The answer to Michael Baker's health homework was out there somewhere.
The Westminster sixth-grader could have asked his parents for help on his research paper on tobacco and cancer that was due the next day. Or he could have asked one of the librarians at the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library, which he visits almost every day after school.
Instead, the 11-year-old East Middle School pupil logged onto a computer at the library one afternoon late last week and found an online tutor who, within minutes, led him not to the answer but to a list of dozens of Web sites that would help him in his research.
"Cool," he said, scanning the comprehensive list provided to him by tutor.com, an online tutoring service that libraries in Carroll, Baltimore, Allegany, Cecil and Caroline counties have made available to patrons through August.
The pilot program is funded by a $51,000 federal grant from the division of library development and services at the Maryland State Department of Education. Usually subscribers to tutor.com pay $99 each month for the service, which is called Live Homework Help.
The libraries, which were chosen by the state, wanted to make the service available to patrons for free because "we're very interested in exploring how to help students complete their homework assignments," said Gail Griffith, deputy director of the Carroll County Public Library.
About 100 library sites nationally - including those in Boston, Albany, N.Y., and California - subscribe to the online service.
The program connects users to a tutor for up to 20 minutes of live help in math, science, social studies or English. The screened tutors, who help students with coursework in fourth through 12th grade, are teachers, professional tutors, graduate students and college students.
In the past three weeks, nearly 200 Maryland students have used Live Homework Help through the library systems, according to the company.