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Library Home: Best Reference Sites

Best Free Reference Sites On The Internet

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) announced the Best Free Reference Web Sites for 2012 to recognize outstanding reference sites on the web.

Best free reference web sites combined index 1999 – 2012:

This year’s list has 26 sites; here are some interesting ones:

MIT OpenCourseWare

Provides free access online to the materials used in the majority of MIT's undergraduate and graduate courses—more than 2,100 in all. OCW receives an average of 1.75 million web site visits per month. To date, more than 125 million individuals have accessed OCW materials.

Google Art Project

Links to more than 1000 works of art at 17 major art museums around the world. Virtually explore the museum and click on artworks to view them; many have extra information and links.

Encyclopedia of Earth

A free, online encyclopedia about the Earth, its natural environments, and their interaction with society. Nearly 7,000 articles are reviewed and written by "scholars, professionals, educators, practitioners and other experts who collaborate and review each other's work." The intended audience is the general public. Articles contain links and a list of further resources. A good alternative to Wikipedia for environmental topics.

Encyclopedia of Life

"Global access to knowledge about life on Earth." Begun in 2007 with a vision of providing global access to knowledge about life on Earth. People and organizations around the world contribute. Search boxes are located on almost every page of the encyclopedia.


Guides for APA & MLA styles.

Newspaper Map

Over 10,000 newspapers from all over the world, most of them possible to translate to and from many languages with one click.


Access data from the World Bank; search for countries and time period. World Development Indicators (WDI) provides data on education, the environment, health, and poverty. Global Development Finance (GDF) provides statistics about the economic and financial health of countries. Results are presented in a useful report that can be exported.

FBI’s Vault

An open database of declassified FBI records. Includes many documents related to civil rights, gangsters, popular culture and violent crime. Even includes dossiers on Steve Jobs and The Monkees!

Forvo: All the words in the world. Pronounced.

Audio playback clips of word pronunciations by native speakers in over 280 languages. Launched in 2008 and now contains over 1,250,000 pronunciations of nearly 1,200,000  words, including idioms. Forvo's goal is to include all words in all languages but does limit entries to those that can be found in a dictionary. Includes Google map of the language & accents. Features a different language daily. The website can be viewed in different languages.

The Khan Academy

Over 2600 videos (10 mins each), practice exercises and assessments for K-12 maths (algebra, geometry, statistics, calculus and more), science (biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, etc.) finance, history and the humanities (art history). Create accounts in Google and Facebook to save and track progress.

The Holocaust - Yad Vashem

In-depth information. Includes testimonies, personal letters & diaries.

The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade Database

Emory University provides an accessible database of 35,000 slaving voyages involving 10 million Africans. Includes lesson plans.

Common Sense Media

Provides ratings and detailed information for parents about the suitability of all types of media for children (movies, books, games, websites, apps, music, and TV). US site but could also be useful for Aust.