Best Free Reference Web Sites

Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Best Free Reference Web Sites


First Annual List

RUSA Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS)

The Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) appointed an ad hoc task force at Annual 1998 to develop a method of recognizing outstanding free reference sites on the World Wide Web. The result is this list of twenty-five sites, nominated, annotated, and then voted on by a task force of thirteen practicing reference librarians representing academic, public, special, and government libraries. While the work of the task force was to be a pilot project, the MARS executive committee at its 1999 annual meeting moved to establish the list as an ongoing annual event; thus this is the inaugural MARS Best Reference Web Sites list. This and all future MARS lists will be published in each year's fall issue of Reference and User Services Quarterly.

In order to expedite production of this initial MARS Best Reference Web Sites list, no criteria were established prior to the nominations of sites. All nominators were to establish their own criteria for selecting five candidate sites and share the criteria as well as the sites with the rest of the task force. While this might seem risky, it worked well. There was significant agreement among task force members concerning core criteria for reference tools. The criteria most often mentioned by the task force members are familiar ones to reference librarians:

* Quality, depth, and usefulness of content

* Usefulness for reference to answer specific questions

* Ease of use including site design and ease of accessing the site

* Currency of content

Other suggested criteria were:

* Authority of producer

* Uniqueness of content

* Useful for a range of reference activities: ready reference as well as broad perspective of a subject

* Useful in a variety of reference settings

* Efficiency

* Appropriate use of Web as a medium

* Uniqueness of resource

The other notable criterion was that only free reference Web sites of importance were considered for inclusion on this first list.

As might seem appropriate for a project of this type, the work of the task force was accomplished virtually, with members using e-mail, a closed mail list, and Web sites to share information. Being a virtual task force not only allowed a wider participation by more members but also facilitated the project so that it was accomplished between Midwinter and Annual 1999 (or less than five months) and now serves as an exemplary example of an exceedingly productive "virtual committee."

Selected sites were notified electronically with a recognition certificate and have permission to use the MARS logo as a link to the Web version of this list at www.ala.org/rusa/mars/best1999. html and at RUSQ's Web site at www.ala.org/rusa/rusq/.

Contributors: Amy Wells and Becki Whitaker, cochairs; Michael Ciccone; Andrea Copeland; LeiLani Freund; Elliot Kanter; Carolyn Larson; Jian Liu; Tim McDonough; Lori Morse; Natalie Power; Ann E. Robinson; Alan Stewart; and Deleyne Wentz

Best Free Reference Web Sites

All-Music Guide (www.allmusic.com). Matrix Software, Inc. Reviewed 25 Feb. 1999.

A comprehensive guide to all forms of popular music and musicians. (Classical music is covered on a sister site, allclassical.com.) The site is searchable by artist name, album or song tide, music genre, or record label. It offers detailed biographies, reviews, and links to other Internet resources for most artists. Discographies include detailed credits that are hyperlinked to other entries for performers or production personnel. Overviews of genres trace the development of musical styles and identify key artists and albums. This is a very good starting point for anyone's exploration of popular music.

Amazon.com (www.amazon.com). …

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