English, gethuman Project                 tionary, which has a simple, well-designed interface that ac-
Free/fee-based: Free                                                cepts both English, pinyin (transliterated Roman), and Chinese
Date reviewed: Feb. 24, 2007                                        characters. The dictionary features sound files, radicals, stroke
                                                                    order, and links to online flash cards that users can flip through
History	Channel,                                 to learn new characters. The greatest advantage of the diction-
    While primarily a conduit for information on the current        ary may be a drawback for some users: it has wiki functionality,
television programs and their schedule, the additional features     so the amount of new content may seem overwhelming to stu-
at The History Channel make it well worth a visit. “This Day        dents of Chinese who are learning basic vocabulary. As the site
in History” provides a snapshot of what happened in a variety       expands to include more specialized language as well as idioms
of topics (though most relate to modern wars), and “World           and proverbs, it could easily become one of the most important
Timeline” offers brief descriptions of events by year, decade, or   tools for Western students of Chinese on the Web.
century (500 BC to 2005 CE). Discussion lists and resources         Author/publisher: Dennis Vierkant, Information Technology,
for classroom teachers abound, and “Speeches & Video” offers              Library, and Education Department, University of Twen-
more than two thousand multimedia clips. The “Maps” sec-                  te, Netherlands
tion provides simple geopolitical and thematic (for example,        Free/fee-based: Free
“Growth of the Roman Empire” and “World Tectonic Plates”)           Date reviewed: Feb. 28, 2007

38 | Reference & User Services Quarterly
                                                                                                   Best Free Reference Web Sites

Migration	Information	Source,	www.migrationinformation.,
org                                                                   This well-organized, easy-to-use portal provides access to
    For researchers interested in international, national, and   a wealth of quality research and insightful information about
local migration issues, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI)     all aspects of spinal cord injury, including life with such an
has produced the Migration Information Source, which is          injury. Major site sections provided are health, rehabilitation,
chock-full of reports and data. This think tank is funded by     active living, tools and tech, rights and benefits, research, re-
an assortment of philanthropy groups in the United States        sources, caregivers, and the lending library. Select items are
and abroad, and benefactors include the Carnegie Corpora-        highlighted on the homepage, and relevant Internet resources
tion, Ford Foundation, and Danish, Norwegian, and Dutch          are showcased on the various section pages. This resource is
groups, as well as the United Nations High Commission for        an important tool for librarians and researchers developing
Refugees. The data sources are authoritative and current, and    online allied health collections.
the site is attractive and user-friendly. The Migration Infor-   Author/publisher: Christopher and Dana Reeve Occupational
mation Source includes U.S. census and Eurostat data, maps,            Resource Center
charts that show migration history, country reports, feature     Free/fee-based: Free
stories, and news. The site is a must for anyone researching     Date reviewed: Mar. 3, 2006 (edited Apr. 12, 2007)
immigration, asylum, and refugee questions.
Author/publisher: Migration Policy Institute                     SeatGuru,
Free/fee-based: Free                                                  SeatGuru is “The ultimate source for airplane seating, in-
Date reviewed: Mar. 2, 2007                                      flight amenities and airline information.” This site provides
                                                                 users with detailed maps of commercial airliners. Included are
National	Institute	of	Mental	Health,            the locations of the galley, restrooms, exits, and closets. Color
    The site of the National Institute of Mental Health, the     codes on the seats indicate uncomfortable or unpopular seats,
major federal agency responsible for conducting research on      average seats, and preferred seats. In addition to seating in-
mental illness and behavioral disorders, provides compre-        formation, SeatGuru provides information about each airline’s
hensive information for the general public on mental health      luggage restrictions, traveling with pets, and in-flight ameni-
as well as information aimed at researchers seeking funding.     ties, such as meals and entertainment. Links to each airline’s
In addition to basic data on various disorders, with links       Web page are prominently displayed on the first review page.
to sources of help and to additional resources and relevant      Web site directions are clear and easy to understand. Casual
research, there are links to related news articles. The Web      and frequent flyers will find this site very useful.
site includes sections specifically addressing mental health     Author/publisher: Inc.
problems in children and adolescents, older adults, men, and     Free/fee-based: Free
women. This well-organized site is a great place to start for    Date reviewed: Mar. 11, 2006 (edited Apr. 16, 2007)
anyone researching mental health issues.
Author/publisher: National Institute of Mental Health  ,	A national resource for computational science
Free/fee-based: Free                                             education,
Date reviewed: Feb. 24, 2007                                         The Shodor Foundation, a nonprofit education and
                                                                 research corporation, is “dedicated to the advancement of
NatureServe	Explorer,                        science and math education, specifically through the use of
    With its colorful Web site and troves of animal, plant,      modeling and simulation technologies.” Shodor recognized
and ecological data, NatureServe, a nonprofit conservation       that professional computational science tools, especially
organization, is a superb resource for academics and mem-        graphics and animations, could be adapted for classroom
bers of the public. Two separate databases that NatureServe      use. The foundation’s Web site offers access to a repertoire of
makes available stand out: NatureServe Explorer: An Online       software and provides value-added aids, such as curriculum
Encyclopedia of Life, and InfoNatura. NatureServe Explorer       materials sorted by grade and subject, for students, teachers,
covers the United States and Canada, with information on         and parents.
more than 65,000 plants, animals, and ecosystems, particu-       Author/publisher: Shodor Foundation
larly endangered species. InfoNatura focuses on 8,500 birds,     Free/fee-based: Free
mammals, and amphibians of Latin America, from the com-          Date reviewed: Mar. 4, 2007
mon 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        Many people would like to improve their health but are
presentation will be of value to all users who are gathering     uncertain where to begin. Created by the U.S Department of
biological and ecological data.                                  Health and Human Services, SmallStep encourages people to
Author/publisher: NatureServe                                    make small changes in their diets and lives to achieve their
Free/fee-based: Free                                             goal of weight loss and to promote physical fitness. Informa-
Date reviewed: Feb. 12, 2007                                     tion on the Web site includes how to create a healthy balanced

                                                                                                   volume 47, issue 1 | 3
From committees oF rusa
meal, how to estimate serving size, and how to integrate            row their searches for information inside the Web site.
physical activity into your life easily. Interactive menus help     Author/publisher: Expedia, Inc
you determine if you are exceeding your daily intake of fats,       Free/fee-based: Free
sodium, cholesterol, or calories.                                   Date reviewed: Mar. 4, 2007
Author/publisher: U.S. Department of Health and Human
     Services                                                       United	Nations	Environment	Programme,	http://na.unep.
Free/fee-based: Free                                                net/digital_atlasFeb. google.php
Date reviewed: Mar. 4, 2007                                              Google Maps drives this environmental atlas produced
                                                                    by the North American Node of the United Nations’ Global
Smithsonian	Institution,                                 Resource Information Database	 group, which is co-located
     Providing visitors with detailed information about the         in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at the USGS EROS Data Cen-
world’s largest museum complex and its exhibits, the Smith-         ter. This group works to leverage such technologies as re-
sonian Institution’s site also includes interactive online exhib-   mote sensing, geographic information systems, and online
its, supplementary information on the physical exhibits, and        mapping tools to create an information format to influence
an impressive collection of interactive, multimedia resources       environmental policy decision-makers. The atlas highlights
found under the “Explore & Learn” section, divided into three       sites around the world that have witnessed dramatic envi-
areas: art and design, history and culture, and science and         ronmental changes. Each location is documented by striking
technology. Users also can find information on the Smithso-         satellite images that poignantly illustrate such environmental
nian Institution’s research centers and outreach programs of        changes as glacial melt, desertification, deforestation, pollu-
traveling exhibits and affiliate museums. This site is ideal for    tion, and population growth. The site’s authors use quality
museum visitors and interesting for everyone.                       information from scientific sources to produce an impressive
Author/publisher: Smithsonian Institution                           online reference tool for geographers, political scientists, and
Free/fee-based: Free                                                environmental researchers.
Date reviewed: Mar. 17, 2006 (edited Apr. 12, 2007)                 Author/publisher: United Nations Environment Programme’s
                                                                         Global Resource Information Database
Son	of	Citation	Machine,                 Free/fee-based: Free
    Son of Citation Machine is an “interactive Web tool de-         Date reviewed: Feb. 28, 2007
signed to assist high school, college, and university students,
their teachers, and independent researchers in their effort to      Who’s	Alive	and	Who’s	Dead,
respect other people’s intellectual properties.” This tool al-          “Welcome to Who’s Alive and Who’s Dead—the site that
lows users to enter citation information for various types of       helps you keep track of which famous people have died and
print and electronic resources to produce a MLA-, APA-, or          which are still alive!” The Web site lists each person’s dates of
Chicago-formatted bibliographic reference and parenthetical         birth and death (if applicable) and cause of death (if known).
citation; the Turabian citation section is under construction.      Hyperlinks from the person’s name display a very brief synopsis
Son of Citation Machine is very simple and straightforward to       of each person’s achievements. Categories include actors and
use. Although advertising appears on the site, a registration       actresses, sports, political figures, musicians, and artists. The
and login procedure allows schools to block ads. Teachers           creator admits that his decision on whom to include is some-
and students will appreciate the ability to simplify the cita-      what subjective. Useful for seeing who has died from famous
tion process.                                                       musical groups, or who is still alive from famous TV shows.
Author/publisher: David Warlick & The Landmark Project              Author/publisher: David Carson
Free/fee-based: Free                                                Free/fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: Feb. 24, 2007                                        Date reviewed: Mar. 4, 2007

Trip	Advisor,                                   WorldCat,
     Trip Advisor is very useful for anyone planning a trip. The         WorldCat promotes itself as “the world’s largest network
site provides a brief overview of the city you are going to as      of library content and services.” This wonderful Web resource
well as the names and locations of hotels, attractions, and         is basically a megacatalog of more than a billion items from
restaurants. Web site users are encouraged to post their            OCLC libraries. Users can add a Worldcat search box to their
experiences, videos, pictures, and advice about visiting the        Web sites and download browser plugins to allow searching
city. Names of hotels and restaurants can be sorted alpha-          from browser toolbars. Librarians and students can use this
betically or by user popularity. In addition to user reviews,       tool to locate resources in local libraries as well as confirm the
reviews from professional travel organizations, such as From-       existence of resources in libraries around the world.
mers, are available. Although the Web site does not make            Author/publisher: Online Computer Library Center, Inc.
travel arrangements directly, airplane and hotel reservations             (OCLC)
can be made through their associates:, Orbitz,          Free/fee-based: Free
and A helpful search engine allows users to nar-        Date reviewed: Mar. 4, 2007

0 | Reference & User Services Quarterly
                                                                                                    Best Free Reference Web Sites,                 ,
    The WordReference Dictionaries are superior translation  , a new venture from the founder and former
dictionaries for French, Italian, and Spanish. Entries include     employees of, provides estimates of home values
useful links to word definitions and synonyms, discussion          and related data for more than seventy million properties to
forums where users offer human translation help, and links         prospective buyers and sellers. Entering an address will pro-
to Google searches for words or phrases used in context.           duce a satellite photograph and street map, as well as data on
This is especially helpful for users searching for translations    such home features as number of bedrooms. Users can refine
of professional language in medicine, law, or business. The        the valuation of a home by adding information on renovations
English language entries do not originate from a standard dic-     and special features and by selecting comparable recent home
tionary, but from the WordNet lexical dictionary developed         sales. As a beta site,’s data coverage is not com-
at Princeton. The Spanish dictionary is derived from Espasa        pletely even, but information is provided on data quantity and
Calpe’s 2005 Diccionario de la lengua española and features        accuracy of estimates by state and for various metropolitan
250,000 translations. The French features 250,000 transla-         areas. Homeowners and buyers will find a quick
tions; the Italian, nearly 200,000 translations. This site is an   and useful way to estimate a home’s current value.
excellent resource for students and translators working with       Author/publisher: Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink
Romance languages.                                                 Free/fee-based: Free
Author/publisher:, Michael Kellogg               Date reviewed: Mar. 11, 2006 (edited Apr. 12, 2007)
Free/fee-based: Free
Date reviewed: Mar. 9, 2006 (edited Apr. 12, 2007)

                                                                                                   volume 47, issue 1 | 41

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