Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Best Free Reference Websites: Eleventh Annual List

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Best Free Reference Websites: Eleventh Annual List

Article excerpt

Welcome to the eleventh 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 it is now appropriately named the MARS Best Free Reference Websites Committee.

Like previous lists, the 2009 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 (www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/rusa/ sections/mars) along with a link to the "Best Free Reference Websites Combined Index," which provides in alphabetical order all entries in the current and previous ten lists. Succinct and insightful annotations for these 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 these 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

* Clear statement of the content, including any intended biases

* Appropriate for the intended audience

* Provide appropriate links to other websites

* Attention to detail--e.g., absence of grammatical errors

2. Ready reference--usefulness for reference to answer specific questions

* May also give a broad perspective of a particular subject

3. Uniqueness of content

* Uniqueness of the resource as a whole, creativity

* Useful in a variety of reference settings

4. Currency of content

* Links are kept up-to-date

* Update frequency is appropriate for the subject matter

5. Authority of producer

* Authority and legality clearly stated

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

6. Ease of use

* User-friendly design--easy navigation

* Good search engine

* Attractive--graphic design leaves a good impression on the user

* Easy output (printing or downloading)

7. 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

8. Efficiency

* 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

9. Appropriate use of the Web as a medium

* Components are well integrated (audio, video, text, etc.)

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

* Effective use of Java and other newer technologies

As in previous years, the committee worked virtually, mainly by e-mail. The process went smoothly, especially given that many of the committee members have served on the committee for several years. Each member nominated seven to ten 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, committee members decided to recognize twenty-nine new Best Free Reference Websites for 2009. …

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