The Best Online Reference Sites

Looking for an answer to a specific question? Check out this list of the best reference sites of 2004, as compiled by the American Library Association.

The list is compiled by MARS, the Machine-Assisted Reference Section of the American Library Association. To be eligible for consideration, sites must meet a number of criteria, including:

  • Access is free or predominantly free
  • The site must be very high quality, featuring both significant depth and usefulness of content
  • The site should be primarily a ready reference resource, focusing on answers specific questions.

A full list of criteria is available here.

What kinds of sites are featured? The range of subjects is both wide and eclectic. This isn’t a comprehensive or exhaustive list of online reference sites, by any means. Rather it’s a choice selection of sites that will appeal to a wide range of searcher interests.

Some of the more interesting sites chosen include:, providing searchable access to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary and many other helpful resources for writers and students.

Cyberschoolbus, from the United Nations Statistics Division, which produces high quality teaching materials and activities designed for educational use, both for kids and for training teachers.

Epicurious, the terrific food meta-site offering tons of cooking, nutrition and other resources, including excellent recipes, cookbook reviews, wine information and much more.

The Household Products Database, with information on more than 4,000 consumer brands, including health effects from Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) provided by manufacturers.

The New York Public Library Picture Collection, a collection of 30,000 digitized images from books, magazines and newspapers as well as original photographs, prints and postcards, mostly created before 1923.

And an old favorite of mine, the University of Michigan Documents Center, the work of Grace York at the University of Michigan. One of the most comprehensive sources of for finding government and statistical information on the internet.

This is the sixth year that MARS has compiled its list of best free online reference sites. Here’s an archive of previous winners from 1999 onward.

Other Great Online Reference Sources

We’ve covered other reference sources, including GuruNet, which just announced that it is morphing into a free online service with a new name:

I’ve also written about question answering services powered by human beings, such as those offered by the Library of Congress and Wondir.

Other reference sites we’ve covered include Wikipedia – A Collaborative, Multilingual Encyclopedia, and some specialized resources including the All Music Guide.

For more links to sources of reference information, see our selection of speciality search engines on the Search Engine Watch site.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication’s search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

Forecast 2005: For Newspapers, Competition Too Big to Ignore
Poynter Institute Jan 4 2005 12:58PM GMT
Google Could Be Next Microsoft
JS Online Jan 4 2005 12:52PM GMT
Analyst Sees Strong Paid Search Market Over Holidays Jan 4 2005 12:40PM GMT
Topix Pushes MicroPublishing Forward
Searchblog Jan 4 2005 12:40PM GMT
Google announces charitable move
ZDNet UK Jan 4 2005 12:24PM GMT
Google’s Ads Ogled By Crispin
New York Post Jan 4 2005 8:37AM GMT
SeachTHIS: All That’s Search for the New Year
iMedia Connection Jan 4 2005 3:19AM GMT
The Internet and digital copyright
Photo Marketing Jan 4 2005 1:30AM GMT
Whats the Buzz about? An empirical examination of Search on Yahoo
First Monday Jan 3 2005 11:43PM GMT
GuruNet Turns to Ad-supported Model
ClickZ Today Jan 3 2005 11:20PM GMT
Fraudulent clicks can cost retailers plenty in bogus paid search fees Jan 3 2005 9:37PM GMT
2005: The Year for Desktop Search
CIO Today Jan 3 2005 7:16PM GMT
Video Organizes Paper Documents
MIT Technology Review Jan 3 2005 7:08PM GMT
Blog Readership Rises Sharply
MSNBC Jan 3 2005 7:02PM GMT
Strong Ad Climate Boosts Google, Yahoo
Forbes Jan 3 2005 5:00PM GMT

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