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Tip: For business & nonprofit contacts, Reference USA takes you beyond the Yellow Pages.


Long post alert! Sorry, but there are so many details about this one that I didn’t want to leave anything out. If you want to skip the words and check out Reference USA on your own, look to the bottom of this post for login and search instructions.

Reference USA is a huge database of contact information on residences and businesses, but its value only becomes clear when you use it to answer specific questions. For example, if you need to verify your cousin’s street address in a distant city, or if you want to locate all the self-service laundries in his zip code area so you can keep your clothes clean when you visit him, Reference USA can help. But those are only two of its many tricks.

Businesses – even tiny ones – use this database to market their products and services to other businesses and organizations. Say you have a home-based business making beauty products that you want to market to hair salons in the area. In Ref USA, you can set up a search for salons in Windham County, VT; Cheshire County, NH; and Franklin County, MA. If you want, you can limit your search to the larger salons by specifying a range of annual sales or number of employees. The database will generate a nice contact list for you, and if you follow up on the detailed record for each business, you can find the name and title (Mr., Ms., Miss…?) of the owner and other key people.

Job hunters can use these same features to find potential employers in their field of interest. Are you a hair stylist who just moved to the area, and are you looking for a job? You can try the same search to scope out the possibilities and make notes on number of employees, owner’s name, number of years the salon has been in business, and other useful details.

I should note that this database has info that isn’t available on free internet sites or in phone books. The residential portion is built on phone book listings, and the business portion uses Yellow Pages headings, but Ref USA employees research companies and obtain lots of additional details.

All visitors to the BML can tap into this source, and library cardholders can access it from home or from anyplace with an internet connection. Here are the instructions for logging in and doing the beauty salon search in the example:

At the BML website, follow these buttons and links:

resources-buttonResources > rs_reference_btn Reference > Reference USA.

If you are searching from outside the library, it will prompt you for your card number.

On the first screen you’ll see a box on the left side with headings for Business and Residential databases.


For this example, click the search link under Business Databases.

You will see three blue tabs. Try the last one, called Guided Search.


Notice that five number options appear across the top of the screen. These are different screens where you can specify search parameters. You can use all of them or just one or two:

guidedbuscharacterion 1. Business Characteristics.

  • On this page, there’s a box where you can type in your best guess at the Yellow Pages heading for the type of business you need (e.g., beauty salons).
  • Click “Lookup.” That’s a very important step; you have to choose from the listings that pop up.
  • If you click on headings that look relevant, they will appear in the selection box on the right side of the screen. You can choose as many as you want; I chose just the first one for this example (723106: Beauty Salons).

guidedsizeofbusinesson 2. Size of Business.

  • You don’t have to specify anything here, but if you want, you can choose one or more categories. For example, you can choose only businesses with 5-9 or 10-29 employees.

guidedbusinessgeoon 3. Geography.

  • Look to the left side of the screen to see how you might specify geography. In this example, we want salons in Windham County and the two neighboring counties in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, so click on the County, State option.
  • This brings you to a pull-down menu where you can select a state (Let’s start with Vermont).
  • Once you choose the state, click on the county (Windham), and it will appear in the selection box on the right side of the screen.
  • Now choose other states & counties from the same pull-down menus (New Hampshire – Cheshire; Masschusetts – Franklin) until you have all the counties you want to search.
  • As you can see, there are many other ways to search geography, so you might want to play around with that. Zip code is a handy one.

guidedotheron 4. Other Selections.

  • This is where you can search on fancy things, like number of years in the database and Fortune 1000 ranking, but most of our excellent salons are NOT in the Fortune 1000, so that might not be relevant.

guidedreviewon 5. Review Selections.

  • This lets you look at the search you set up and shows you how many records meet your search criteria. Then you can look at the records by clicking the View Results button. When I searched on Beauty Salons of any size in Windham, Cheshire, and Franklin Counties, I retrieved 151 results on 7 pages.
  • The initial list gives you basic contact info, and it’s easy to print. If you want to view details on a salon, such as the owner’s name, you can click on the link for that specific business.

I wish that this database had a more exciting and descriptive name, but I’m a real believer in its value. A BML patron who recently moved to the area said that her previous big city library had nothing more valuable than Reference USA! Another patron bought an out-of-town library card specifically to have access to this database. I hope that you will take a minute to see how it can help you, whether you’re launching a new marketing program or looking for a nice coffee shop or tracking down an old high school friend – it’s all there.

About this blog



Brooks Memorial Library Reference Department:

Jeanne Walsh, Therese Marcy, Sharon Reidt, Jess Weitz, and sometimes Jerry