Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Best Free Reference Web Sites: Ninth Annual List

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Best Free Reference Web Sites: Ninth Annual List

Article excerpt

Welcome to the ninth annual Best Free Reference Web Sites 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 outstanding 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. 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 the Online Catalog of the Library of Congress. An online version 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 reference and that would be of value in all types of libraries. The committee has established the following criteria for nominated Web sites:

* quality, depth, and usefulness of content

* clear statement of the content, including any intended biases

* appropriateness for the intended audience

* appropriate links to other Web sites

* attention to detail; absence of grammatical errors and so on

* ready reference; usefulness for reference to answer specific questions

* may also give a broad perspective of a particular subject

* uniqueness of content

* uniqueness of the resource as a whole; creativity

* useful in a variety of reference settings

* currency of content

* links are kept up to date

* update frequency is appropriate for the subject matter

* authority of producer

* authority and legality clearly stated

* if not easily recognizable, an explanation of the history and purpose of the organization

* ease of use

* user-friendly design; easy navigation

* good search engine

* attractive; graphic design makes a good impression on the user

* easy output (printing or downloading)

* customer service

* contacts are responsive; e-mail addresses are correct

* authority of producer

* authority and legality clearly stated

* if not recognizable, an explanation of the history and purpose of the organization

* efficiency (note: efficiency is affected by the user's method of Internet access--dial-up access, for example, will no doubt be less efficient for all sites--and evaluators endeavored to take such differences into account)

* graphics load quickly or are not so intensive as to seriously degrade access

* any required plug-ins are available for easy download

* reliable, speedy server; information is there when needed

* appropriate use of the Web as a medium

* components are well integrated (audio, video, text, and so on)

* useful information is still available, even if the user does not have all the plug-ins and media components

* effective use of Java, other newer technologies

As in previous years, the committee worked virtually, and the process went smoothly, especially as many of the members were returning for a third or fourth year. Each member of the committee nominated five to seven sites using the criteria specified above. The committee members then reviewed the annotated nominations and voted for their favorite sites. Previous years' winners were not eligible for this year's list, but a site that did not win previously could be re-nominated. …

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