Free Practice Driving Tests for Cars, Motorcycles & CDL

Open two-lane road with double yellow line leading into the distance of snow-topped mountains. Bright sky with white clouds take up the top two thirds of photo.

Driving-Tests.org, in partnership with Howard County Library System, offers free practice tests for those looking to obtain driving licenses or permits for cars, motorcycles, and commercial vehicles in Maryland. According to users, the practice test questions are very similar to the actual questions you may find on the MD MVA official exams. Essentially, if you’ve studied the appropriate handbooks cover-to-cover and aced all the practice tests, you should feel pretty confident going into your scheduled exam.

This resource provides you with the necessary handbooks to read online or download. Plus, audio versions of the cars and motorcycles handbooks are available if you’d prefer to listen. According to the application, they advertise an industry-leading 95.2 percent success rate and being “73 percent more effective than the driver’s manual alone, based on a nationwide survey.”

The practice tests for drivers’ licenses and permits touts nearly 500 questions, which are categorized into order of difficulty: easy, hard, and hardest. There is also an exam simulator which mimics the MVA exam. The questions are pulled from an extensive database which promises new questions each time you practice. The motorcycle section is arranged similarly with 312 questions that are randomized on the exam simulator. Each test reminds takers of their allowed number of mistakes in order to pass.

The CDL section offers eight general knowledge tests, a marathon general knowledge test of all 417 questions, plus an exam simulator pulling 50 questions at random. Specialized tests for HazMat, School Bus, Passenger Vehicles, Air Brakes, Double/Triple Trailers, Tankers, and Combination Vehicles are also included. Pre-Trip inspection videos and testing are also at the ready.

These tests can help a range of users: teenagers getting their learner’s permit, parents assisting aforementioned teens, adults who’ve moved or are planning to move to another state, newcomers to the US, test-takers with only a few days left before their exam, and those who prefer to prepare on their own instead of paying for and/or attending driving school. Whatever your situation, this database of free practice tests at hclibrary.org is your best resource for preparing for your licensure.

JP has worked for HCLS since 2006. She loves playing with her new orange tabby kittens, Mando & Momo.

Spooktacular Chapter Books for Kids

By Jessica L.

This illustrated book cover shows two Black children on bicycles, framed by white ghostly pillars and colorful strange plants. The title type is wiggly hand-drawn in a purple to orange fade.
Ghost Squad cover

Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Claribel Ortega’s debut novel is perfect for middle grade readers who love the paranormal, magic, adventure, and a little mystery. This book celebrates Dominican culture and lore, while also providing beautiful examples of caring adults and loving relationships among families and friends.This book also explores themes of grief, loss, and found family. 

Twelve year old Lucely Luna lives a pretty supernatural life in a haunted house with her father, who gives ghost tours in St. Augustine, Florida. She is surrounded by the spirits of her loved ones who have passed. These spirits, familial fireflies, assume their ghostly human forms to comfort and care for Lucely. Something strange happens to her beloved grandmother’s spirit and Lucely and her best friend, Syd, inadvertently awaken malicious spirits in their efforts to help bring back her grandmother’s spirit. These malevolent spirits not only threaten the existence of Lucely’s fireflies, but desire to drag St. Augustine into the underworld. Lucely, Syd, Syd’s abuela Babette (a real witch), and Babette’s chonky kitty, Chunk, must work together to make everything right once more.

The book cover shows Willa in a green dress with a bear cub at her side in a spooky forest, with dark tree trunks and a purple-twilight background.
Willa of Dark Hollow cover

Willa of Dark Hollow by Robert Beatty

This is the second installment in the Willa of the Wood series by Robert Beatty. However, it’s also a standalone story, so you won’t miss anything if you haven’t read the first book. This story stresses the importance of conserving our natural world and the invaluable relationships we build with family and friends. Themes of found family and the complexity of doing what’s right abound.

Willa is among the last of an ancient Indigenous people of the Great Smoky Mountains, the Faeran. Willa is deeply connected with the forest and the animals with which she can communicate via her Faeran language. Her magical abilities also include camouflage and making trees grow instantly. She is, after all, a young teenage wood witch trained and brought up by her grandmother against the harmful norms of Faeran society. Willa feels helpless against the industrial loggers who continue to destroy the forest in the name of progress. She discovers a dark hollow with strange and beautiful creatures, but the mystery and danger grows as she learns how these dark forces are hunting humans. But are these hunters the right answer to dealing with the loggers as their handiwork endangers her own adoptive family? Can Willa find a way to save her family, the forest, and the animals she loves all by herself?

Other titles and series for kids who enjoy the paranormal and supernatural, fantasy and magic, mystery and adventure: 

Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol by Andres Miedoso
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Regan Barnhill
The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown
The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix is the first in the Greystone Secrets series
My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O’Hara
The School is Alive! by Jack Chabert is the first in the Eerie Elementary series
The Witches of Benevento by John Bemelmans Marciano
Short & Shivery: 30 Chilling Tales by Robert D. San Souci
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Three Books to Chill Your Bones By Alvin Schwartz
That One Spooky Night (Graphic Novel) by Dan Bar-el
Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Spooky Stories by Jeff Kinney
Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker

JP has worked for HCLS since 2006. She loves playing with her new orange tabby kittens, Mando & Momo.

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 hclibrary.org. 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.