Free Music Lessons with ArtistWorks

Three ukuleles, set alternating top to bottom, in three finishes - dark, blond, and maple.

By JP Landolt

Trying new things can be costly. For instance, learning a new instrument has a considerable price tag after you add up the purchases for the instrument, books, and lessons. Then, there’s that thing that sometimes happens. You know, when you’ve spent all this money and realize you’re just not that into it? Yikes!

Well, the quintessential “try before you buy” scenario can be found at our library. That is, if you’d like to learn to play the ukulele. Yes, you can borrow a ukulele kit, chord and song books, and even get ukulele lessons through ArtistWorks for FREE.

What if you’re not interested in ukuleles? The library can still help offset your costs through offering materials in our collection and through interlibrary loan, and ArtistWorks. Private music lessons in Howard County range from $35-$80 per hour (depending on the instrument and the instructor’s expertise). ArtistWorks can help you discern your desire to learn a new instrument before making a large financial investment.

ArtistWorks is a database comprised of Grammy Award-winning musicians and renowned teachers providing guided instruction for an assortment of instruments. These online music lessons offer step-by-step professional instruction at your pace. Each course include videos, documents (e.g. sheet music, lyrics, chords), and music tracks when appropriate. There are 35 active lessons spanning percussion, winds, horns, strings, and vocals. ArtistWorks occasionally updates their offerings. They’ve provided lessons on watercolors and oil painting in the past and have recently added scratching records and music theory. Truly an assortment of artistry is available for you to peruse and use.

If you’re interested in exploring ArtistWorks you will need an HCLS library card and PIN number to access this resource via Once you’ve accessed ArtistWorks, you’ll need to register, creating a username and password, to access the lessons. I wish you great joy as you take on the adventure of learning a new instrument (or more)! May your strings never snap, your reeds never splinter, and your voice carry a tune!
Good luck!

JP has worked for HCLS since 2006. She loves learning new things and playing disc golf, albeit as a novice.

Your Favorite Actors Read Your Favorite Stories

Big capital S and O combine in front of words Storyline Online, over the silhouettes of rooftops.

By Jessica L.

What do Viola Davis, Sean Astin, Allison Janney, and Rami Malek have in common? They like to read books to children! Storyline Online, an award-winning children’s online literacy program, recruits a wide selection of actors to read children’s books for Grades K-4. While similar to the after school television program Reading Rainbow, positive differences come from the stories being available 24/7 and how you can see the reader enjoying the story, too.

You may sort stories by author, title, reader, and (my favorite) run time. Stories range 5-21 minutes, which is helpful when that request of, “Five more minutes, please?!” arises. After you choose your story, you’ll be asked which video player you prefer (SchoolTube, YouTube, or Vimeo) which is saved as your preference. What’s more, you can share what you’re learning via Facebook, Twitter, or email. Storyline Online has an app, a blog, and an array of social media platforms they use to inform folks when new books are available. 

You can certainly use this entertaining, supplementary educational resource while learning from home. Each story includes curriculum-driven learning activities created by accredited elementary educators. Parents and teachers alike will find the site easy to navigate and user friendly. It may even provide an opportunity for you to allow your children independent screen time. This is distance learning gold!  

More than 60 books are active on the site, with more on the way. Storyline Online is currently featuring books which celebrate Black stories and Black voices. I recently chose “Rent Party Jazz” by William Miller, read by Viola Davis, geared to Grades 2-3 and 11 minutes long. I evaluated the activities for parents and teachers and found them to be well-written, excellent tools for their respective target audiences. 

Storyline Online is a fantastic way to experience your favorite actors’ storytelling on-demand while learning from home. I’m personally hoping Keanu Reeves will read my favorite children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco. I’m just not sure how many more times I can @storylineonline. Believe me: you’re never too old to enjoy a good read-aloud! You can find it along with HCLS’ other eContent for Kids.

JP has worked for HCLS since 2006. She enjoys bonfires and spins a mean dreidel.

Bypass the News Paywall Using Your Library Card

Stack of folded newspapers sits in right hand

By JP Landolt

The next time you’re trying to read a news article online and hit a paywall, consider finding your library card instead of your credit card. HCLS eNewspapers offers current and past issues of national and local newspapers, as well as historical newspaper archives and news from around the world! 

The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times use paywalls and limited article views; with our eNewspapers you can enjoy all the articles at any time. All you need is your library card (barcode) and your PIN. If you ever find yourself without your barcode or PIN, please contact any of our branches or use our AskHCLS chat service for assistance. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the distribution of local print newspapers. These physical publications are not presently available in our branches. However, you still have digital access to local news. The Howard County Times and Laurel Leader are among the 45 local newspapers listed in the Maryland Digital News Bank

Paywall-free access to news is essential in this time when we’re looking for credible and balanced perspectives. Our eNewspapers provide this access as well as the unique opportunity to explore news from around the world and news of the past. 

I use ProQuest Global Newstream to read my homeland’s newspaper, Pacific Daily News (Guam), and I use PressReader to browse publications from around the world. PressReader offers thousands of newspapers and magazines in various languages and can be easily translated from one language to another. My late father would have truly appreciated this resource as it would have given him the chance to read Filipino publications in his native language.

Historical Newspaper Archives is an invaluable resource for newsophiles and lifelong learners alike. You can survey American national and local newspapers from the 1800’s, pore over first-hand accounts during the Civil War, and delve into our nation’s formative years. 

I’d like to highlight the acclaimed Baltimore Afro-American Archives which touts nearly a century’s worth of weekly papers (1893-1988). This newsletter-turned-newspaper holds a seminal role in American societal change by challenging Jim Crow laws and public school segregation in the Atlantic region. I invite you to read through these papers and experience American history being made. 

Whether “old” or current, news is exciting! You can improve your news consumption with your library card. When you use eNewspapers, you’ll never have to worry about news paywalls again!

JP has worked for HCLS since 2006. She loves learning new things and playing disc golf, albeit as a novice.