Best Free Reference Websites: Twelfth Annual List

RUSA Machine-Assisted Reference Section

Welcome to the twelfth annual “Best Free Reference Websites” list. In 1998, the Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) of RUSA appointed an ad hoc task force to develop a method of recognizing outstanding reference websites. The task force became a formal committee at the 2001 ALA Annual Conference, and now it is appropriately named the MARS Best Free Reference Websites Committee.

Like previous lists, the 2010 list of winning sites is being published in this year’s fall issue of RUSQ and added to the Library of Congress’s online catalog. A link to this year’s list is on the MARS webpage along with a link to the Best Free Reference Websites Combined Index, which provides in alphabetical order all entries in the current and previous eleven lists. Succinct and insightful annotations for the Best Free Reference Websites List entries were written by committee members in the years the particular websites were selected for the lists. These annotations provide guidance for using the websites as reference tools.

Once again, the committee considered free websites in all subject areas that can be used for ready reference and that can be of value in most types of libraries.

The committee has established the following criteria for nominations:

  1. Quality, depth, and usefulness of content
  2. Ready reference
  3. Uniqueness of content
  4. Currency of content
  5. Authority of producer
  6. Ease of use
  7. Customer service
  8. Efficiency
  9. Appropriate use of the Web as a medium

A more detailed explanation of the criteria can be found on the MARS webpage.

As in previous years, the committee worked virtually, using e-mail and an online bookmarking site called Diigo ( The process went smoothly, in part because several of the committee members have served on the committee for several years. Each member nominated seven to nine websites using the criteria specified above and then wrote brief annotations that would assist fellow committee members with reviewing and voting for their favorite nominated websites. The goal of this year’s committee was to produce a final list with approximately twenty-five to thirty high-quality reference websites. After careful review, the committee members decided to recognize thirty new Best Free Reference Websites for 2010.

Winning sites were notified electronically with a letter of recognition from the MARS Best Free Reference Websites Committee, and they were invited to link to the online version of this list. The annotations for winning websites were also edited by the co-chairs to ensure that they are of optimal use to librarians and fit the criteria listed above.

An extensive collection of hundreds of thousands of acronyms, abbreviations, and initialisms, is neatly arranged by broad areas (e.g., Medical, Internet, International, Community). Each area is further broken down into more specific, browsable categories such as Veterinary, Emoticons, or Non-Profit. The International area is multilingual, featuring hundreds of entries in Spanish, German, French, and other languages. Users can contribute abbreviations as well as look them up. In addition to browsing, search options are also available: word to abbreviation, abbreviation to word, and word in definition. There is also a metasearch option that seems to deliver term use in Amazon and Google, but what it actually does is unexplained. Otherwise, this is a great resource.

Author/Publisher: STANDS4
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: Feb. 24, 2010


This free digital collection from Duke University contains more than seven thousand advertisements from print magazines and newspapers, published from the 1910s to the 1950s, primarily in the United States and Canada. Content focuses on five areas: radio, television, transportation, beauty/ hygiene, and World War II. Users can search by keyword or browse the broad focus areas and then narrow results by company, product, subject, or year. Three different browse displays are available—grid, list, or scrolling wall. Individual images can be viewed in three different sizes, can be downloaded, and may be used for research and teaching with attribution. Both black and white and color images are included. Ad*Access is of interest to anyone researching American history, culture, or advertising.

Author/Publisher: Duke University Libraries
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: Feb. 25, 2010

American Time Use Survey

The American Time Use Survey (ATUS) provides statistics and graphical data on the amount of time people in the United States spend on various activities: watching TV, eating, and working in the yard. Use the ATUS tables or charts to find statistics by either demographic characteristic (older Americans or students, for example) or area of activity (such as work, leisure, or sleep). If existing tables and charts are not sufficient, microdata files from 2003–8 can be freely downloaded for additional analysis. Supporting documentation explains how the data is used by the government. Useful for business or cultural research, the American Time Use Survey provides a snapshot of how Americans spend their days.

Author/Publisher: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: Feb. 18, 2010

The Association of Religion Data Archives

The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) provides statistics on religious bodies—both in the United States and internationally. Data varies by location. Figures for denominations in the United States can be had at the state, county, and zip code level for 1980, 1990, and 2000, while profiles for the entire denomination can include more historic data. Statistics on religious adherents are available for entire countries along with various socioeconomic measures. GIS Maps are available, and it is possible to cross-reference geographies with practices. Downloadable datasets allow users to work with data independently of the site. A research-oriented site, the ARDA includes much information of use to educators, journalists, religious workers, and the general public.

Author/Publisher: Association of Religion Data Archives, Department of Sociology, The Pennsylvania State University
Free/Fee-based: Free
Date Reviewed: Feb. 12, 2010

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