By DAVE GUSSOW
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 16, 2001
Leave it to a librarian such as Fran Fedor to know where good stuff is hidden on the Web.
Mrs. Fedor works and volunteers in the reference sections at the St. Petersburg Junior College and Largo libraries when she's not doing research for her law practice. She spends a lot of time online.
"We have lots of (Web) favorites," Mrs. Fedor said. "You know, it's endless."
In particular, Mrs. Fedor wants accurate information from reliable sites, such as the U.S. government's www.first.gov, which has links to federal agencies, programs, publications, statistics and more. Mrs. Fedor says it's better organized than our choice, Florida's MyFlorida.com.
Several readers backed up her point on the state site, calling to say they couldn't find the driver's license renewal section. (It's there, all right. At the MyFlorida.com home page, click on "Driver's License" under "e-Government Services" on the right side of the page.)
Here are some of the nominees from readers for useful informational sites:
From help for homework to law-related items, sorting through all the information on the Web can be daunting. But some sites make it easy.
The Information Please Almanac (www.infoplease.com) has a wealth of information from almanacs, encyclopedias, dictionaries and atlases and it's "more concise than what's found at Britannica.com," Mrs. Fedor said. (Furthermore, Britannica plans to start charging for some information soon.)
She also recommends the Merck Manual Home Edition (www.merck.com) for medical information, www.findlaw.com for its law-related links for consumers, lawyers and students and www.yourdictionary.com for all kinds of dictionaries.
As excited as she is about the Web, Mrs. Fedor also says people shouldn't forget something close to home: a library. "Print resources work better" for a lot of searches, she said.
Some Web pages created by libraries can be a good place to start, though she cautions that some may not have the content you're seeking, some have the content but are disorganized and some have so much content that it may take a while to find what you need.
Additionally, if a library subscribes to a paid database, patrons may enjoy the advantage of more information that "is easier to access and more reliable than just searching the Internet at large," she said.
Yahoo.com may be the best-known Web directory, but she suggests About.com and the Librarians' Index to the Internet (lii.org) as places to find and follow links.
Others nominated more library sites: The Tampa Bay Library Consortium (www.tblc.org) has links to bay area libraries, as does the University of California at Berkeley's site (sunsite.berkeley.edu/Libweb/Public_FL.html). The SunCat catalog (suncat.tblc.org) allows patrons for some area libraries to search for books and place holds on ones they want to check out.
A catalog of 2,000 consumer resources, including product reviews and comparison pricing, can be found at www.ConsumerWorld.org.
Bob Freeman hopes www.classmates.com will help him track down friends he hasn't seen since his high school days 51 years ago in Canada. Though few of his buddies have signed up at the site, Freeman thinks it's a useful service.
"I would bet that many of your readers would be delighted to join in the nostalgia of communicating with old pals," said Freeman, 70, a winter visitor in Clearwater for nine years who recently headed home to Oshawa, Ontario.
Experts say it's best to use several search engines, even if one in particular is a favorite (we like Google.com). Readers suggested some options.
Go "Fetch" at www.Dogpile.com, and you'll find why this metasearch engine has been given good reviews. It searches other engines and directories for information, as does Webferret (www.zdnet.com/ferret/index.html).
"I love Webferret," said Pat Groen of St. Petersburg. "There are so many different sources of information I can get" with it. She also likes a feature that allows her to put her cursor over a site found by Webferret and having a small description pop up on the screen without having to go to the site first.
(Webferret software is available only for Windows PCs but works much like Sherlock, which is included with Apple's Mac OS (www.apple.com/sherlock/).)
At www.allonesearch.com, you'll find links to more than 800 search engines, databases, indexes and directories. All the Web, All the Time (www.alltheweb.com) uses software robots to crawl the Internet looking for information. Maxbot.com searches military, government and education pages, as well as online books. Groen says she likes Maxbot because it helps her find information quickly about topics such as Social Security.
It's a bit late for this year, but the IRS site (www.irs.gov) in particular proved useful to people, including Mrs. Fedor. "People don't realize it exists," she said. Its home page, a takeoff on a tabloid newspaper, also shows the tax collector has a sense of humor.
The Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office (pao.co.pinellas.fl.us) has a wealth of information, including property values. Similar information also is available from the appraisers in Hillsborough County (www.hcpafl.org), Pasco (appraiser.pascogov.com), Hernando (www.co.hernando.fl.us/newhcpa/) and Citrus (www.pa.citrus.fl.us). (The National Association of Realtors site at www.Realtors.com has a feature to check home sale prices.)
The U.S. Postal Service (www.usps.com) has a ZIP code directory and lets you calculate postage costs.
And while recent news reports indicate that members of Congress don't read most of their e-mail, contact information for U.S. House members and senators can be found at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.
Thanks for all the responses. We'll do this again.
- Dave Gussow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4228.
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