Best Free Reference Web Sites Sixth Annual List: RUSA Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS)

By Larson, Carolyn; Morse, Lori et al. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Best Free Reference Web Sites Sixth Annual List: RUSA Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS)


Larson, Carolyn, Morse, Lori, Baugh, Georgia, Foster, Janet, Garton, Scott, Japzon, Andrea, May, Rachel Fleming, Mizzy, Danianne, Pappas, Mimi, Straw, Joseph, Threatt, Monique, Reference & User Services Quarterly


Welcome to the sixth annual Best Free Reference Web Sites List. In 1998, the Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) 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 American Library Association's 2001 Annual Conference. This is the sixth MARS 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 and User Services Quarterly.

Since 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:

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 Web sites

* Attention to detail; absence of grammatical errors, etc.

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, if 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 Contributors: Carolyn Larson and Lori Morse, Co-Chairs; Georgia Baugh, Janet Foster, Scott Garton, Andrea Japzon, Rachel Fleming May, Danianne Mizzy, Mimi Pappas, Joseph Straw and Monique Threatt.

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

8. 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--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

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, other newer technologies

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

Selected sites were notified electronically with a recognition certificate. …

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