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Building Robots at the Library

December 22, 2015 | Ab. Velasco | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...


This November and December, Fort York Branch's Digital Innovation Hub hosted an Innovator in Residence program focused on robotics. Resident Myke Predko hosted a series of classes, demos, and other programs for delighted enthusiasts. We're happy to share the following update from Myke - in his own words - below:


The very word “Robot” catches the attention of just about everybody. For something that really isn’t a part of society, they certainly part of our everyday lives; from assembling the products we use to exploring places where humans can’t go, it is rare for us to go through a day without seeing tangible evidence that robots are working for and with us. I think it’s only natural that people want to learn more about them and try to see what robots can do for them as individuals.

While robots are a major part of our lives, they almost belong to the occult – despite seeing them in movies and TV, they are largely behind closed doors, inhabiting factories, research labs and far out in space. Robots in fiction have personalities that range from friendly and helpful to adversarial and destructive. Robots in factories assemble products to fantastic tolerances while detecting and resolving manufacturing issues without human intervention. Robots involved in exploration are experiencing things that we can only imagine: what it’s like inside a volcano, seeing creatures at the bottom of the ocean or providing mankind with a first look at the wonders of space. What is missing is an understanding of how these robots came into being and what was involved in their development.

I think people realize that when they see robots there was a lot of effort that went into their creation. Character attributes and responses aside, fictional robots are the products of many hours of design, machining and assembling by craftsman that have taken years to learn their craft. Manufacturing robots are the result of many generations of trial and error; learning what works and how to create assembly instructions for robots quickly and efficiently. Scientists and engineers that have spent years learning have designed robots tasked with exploration so they can add to the body of humanity’s knowledge. It is obvious that today’s robots are not the result of a few hours work in a home workshop or garage.

So where do people go when they want to learn about robots and start the process of learning more about them so they can see what goes into their design and what kind of issues do developers have when designing robots?

The logical answer is the library; where resources are available for learning about subjects and technologies. Unfortunately, robotics is a bit of a stretch for libraries that don’t have the experience to bring robotics to its customers. I’m excited to be the Fort York Innovation Hub’s Innovator in Residence for robots and bring robotics and its technology to the library in an accessible way.

One of the things that I have discovered over the years is that robotics is what I call a “superset technology”. The basic technology used in robots is easy to understand, driving a motor, making a sound, reading a sensor are all very simple to work with but, in a robot, they are integrated together into a system which is then used by other systems within the robot. At the top of these multiple systems of parts is a single system that is responsible for the operation of the robot. Working through these different systems can be overwhelming and difficult to understand.

There are products, such as Lego “Mindstorms”, which does a good job at integrating the electronics, but can require a significant amount of work (and skill) to create a robot in them; it is not unusual to need more than 20 hours to build one of the example robots and much longer to design, debug and build your own creation. Coupled with this is the large number of (small) parts provided with the kits that adds to the construction time as well as the need for storing and organizing the parts.

Fortunately, technologies are available to simplify this process while still providing the experience of creating your own robot design from scratch. The Arduino and Raspberry Pi small board computer systems are excellent robot “brains” with thousands of different example programs and circuits that can be used as the basis of the robot design. Servos from radio-controlled models provide easy to work with and precise motion actuators that can be used in a variety of different robot functions. 3D printers are becoming more available which allows the design of robot structures very quickly, especially compared to options like Lego as well as providing the ability to easily replicate successful designs and “tweak” the unsuccessful ones without having to take everything apart and start over. Bringing these technologies together allows lay people to create their own robots effortlessly using the resources available at Toronto Public Library.

Over the past four weeks, I have been doing a number of sessions with Fort York branch customers helping them to understand the different technologies involved in robotics as well as designing a chassis along with a basic set of components that will allow for the design of rovers and stationary (arm) robots. One of the things that I have learned is the importance for people to see their creations “coming to life” and making sure that in the sessions we end on a positive note. This was exemplified by the afternoon spent on the creation of “cardboard robots” in which customers make some robots out of foam core and then animating them with Arduino’s with servos – it was so much fun, we’re looking forward to doing it again before the end of December.

Going forward, I expect to have a number of basic robot designs available (Wheeled Rover, Six Legged Robot and robot hand) along with adapters for light and distance sensors. I will also list a number of books, available in the library system, that people can use as a reference and start working on a robot that will catch everybody’s attention.

- Myke Predko, Innovator in Residence at Fort York Branch

Introduction to Green Screen Studio Space Classes

December 9, 2015 | Greg Astill | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

We’ve just launched the new studio space, and now we’d like to show you how to use it. We want your time in the studio space to be efficient and the quality of what you produce to be top notch.

Audio recording workstation
Audio Recording Workstation

The sessions are 60 minutes long and participants will learn about the equipment available for use. We'll focus on how to properly set up the equipment for both audio and video recording.

The goal of the class is to make participants feel more comfortable using the equipment and to gain a better understanding of the following:

  • Audio recording (voice and instrument)
  • Video recording
  • Lighting
  • Audio and video equipment (cameras and microphones)

We also want you to be able to record at the best quality, because after all, you might only get one shot at capturing the perfect moment!

You will have time to play with the cameras, lights and microphones and learn some tricks and quick how-to’s that might make your session a bit easier. We'll spend a little time on using the Apogee Quartet (audio interface and studio control centre) to record vocals, instruments and other music equipment at studio quality.In addition to the hardware, we will have a demo on the accompanied software (Audacity and Garageband) to record and capture your audio.

Digital Innovation Hub Green Screen
Digital Innovation Hub Green Screen

The class is not required but a great option for anyone who wants to use the space.

Note: Classes will be held in the Green Screen Studio Space located in the Digital Innovation Hub at Toronto Reference Library.

We look forward to seeing you soon!


Kids Make Prosthetics for Other Kids at First Enabling Handathon in Canada

December 6, 2015 | Ab. Velasco | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

Handathon Team
High school students from Jarvis Collegiate worked in pairs or trios with grade school students from Jackman Avenue Public School.


Kids are amazing.

This was reinforced to me over and over as 40 students gave it their all at the first Enabling the Future Handathon in Canada hosted at Toronto Reference Library this past Saturday, December 5.

Working in pairs or trios, high school students from Jarvis Collegiate teamed up with grade school kids from Jackman Avenue Public School to assemble 3D printed prosthetic hands.

The specific model was the Raptor Reloaded Hand, one of the several open source designs created by Enabling the Future and made freely available to download from Thingiverse, a database of free or creative commons 3D designs.


Handathon Team
One of the first teams to complete their Raptor Reloaded Hand.


Enabling the Future is a global network of volunteers who are using 3D printing to give a helping hand to children in need. According to its website, there are now nearly 7,000 members and approximately 2,000 hands that have been created and gifted for free to individuals in over 45 countries.

Partnering with Enabling was a natural fit for the library as it complemented the work of our Digital Innovation Hubs. More so, it was a wonderful way to showcase 3D printing in a broader social context. Yes, you can print phone cases or prototypes, but 3D printing also supports a broader social good.


3D Printer in Action
Young students watch as parts for the Raptor Reloaded Hand are printed by the library's 3D printers, which are available for use at the Digital Innovation Hubs.


With my colleague Alex Dimitrov, I tried making a sample hand beforehand. I have to say that it was not as easy as I thought it would be. It took us six hours to finish (this was in addition to the almost 15 hours it took Alex to 3D print the parts). So I wondered how the kids would fare.

Oh, how little faith I had. The kids simply amazed me with how quickly they picked up the concept and how they worked together -– older child guiding the younger child -- with minimal support from myself and the other adult mentors.

Sure, there were some difficult steps along the way and as expected, not every team finished their hand. But to the organizing team, the learning process was more important than the outcome. If the kids learned more about 3D printing, prosthetics and how technology can be used for social good, we considered that a success on its own.

For myself, the event exceeded my expectations. I was just so impressed by the kids and their perseverance, sense of humour during the pain points (one kid called me "Mr. Toilet" with, I'd like to think, affection), and teamwork.

One of my favourite moments was when a young girl said that she was cutting her lunch break short so she could get back to work on her hand. Now that's dedication.


Handathon Hands
Some of the finished hands at the end of the Handathon.


There were quite a few hands completed at the day of the 6-hour Handathon, such as the ones in the photo above.

Our Canadian Enabling partners will ship the hands to the Enabling office in the US, where they will be reviewed for quality and touched up. Good quality working hands will be matched with children in need. We will be sure to provide an update on this blog when that happens.

Our Handathon would not have been possible without the generous help of Objex Unlimited, who sponsored over 300 hours of 3D printing. Heartfelt thanks to Objex staff – and our former Innovator in ResidenceDerek Quenneville for preparing the 3D parts for our hands.

Big heartfelt thanks also from the library to Canadian Enabling ambassadors Kolden Simmonds and John Spencer (and his wife) and to Nando’s for sponsoring the delicious lunch. And, of course, our Handathon was brought to life thanks to our amazing students and their teacher Sylvia Kwan.

It was a truly special day.


Handathon Group Photo
A few of our Handathon participants from Jackman Avenue Public School and Jarvis Collegiate.

Great Ideas and Teamwork Displayed at Inaugural TPL Hackathon

November 28, 2015 | Ab. Velasco | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

TPL Hackathon 2015 Group Shot
Some of the 50+ participants, mentors and partners at the library's inaugural hackathon.

The library hosted its first hackathon on November 14 and 15 at Toronto Reference Library in partnership with Open Data Toronto, Open Data Institute of Toronto, and Wellbeing Toronto.

Over two fun and informal days, 50+ participants and mentors worked together to create concepts to improve library service. Participants were asked to align their concepts with the draft priorities of our new strategic plan.

They were asked the following key question:

How can the library make our communities more resilient, more knowledgeable, more connected and more successful?


Hackathon Participants At Work
Hackathon participants hard at work in the Reference Library's Browsery area.

Participants worked with data sets provided by the library and through the City of Toronto Open Data catalogue.

The youngest participant was 12 years old, who registered to get more experience with presenting to an audience. The oldest participant was a 75-year-old retired programmer, who wanted to improve access to library resources.

Teams presented their ideas on Day 2. Library staff, partners and mentors were impressed by the ideas and teamwork demonstrated. You can view videos of the presentations below.

If you're on Twitter, check out @TPL_Bot -- created during the hackathon -- which tweets out real-time searches on the library's website. You can also check out @tpldbot -- also created during the hackthon - which tweets out random items from the library's digital collections. You can read about the creation process for the latter on Alan Harnum's blog.

Big heartfelt thanks from the library to our participants, partners, mentors, and our food sponsor Nando’s for making our first hackathon so much fun. Thanks also to Dundurn Press for donating copies of the All the Libraries colouring book as prizes.

We hope to do another hackathon -- building on feedback and suggestions received from our pilot -- and more open data programs in 2016.

The library is also working to make more of our data available and open. Stay tuned for details!


Best Idea


Sacha Chua won Best Idea for her “Exploring Library Neighbourhoods” concept, which proposed to add a “Visualize” link to search results pages on TPL’s website to map the number of search results by branch. You can read more about her project and process on her blog.


Runner Ups


As regular users of the library’s Digital Innovation Hubs, Tony DeBat and Jennifer Yueh want to see more. They pitched a mobile and travelling version of the Hub that can reach neighbourhoods across the city.


Rob Rohr and his teammates Donna MacLeod, Robert Parke, and Renita Sugida proposed a speech interface to help improve accessibility to the library's catalogue.


Honourable Mentions - The Data Ninjas


Data enthusiasts Pablo Abraham and Bernardo Najilis spent the weekend examining and analyzing the data sets provided by the library. They presented a visualization dashboard of the data and provided feedback on the other types of library data that they would like to see.


Joyce Cheng, Adam Kerr, Michael Lebenbaum, and Tracey Ma spent the weekend learning about the library’s data collection process. They proposed a business intelligence project that would enhance the way the library collects data.


Awesome Team


The library was impressed by the teamwork and organization demonstrated by all our participants. The nine students from Western Technical Commercial High School in Etobicoke stood out for their amazing team work as they developed their Library Hub mobile app concept, which seeks to help promote programs and resources.


Lion Courage Award


12-year-old Alexander Tjioesman signed up for the hackathon with his dad Farius to get more experience with hackathons and with presenting to an audience. He did a great job sharing his project - a 3D modelling app for Android, which you can download and try out. The father and son team has also shared their brainstorming plans for viewing as a pdf.


The Scrubber Award


Web developer and Python programmer Alex Volkov spent his weekend examining and cleaning up a large TPL data set in XML format and converting it into JSON format, which makes it easier to use for programmers. For his goodwill efforts for fellow hackathon participants, Alex was given the Scrubber Award (literally in the form of a dish scrub). 


... And All Our Other Wonderful Teams


Raymond Ang and his teammates proposed a “Human Library” application that would allow library users and the wider community to connect directly with live subject matter experts –- broadening the concept of how information is delivered and shared.


Eleanor Batchelder proposed an interactive query system to improve discover-ability of library resources; a screen that allows users to interact with a computer system that progressively refines the query and presents possible actions.


Selcuk Beydilli, Rayis Imayev, Konstantin Shestopaloff and Kosta Zabashta designed a prototype of a web application that would enhance a library user’s experience with book clubs, including a reporting layer for library staff to help analyze the potential impact of the improved book club experience. Read more about the process on Rayis' blog.


Ian Forrest and Kaitlin Newson proposed integrating the popular GoodReads social platform for book lovers with a library user’s “Your Account” page, in order to improve discoverability of library materials and related programs and events.


Lloyd Gray’s proposed improvements to the library’s website through increased personalization and enhanced search through the use of material and user metadata.


Plato He’s “MyTPL” project proposed to transfer Toronto Public Library -– including its website -- to a reader-involved, interactive, dynamic social learning platform.


TPL Hackathon 2015 Trophies
The Best Idea and Awesome Team trophies were 3D printed at the Digital Innovation Hub at Toronto Reference Library.

Former Innovator in Residence Returns to Screen New Film at the Library

November 18, 2015 | Ab. Velasco | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Former Toronto Public Library Innovator in Residence Sarah Goodman is screening her recently-released film Porch Stories at Toronto Reference Library this Saturday, November 21, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Porch Stories is a thought-provoking comedy/drama that is spun from different porches in the same multicultural neighborhood in Toronto. The common thread is how life's unpredictable twists and turns can make us rethink even our most cherished goals and relationships. Sarah will introduce her film and take Q&A at the conclusion of the showing.

Porch Stories won the Award of Excellence in Feature Competition at the Canada International Film Fest and received Special Jury Mention for a Narrative Feature at CIMMfest.

Sarah Goodman Video Editing 101 workshop

The Innovator in Residence program offers a fun and hands-on way to learn about the technology offered at the library's Digital Innovation Hubs.

Sarah Goodman completed a residency on filmmaking in fall 2014. In her post-residency blog post, Sarah reflected: "Seeing the enthusiasm and the empowerment of a group at the end of a workshop after they had just viewed their work they had shot was definitely a highlight, and seeing them motivate each other... My favourite aspect of my residency was the diversity and talent of the people who attended. It felt representative of this city in a way few programs do."

The library is currently running two residencies on robotics and wearables at Fort York and Scarborough Civic Centre branches respectively. Other residencies have spotlighted 3D printing, 3D design, Arduino and audio production.


Borrow Sarah's other films at the library:

  • Army of One - A documentary following the lives of three young people who join the U.S. Army in the wake of 9/11.
  • When We Were Boys - A documentary following the lives of students at an upper class private boys' school, where students make and lose friends, create a pecking order, and begin their individual paths to manhood.

Lights, Camera, Action!!!

November 16, 2015 | Greg Astill | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

Toronto Reference Library’s Green Screen Room is now officially open as of today. The room is located on the main floor of the library in the Digital Innovation Hub and can be booked for all video and audio production needs. Library users can now take advantage of the space to work in a quiet environment to film a movie, shoot a commercial, record a song or create a podcast. 

Toronto Reference Library Green Screen with Lights and Camera
Toronto Reference Library Green Screen with Lights and Camera

The room is a 12’ by 15’ space equipped with a full green screen wall for both fun and professional compositions.  In addition, a workstation preloaded with audio production software is provided.  A wide range of high end studio equipment, such as cameras, lights, and microphones are also available.  Be mindful of sound levels, the space is not sound proof.  The space is meant for all things production, so if you need a workstation to edit your files, be sure to book a workstation in the Hub.

Below is some information you will need to know about the space and how to book it. 

How to Book the Space
You need a valid Toronto Public Library card to book time in the space and bookings can be made in person in the Toronto Reference Library Digital Innovation Hub or by phone at 416-393-7007. Bookings can be made three days in advance. No bookings on Sunday.

When arriving for your booking, please check in at the main desk in the Digital Innovation Hub with your Toronto Public Library card. You can book up to two hours a day. Only one member of a group is allowed to book for the group.  Please show up on time. If you are more than 10 minutes late, your reservation may be freed up for other users.

Booking Times 

The space can be used on specific days of the week.

Monday - Friday
9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
11:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
3:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. 

Equipment Provided
The following is a list of equipment already in the space at the start of your booking.

  • Quartet: Professional audio interface and studio control centre
  • iMac/Mac Mini Workstation with GarageBand and Audacity for audio recording
  • Studio speakers
  • Lighting kit: includes 2 x 500 watts lightbulbs and 2 x softboxes on tripod
  • Green wall
  • Simmons SDXpress2 electronic drum kit

Green Screen Room Workstation with Microphone

Apogee Quartet Mixer

Additional Equipment That Is Available
The list below is equipment that can be signed out to a library card for use within the space. Users must complete and sign an Equipment Loan Form before they can use the equipment.

  • Canon Rebel T5 SLR camera
  • Canon XA10 Video camera
  • Canon VIXIA HFR40 Video camera
  • Nikon Coolpix L620 camera
  • Audio-Technica Studio microphone pack
  • Audio-Technica LAV Mic Kit
  • Nektar Impact LX61 Midi Controller Keyboard
  • Numark iDJPro Kit
  • Studio Headphones
  • Macbook (Wirecast Software installed for Green Screen Productions)
  • Black Magic Ultra Studio Express
  • Microphone table stand
  • Camera Tripods

Audio Recording with a microphone

Audio Technica Lavalier Microphone

Thinking of using the space but need to know how to use the equipment effectively first? Check online for dates and times when we offer programs?

Workshops will take place at Toronto Reference Library in the Studio Space and all workshops are free. Space is limited and registration is required. Workshops will focus on how to use the following equipment effectively:

  • Video Production (green screen, camera and lights) and
  • Audio Recording (microphones, studio mixer, instruments, midi keyboard and recording software)

We hope to add more dates and times in the next week or so.  Stayed tuned and be sure to check out the blog for the latest information.

We look forward to seeing all the great projects created in the space and hope this is a new space that everyone can take advantage of. 

Library staff shooting a music video.

Have fun!!

Q & A with Yifat Shaik - Our 3D Design Innovator in Residence

September 26, 2015 | Dawn | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Meet Yifat Shaik, Innovator in Residence, Toronto Reference Library.

Yifat ShaikAspiring and practicing 3D designers are already learning about 3D design from the multi-talented Yifat Shaik through her workshops, 3D design meet-ups, and lectures.

Yifat's experience includes game design, illustration (using both traditional and digital media), 2D animation, graphic design, 3D modelling in Maya, and compositing. Yifat's interests include creating games that focus on social interaction with unique gameplay mechanics all while creating compelling games.

We sat down to chat with her about her enthusiasm for teaching 3D design.


What interested you about the library’s Innovator in Residence position and what you are looking most forward to during your residency?

There were a few reasons which drew me to the residency from the get go. First I was lucky enough to know a few people who have done the residency before and they really enjoyed their time and recommended me to give it a try. Secondly I was interested in the Toronto Reference Library's quest to find new and alternative options for community engagement. Lastly, and most importantly, I was interested in introducing 3D design to audiences that have less access to learn it, specifically groups who tend to shy away from tech. My goal during my residency is to make 3D less intimidating, to show people how fun it really is and to provide an alternative and more accessible way of teaching 3D.

How did you first get involved in 3D design?

During the third year of my undergrad in Animation Studies, I had to choose between majoring in 2D animation, 3D or Stopmotion animation. I choose 3D, mostly because I figured out I would mostly likely get a job after graduating if I knew 3D animation, and that I like (and am good) with more technical artistic work. So not a really interesting story, but I am guessing many 3D designers share a similar history.

What do you enjoy the most about working as a 3D designer?

I mostly just enjoy the freedom of the limitless possibilities 3D design offers. While I do illustrations and other forms of art, sometime I can feel a bit limited when my skills just don’t match up to what I want to do.

I never really feel that with 3D.

While it does happen that I want to do something specific and I am not sure how to do it, a quick search online usually provides a path to solve my problem. I also, personally, really enjoy the process of solving problems, and trying to figure out a process to make something new.

You also are active in game design. Tell us about how you approach game design?

I think games have a lot more to offer than the current role imposed on them - as a shallow form of popular entertainment. For me games are just another form of artistic expression, which could (and did in certain cases) present a new point of view on society, community and interaction.

There is something in the fact that games are both enjoyable and approachable, despite being difficult and at times hard to learn, that is worth exploring as an artist.

For me (and many will disagree about this) games are about mechanics and system, and I generally tend to focus more on playing around with existing genres and modifying the mechanics and the code to try and create something new. I am also really interested in social interactions in a game world and what we can deduce from them about social interactions in the real world.

What are some of your favourite games and why?

I tend to like a broad range of games from different genres, so I can’t point to one or two specific games. World of Warcraft, while not as good as it used to be, is the game that got me back into playing games eight years ago, so I still count it as one of my favorite.

Journey was the first time that I experienced a different way of playing and making games.

Her Story was probably the best game I played in a very long time, just a unique gaming experience that is worth checking out, especially if you like true crime stories.

Grim Fandango I am a huge fan of 90’s point-and-click adventure game and this one is one of my favourites.

There are also many wonderful independent and alternative (and even some mainstream) games which I loved that are just too numerous to count. I suggest checking out websites like and start playing some of the games there, it will be worth it.

Can anyone learn how to create 3D designs?

Yes, I believe so! but it does take some stubbornness and tenacity. I can help people start exploring this world, but it is their choice to take it farther. Which means doing tutorials and developing on their own.

Are you working on any new projects you would like to tell us about?

While currently I have very little time to work on my personal projects I do have a few that are in the process of development. The main one I am working on right now, together with Derek Quenneville, is Real Army Simulator, a narrative game about my army experience. We recently finished the first part of the game, and were lucky enough to have the game accepted to a few events in North America, namely Teacade in Montreal and Boston Fig in Boston. Other than that I am in the early process of creating a few other personal projects, including a game that is a homage to Brutalist Architecture and a game about the immigration experience.


Meet A Tech Mentor at Speed Mentorship Hangout

September 22, 2015 | Ab. Velasco | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Speed mentorship program


This Saturday, Sept. 26, the Digital Innovation Hub at Toronto Reference Library is partnering with Career Skills Incubator, creators of the Menteer online mentor matching program, to host a Speed Mentorship Hangout.

At the free event, participants can meet and network with industry professionals for 10-minute one-on-one conversations and ask questions and get information and advice about the technology and digital media industry.

In this Q+A, Career Skills Incubator's Managing Director Jim Wielgosz talks about why mentorship is important and valuable, how mentorship has changed in the online age, and what he's looking forward to at the inaugural speed mentorship hangout.


Please tell us about the mentorship program that you offer at Career Skills Incubator.

Career Skills Incubator offers customized mentorship for people at every stage of their career development. People can choose to receive mentoring based upon different mentorship models - from traditional mentor-mentee relationships to less structured co-mentoring arrangements. Our most exciting project in the mentorship space is our recently-launched online mentor matching tool, which is open source and free to use. Over 700 unique users have signed up since the website launched in January, with new mentor-mentee matches happening every week. 


Why is mentorship so important and valuable?

Job seekers - especially those who are recent post-secondary grads or in career transition - often aren't plugged into networks where they can access advice and resources. I think we've all made mistakes early into our career paths that, looking back, could have been avoided if we had somebody to ask for guidance.  

In a nutshell, mentorship is a way for people who are looking to start and/or advance their careers to tap the wisdom of somebody who's already got some skills and experience under their belts. Mentorship isn't a one-way street, though; in our experience, both the mentor and mentee grow and learn as a result of the mentoring relationship that's formed.


What has been your favourite mentorship-related anecdote that you’ve seen or heard about through your work at CSI?

Probably my favourite mentorship-related story comes from our executive director, Victoria. She'd recently been matched with a mentee through and was having a heck of a time setting up a meeting time. Her mentee was available at odd hours of the night, and it really didn't make much sense. That is, until Victoria realized that her mentee lived in Africa! I love this anecdote because it really speaks to the power of technology to break down traditional barriers and connect us in unique ways. The fact two people can have a meaningful mentoring relationship with (quite literally) an ocean separating them is truly amazing to me.


The Menteer online platform provides an interesting twist on mentorship. How has that program been going?

Menteer continues to be such a great learning experience for our organization. Unlike our old-school mentoring program that required somebody at Career Skills Incubator to manually match mentors and mentees, Menteer automates the matching process based on an algorithm that weighs users' preferences in areas such as mentorship style, industry, and the skills the person is looking to develop.

While this saves a ton of administrative headaches on our end, it also poses new challenges with respect to engaging our membership base and figuring out how to improve the user experience.

Despite these issues, I'd say Menteer has been a big success in raising awareness of Career Skills Incubator and mentorship in general.


What are you looking most forward to at the inaugural Speed Mentorship Hangout at the library?

In my view, face-to-face interactions are the bread and butter of any successful relationship. Technology such as Google Hangouts and Skype are getting close to simulating that experience, but nothing beats sitting across the table from a person and having a meaningful conversation.

That's what excites me most about the Speed Mentorship Hangout - the opportunity for mentors and mentees to meet in-person and potentially form enduring mentoring relationships. I'm also looking forward to potentially seeing a broader range of participants than we've had in the past, due to the library's excellent location and community contacts. It's definitely going to be a fun time!

#IStandWithAhmed: Celebrate And Support Young Makers

September 17, 2015 | Ab. Velasco | Comments (11) Facebook Twitter More...

American teen Ahmed Mohamed made international headlines after he was arrested earlier this week for bringing a homemade clock to school. The 14-year-old Texan brought his creation to show his teacher, who mistook it for a bomb.

The incident generated a social media firestorm – with many people throwing their support behind Mohamed, even starting an #IStandWithAhmed hashtag.

Some of Mohamed’s high profile supporters included US President Barack Obama, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg – who invited Mohamed to the White House, Toronto, and Facebook headquarters respectively.



Mohamed and his family were touched by the outpouring of support and positive feedback – as displayed by the teen’s comments during a media scrum.



Mohamed’s creativity and ingenuity provide a great reason of why it is important to support young makers by providing them with encouragement and access to technology resources and training.

Toronto is one of many cities around the world with a thriving maker movement, including maker spaces that are child and family friendly, such as Maker Kids and STEAMLabs; the latter is hosting a clock making hackathon on Sept 24, 2015, in celebration of Mohamed. Organizations such as Get Your Bot On, Girls Learning Code, Logics Academy and Mozilla Hive provide fantastic technology programs.

Toronto Public Library’s (TPL) Digital Innovation Hubs and maker spaces at other North American libraries, such as Innisfil, Edmonton, and Chicago, are welcoming a new audience of young makers who are getting exposure to technology such as 3D printers, Arduino micro controllers, and digital media tools.

At TPL, we have seen young makers create wonderful projects, such as: young Jacob, who 3D designed a prosthetic limb; kids at Maker Festival who created wood-crafted boats; Barbara Frum Branch's Lego and K'Nex Club's fun architecture builds; and other cool creations at Fort York Branch, After School Clubs and Northern District Branch's robotics club for teens.

The philosophy at a maker space is simple: This is a safe space to let your imagination run wild.

3D Prosthetics

September 9, 2015 | Greg Astill | Comments (5) Facebook Twitter More...

An exciting opportunity that came from the use of 3D printers has been the improvement in prosthetics and giving people all over the world access to this technology. One local teenager by the name of Jacob hopes to offer his talents to this cause in the future. Jacob took the classes on 3D printing and design at the library and spent a lot of time and energy building a prototype of a prosthetic leg. 

The design won him numerous awards at Science fairs. After he printed a prototype at the library, Jacob wrote to University of Toronto Professor Matt Ratto, who has experience bringing 3D printed prosthetics to Uganda. Ratto happens to be the first speaker at the new Hub Talk series that kicks off tomorrow night. 

Jacob came by the Hub at the Toronto Reference Library with his design and sat down with Hub librarian Fiona who did a Q & A with him. Below are some photos and highlights of their conversation.

Jacob and Fiona

Jacob with Digital Innovation Hub Librarian Fiona

How did you get started in 3D design and printing? How did you come up with the idea of a prosthetic leg?

I play hockey and found many of the players were hitting their head while playing and suffering from concussions. At the time I was in Grade 7 and thought I would make a better helmet for his Grade 8 Science fair project. After a bit of research, I started to read about prosthetic legs in underdeveloped countries. I found that there are only 10 licensed professionals who can make a prosthetic leg and it takes 7 days to complete. Because diseases are common in underdeveloped countries, the result can be losing a limb. I then changed my Grade 8 Science fair project to 3D printed prosthetic legs. I thought by creating a 3D design of a leg, professionals in South Africa could print prosthetic legs. The process of building a leg using a 3D printer is faster to make than using the traditional method.

What program and materials did you use to create the leg?

I used 123D design and AutoCAD, student trial version, to build the leg.

AutoCAD was only used to refine the design. The majority of the design was made using 123D design.

I would like to learn the program Sculptress because I think it would be easier.

I used PLA for the prototype.

The full version was printed using ABS and ABS ninja flex.

How long did it take you?

I have printed two prosthetic legs. The first print was a prototype using the MakerBot Replicator 2 in the Digital Innovation Hub at the Toronto Reference Library. The prototype took 7 hours to make. The full sized leg was made using the 3D printers at the University of Toronto. The second print took a total of 32 hours.

prosthetic leg

Leg with the Ninja Flex material for bending

Is this what you would like to do in the future?

I am in interested in the medical field. I am also interested in medical engineering. I would like to create pieces of the brain, just a thought.

Have you won any awards?

I won two awards at the Grade 8 Science fair. I won first in my school district and won bronze in the regionals.


Jacob's awards.

What is your connection with Matt Ratto?

I wrote to him after I built my first prosthetic leg prototype. He met with me and showed me what he has done with his Africa project. He then guided me in the full version. He also showed me how to reduce my print time. He printed the full version of the leg in the 3D printing lab at U of T.

An example of print reduction can be seen in the thigh socket, it was previously designed without slots.

thigh socket

Thigh socket

Next project?

I’d like to perfect the prosthetic leg and also I would like to print my own robotic drone with a GPS.

Jacob talking to other participants
Jacob talking to other library patrons about his design

Hopefully you can come by tomorrow night for what should be a very informative discussion on 3D printing and bringing the technology to other parts of the world. If you can't make, be sure to check back for more details about how you can watch the talk as we'll have staff on hand filming the event for posting online at a later date.

Have fun!!

Welcome to The Innovation Hubs blog. Highlighting the features, programs and customer innovation stories from our Digital Innovation Hubs.