ResearchWire – Fact-Finding on the Web: A Look at Some Powerful Reference Tools

(Archived March 19, 1997)

Genie Tyburski is the Research Librarian for Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the editor of The Virtual Chase Web Site: A Research Site for Legal Professionals.


Web Resources for Librarians

Statistical Resources on the Web


xplore Reference

Internet Public Library

Virtual Facts on File


James-Catalano, Cynthia N., “The Virtual Wordsmith,” 7 Internet World (June 1996)

Notess, Greg R., “Internet Ready Reference Resources,” On the Nets column, 19 Database (April 1996)

Pack, Thomas, “Electronic Words: A Word Lover’s Guide to Digital Dictionaries, Thesauri, and Other Cyberplaces,” 19 Database (April 1996)

Rosen, Jeff and Carl E. Snow, “Internet Resources for Ready Reference,” 58 College & Research Libraries News 14 (January 1, 1997)

H ave you ever walked into the library to look up an SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) code only to find the manual missing? Have you ever wished for a fast convenient means for calculating the distance between two cities?

Do you occasionally require a quick reference to information about chemical toxicity or prescription drugs? Do you ever want to look up a ticker symbol, zip code, acronym, or currency exchange rate?

If you answer “yes!” to any of these questions, read on! This month’s column highlights several reference Web sites useful to legal professionals. I hope to revisit this topic in a few months. Feel free to send comments about worthwhile reference works not mentioned below.

* * *

SIC Manual Chemfinder Roget’s Internet Thesaurus Bartlett’s Quotations Strunk’s Elements of Style
Geographic Name Server Social Security Death Index Infospace How Far Is It? RxList: The Internet Drug Index

SIC Manual

OSHA provides access to the 1987 edition of the Standard Industrial Classification Manual. Users may browse the manual or search it by keyword or 4-digit code.

I recently used this site to identify the SIC code for businesses that manufacture electronic security access systems. The code, 3669, helped me narrow a search in a commercial database for model registration statements on file with the SEC. Although the manual remains a useful reference tool, researchers should note that the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) replaced the 1987 SIC system on January 1, 1997.


CambridgeSoft Corporation, maker of desktop applications for chemists and engineers, offers a powerful chemical reference tool. Chemfinder prompts researchers to enter one of the following: the name of a compound, its formula, molecular weight, CAS registry number, or structure. It returns the name of the compound, synonyms, CAS registry number, chemical data like its melting point and water solubility, the EPA code and RTECS number.

Chemfinder also provides links to other resources having information on the compound. A search for beryllium, for example, produces all the above chemical information as well as an ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry) toxic fact sheet, an EPA fact sheet, OSHA/NIOSH air sampling data, a material safety data sheet, and more.

Roget’s Internet Thesaurus

Users enter a word in order to retrieve synonyms or related concepts. Roget’s Internet Thesaurus responds with a list of possibilities in the form of links.

Follow a link for details about a word or concept. Each synonym offers an additional link for words relating to a broader concept. For example, I entered the term “bold.” The Thesaurus returned several possibilities including the word, “tergiversation.” Following the link for tergiversation, I found its synonyms and a link for Words Relating To The Voluntary Powers; Individual Volition.

Bartlett’s Quotations

Project Bartleby, sponsored by Columbia University’s Bartleby Library, endeavors to provide free electronic access to works in the public domain. As part of its undertaking, Project Bartleby offers the 9th edition (1901) of John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

Researchers may browse the publication by author or search it by keyword. I entered the phrase, “under the sun“. It responded with two quotes: one by Thomas Hood from The Bridge of Sighs and one from the Old Testament.

Strunk’s Elements of Style

Project Bartleby also offers access to the first edition (1918) of Strunk’s Elements of Style. Users review a detailed outline of the book and then select a path that leads to a rule and examples of its usage.

Geographic Name Server

The University of Michigan’s Geographic Name Server opens with the prompt “enter the name of the place you want to look up.” It gives two examples, and for best results, users should follow the examples carefully.

Entering “windsor, pa,” I found its longitude and latitude, population, zip code, and county. When relevant, the source also provides county seat information.

Social Security Death Index

Social Security Death Index, by Ancestry, Inc., offers information about individuals who, for the most part, have died since 1962, the year the Social Security Administration began keeping the records electronically. Researchers will find such information as the name, social security number (SSN), state that issued the SSN, date of birth, date of death, last known address (often just a zip code), and location of lump sum payment. Users may search by name or any combination of the above data.

The article, Social Security Death Master File: A Much Misunderstood Index, offers a good overview of the database as well as information about obtaining copies of birth and death certificates.


Infospace’s subtitle, The Ultimate Directory, might be a bit ambitious, but then again so is the resource. Infospace assists researchers looking for individual, business, and government addresses and telephone numbers as well as fax numbers, 800 numbers, email addresses, and business URLs.

In the past, I have used the directory to locate witnesses and to find company home pages. One nice feature, that I describe in more detail in an earlier article The People Chase, is the ability to search for types of businesses within a certain radius of a street address.

Of course, the information users find may not always be accurate. People move. Companies go out of business. For example, I do not use my Compuserve account for email; but it’s the only email address users will find for me in the directory.

Infospace is a great place to begin the research, but take care to verify the data.

How Far Is It?

Those wanting a quick convenient means for calculating the distance between two U.S. locations will appreciate How Far Is It? Users simply enter two locations. I chose from philadelphia, pa to manhattan, ny. The database returns an “as the crow flies” estimate of 85 miles, 137 kilometers, or 74 nautical miles.

It also offers a map of both Philadelphia and Manhattan, driving directions, and information about the cities as provided by the Geographic Name Server above.

RxList: The Internet Drug Index

RxList: The Internet Drug Index offers a wealth of information about prescription drugs. I ran a search on “fluticasone propionate” a nasal spray my son uses. The database returned four brand names, one of which, Flonase Nasal, is the brand in question. I then followed the path it offered for a description of the drug, its clinical pharmacology, indications and usage, contraindications, warnings, precautions, adverse reactions, what to do in case of an overdose, and dosage and administration.

In addition to drug name searching, the site provides keyword searching for symptoms, side effects, or drug interactions. The search for “allergic rhinitis,” for example, returns several generic drug names and their descriptions. I especially like the feature that provides the date the drug information was last updated.

* * *

As evidenced, several useful reference works reside on the Web. Difficulty sometimes arises, however, in finding them. To avoid delay or frustration, bookmark a few key reference tools under a separate folder or heading. Call it Reference. Minimize the size of the folder by selecting sites, like those in the sidebar, that collect and compile Internet reference tools. Then go forth and find the facts without ever leaving your chair.

Posted in: Reference Resources, ResearchWire