Best Free Reference Websites and Apps

What's better than free? Our resident InfoDocket guru curates 2018's best gratis reference sites and apps.

BLS Local Data App
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pre­sents data on employment and un­employment rates by location and industry. Libraries with programs on business or job-seeking will find this easy-to-use resource a boon. Though the app is currently available only for iOS devices, an Android version is coming soon.

Creative Commons
There’s no better source for freely available images than Creative Commons. Its "CC Search" Project, which began in February 2017, offers access to more than ten million images across 13 providers. Last fall, a release made new features available, including AI image tags that improve search results.
This website from the U.S. Census Bureau is a superb source for understanding the wealth of data out there. Its targeted advanced search is something for which many have been asking. Though still in beta, the site presents much-needed information and new features every two months. With another U.S. Census coming up next year, this one is a must.

Maintained regularly, the Global Research Identifier Database (GRID) is one of the largest free sources that compiles information about research institutes, from Johns Hopkins to the Guttmacher Institute. Users can search by name, type of organization (e.g., education, health care), city, or country and find related institutions.

Music Brainz
Librarians need never fear an obscure, music-related reference question. This community-powered site offers exhaustive metadata on artists, recordings, events, labels, and much more. Like Wikipedia, MusicBrainz invites users to contribute.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) wait times can overwhelm even seasoned travelers. This app, run by the TSA, offers accurate, crowdsourced wait times, including for precheck lines. Users perplexed by what they can and cannot pack will appreciate the "Can I bring?" feature—yes, balloons, ­vacuum robots, and antlers are permitted in checked and carry-on bags.

New Maps This Month
Each month, the Library of Congress makes cartophiles very happy by digitizing a selection of maps. This feature lets users stay on top of newly available offerings, from a bird’s-eye view of Jamestown, NY, in 1871 to a map of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama.

Who Sampled
Music fans, prepare to fall down a rabbit hole. This site has information on more than half a million songs—who sampled the tune, who covered it, and who remixed it. For instance, the Jackson 5’s "I Want You Back" has been sampled in more than 70 songs, including Jay-Z’s "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and Notorious B.I.G.’s "One More Chance," and covered by 63 artists. Browsing is robust, and the "Six Degrees of Music Separation" game promises hours of fun.

Many Internet users joke about getting away from Google, with its Big Brother–like presence, but doing so is harder than it sounds. This search engine provides an alternative. While searx’s results aren’t as targeted, it offers anonymity: it doesn’t collect or share information on its users, who can run searx on their own servers or rely on one of the search engine’s public instances.

Can I Stream.It? 



The growth of streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix has given viewers access to countless TV shows and films. But with so many subscription services, how can users keep track of which programs are available? These sites make it easier.
Available as both a website and an app, lets weather lovers get their geek on, whether storm chasing or seeking perfect skiing conditions. Detailed maps provide data on temperature, clouds, dew point, humidity, dust mass, and more. After just a few days with this resource, ordinary weather apps won’t cut it.


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