City Librarian's Report for May 2018

May 18, 2018 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the May 2018 Toronto Public Library (TPL) Board meeting, summarizing key activities in support of the priorities outlined in our strategic plan. This report covers items that are not part of the Board agenda package.

Advancing Our Digital Platforms

TPL Email Communications Get Easier

TPL customers can now more easily sign up for and select the communications that they want to receive by going to their account notifications page on the website, or by asking staff at library branches, as we begin to broadly promote email as a preferred communications channel. Customers who choose to receive communications through email will automatically get due date reminders, helping them to return their library materials on time and avoid late fines. Future plans for the library’s email communications program include offering timely, relevant and targeted communications to our customers to improve service delivery and customer satisfaction.

Breaking Down Barriers to Access, Driving Inclusion

Bookmobile Visits Family Shelters

TPL's Community Outreach and Engagement team is supporting select branches in revitalizing their relationships with family shelters this year. In mid-April, Bookmobile and branch staff teamed up to reach an underserved population by visiting family shelters at the Lido Motel and Humewood House for the first of a series of six monthly visits to each location. Having the bookmobile and a staff member from a local library branch visit the shelter gives families the opportunity to learn about library services and enjoy literacy-based programming. After the six-month initiative, branches will sustain their relationships with the shelters through ongoing outreach and by welcoming families into the library branch. The initial shelter visits yielded 23 card registrations, and families and shelter staff were very excited to visit the bookmobile and learn about recommended children's books and songs. The kids are already anxiously awaiting the next visit, and are excited by the prospect of outdoor storytimes and activities throughout the summer.

MAP Program Offers Free Inside Out Passes in NIAs

As part of the Sun Life Financial Museum + Arts Pass Program (MAP), customers in Neighbourhood Improvement Areas of the city will be able to sign out Inside Out LGBT Film Festival passes at 10 TPL branches on two Saturdays, May 12 and 19. Each pass allows a customer two tickets to film screenings at the festival, which runs from May 24-June 3. Passes will be available at Albert Campbell, Black Creek, Cedarbrae, Downsview, Evelyn Gregory, Flemingdon Park, Jane/Dundas, Northern Elms, Parkdale and Parliament Street branches. 

Newcomers Learn About TPL Resources

In early April, TPL participated in the spring Newcomers Canada Fair at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The TPL team connected with over 370 recent newcomers, some of whom had arrived in Canada no more than two days prior to the fair. Newcomers learned about employment and volunteering opportunities at TPL, online resources, hotspot lending, MAP passes, Library Settlement Partnerships and more. More than 100 registered on the spot for library cards. Thanks to TPL Foundation and the Doris Anderson Fund for enabling staff attendance at the fair.

Library staff at newcomer fair
TPL staff introduced newcomers to library resources at a recent Newcomer Canada Fair at the Toronto Convention Centre.


Expanding Access to Technology and Training

TPL to Showcase Digital and Tech Resources on Inaugural Digital Literacy Day

On May 31, TPL will join the City of Toronto and partners in the academic, arts, corporate and technology communities to celebrate the inaugural Digital Literacy Day by hosting a kick-off media event at the Toronto Reference Library and offering programs at branches across the city that showcase our digital and technology resources and staff expertise. Digital Literacy Day [PDF] was approved at the City’s Economic Development Committee last September and made possible through a motion last May by innovation advocate and City Councillor Michelle Holland. Digital Literacy Day will showcase the digital and technology resources available across the city and the educational, entrepreneurial, artistic and social opportunities that they enable. At branch programs and online with #DLDayTO, we will highlight TPL's role in providing free, equitable access to all kinds of technologies, as well as the digital literacy supports and resources needed to use them. 

Borrow and Bring Home an Arduino Kit

TPL customers can now borrow and bring home Arduino kits from their nearest Digital Innovation Hub (DIH). An Arduino is an open-source microcontroller – a small, simple, programmable computer on a single integrated circuit. It is designed specifically for beginners who are new to coding and electronics. Each kit comes with an instructional project booklet and includes everything you need to build and code interactive projects using LED lights, motors and sensors. Through TPL's Staff Innovation Program, Fort York branch Digital Design Technician James Topping and a team of TPL staffers proposed and led the development of the Arduino lending kits, the first piece of equipment loaned out from the DIHs. The project will be reviewed at the end of 2018 and may pave the way for additional equipment lending from the DIHs.


Establishing TPL as Toronto’s Centre for Continuous and Self-Directed Learning

TPL Program Helps Seniors Identify and Prevent Elder Abuse

An Ontario Seniors Community Grant enabled TPL to offer a program series on elder abuse at nine branches this past fall and winter. Topics included elder abuse and substance abuse; predatory marriages and inheritance theft; home takeovers; elder abuse in immigrant communities; and powers of attorney abuse. Seniors learned what constitutes elder abuse, preventative strategies and resources, and supports to combat abuse. 

Celebrating Bike Month at TPL

TPL is partnering with Cycle Toronto to present a series of free cycling workshops during Bike Month (May 28-June 30). Workshops will cover basic safe cycling, laws that apply to both cyclists and drivers, basic bike maintenance and more. Check out Celebrate Bike Month 2018 on our What’s On at the Library blog for more about Bike Month celebrations in Toronto. Cycle Toronto is a not-for-profit organization that works to make Toronto a healthy, safe and vibrant cycling city for all.

Children Learn STEM Skills through Fun Activities

TPL partnered with Visions of Science Network for Learning  (VOSNL) to host STEM programs at 14 branches for children in grades 3 to 8 from low-income and marginalized communities. Almost 200 children attended these programs between September 2017 and April 2018, learning more about STEM and TPL resources, and registering for library cards. Children had fun working together to develop innovative solutions through a variety of activities.


Children at a library STEM program
Kids at Flemingdon Park Branch worked with Camlin Vinayagamoorthy from VOSNL to create structures to protect eggs – which they then dropped from a height!

Creating Community Connections through Cultural Experiences

TPL at Festival of Trees Book Awards

Once again this year, TPL was at Harbourfront promoting library resources for children and teens during all three days of the Festival of Trees (May 15, 16, 17), the largest literary event for young readers in Canada. Youth services staff handed out copies of Young Voices magazine and the newly minted 2018 issue of The List, the library's top book picks for youth readers. Children's services staff promoted English and French summer programs. The innovation services team brought along a 3D printer and other cool tech and talked to children and teachers about our Digital Innovation Hubs and Pop-Up Learning Labs. The Festival of Trees is the award celebration for the Forest of Reading series of awards presented annually by the Ontario Library Association.

"Bad Guys" Author Thrills Kids with Visit to Toronto Reference Library

Over 150 school-aged kids and parents packed Toronto Reference Library on April 22 to meet Australian author Aaron Blabey, creator of the best-selling Bad Guys series. Kids got the chance to listen to Aaron’s hilarious reading of the first book in the series, test out photo booth props, see a live drawing demo, ask Blabey questions and have their books signed. Special thanks to our partners Scholastic and Page & Panel.

Child holding bad guys photo booth prop

"The Photography Speaks for Itself, but the Library Is Amplifying My Voice"

As part of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival in May, the Toronto Reference Library (TRL) Arts Department is hosting an exhibit, Reality, by photographer and disability activist Allan Cullen. Cullen uses the Digital Innovation Hub at TRL to produce his work. He values the space, equipment and staff expertise, plus the chance to meet and exchange ideas with other members of the public. His show explores his own lived reality and the intersection of homelessness, poverty and disability, documenting current urban social issues facing men struggling with a variety of physical and mental challenges.

Bill Vrantsidis interviews Allan Cullen
(l-r) TRL Arts Department Senior Branch head Bill Vrantsidis interviews Allan Cullen at the opening of Cullen's photography exhibit.

Indigenous History Month Celebrations at the Library

June is National Indigenous History Month and the library is celebrating with series of Indigenous-led programs that explores different facets of Indigenous history, arts and culture. Some highlights include:

In Jesus’ Name: Shattering the Silence of St. Anne’s Residential School
June 12, Toronto Reference Library
June 25, York Woods branch

Visions of Turtle Island
June 21, Richview branch

‘Flipping the Len’: Reclaiming Indigenous Histories through Photography
June 21, Toronto Reference Library

Mistatim: A Red Sky Performance
May 31, York Woods branch
May 31, Fairview branch

Rabbit and Bear Paws Puppet Show
June 2, Don Mills branch
June 7, Dawes Road branch
June 8, Kennedy/Eglinton branch

TPL will also be participating in the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto’s ninth annual National Indigenous History Month event at Yonge-Dundas Square on June 27. This popular event features Indigenous entertainers, craft vendors exhibiting and selling their wares and agencies showcasing their work in the community.

Great Reads for Youth Featured in 2018 Issue of "The List"

The second edition of The List: Great Reads for Youth launched at the beginning of May, featuring 100 diverse book recommendations curated by TPL youth literature experts, and reviews by youth. A print version, featuring 50 of the books, is available in all TPL branches. The full list is available online at

Doors Open Toronto Comes to Toronto Reference Library

On May 26, Toronto Reference Library hosted seven guided tours during Doors Open Toronto (May 26-27) the annual celebration of the city's most architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings. Tours included access to spaces not generally open to the public, including an open house in the Preservation and Digitization Department where participants learned about our role in digitization, conservation and bookbinding. A partnership with Human Rights Watch Film Festival saw film screenings in the Hinton Learning Centre throughout the day.


TPL Supports Library Rebuilding Project in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

TPL and the City of Toronto have joined forces to support a library in the city of Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Jaffna’s library was destroyed in the 1980s and has been gradually rebuilt, but is still in great need of Tamil books. Mayor John Tory, City Councillor Neethan Shan and City Librarian Vickery Bowles were on-hand at Malvern branch for a press conference on April 20 that featured a book exchange between Jaffna's library and TPL, as well as an announcement of an upcoming initiative to raise awareness of TPL among Toronto's Tamil community. 

Transforming for 21st Century Service Excellence

Creating a Better Library Experience

In May, TPL launched the public phase of a rebranding project that began in August 2017 with consultations that sought input from staff, external contacts, partners and the TPL Board. Over the next few months, the TPL Experience 360 project will explore ideas for enhancing and modernizing the library’s brand and visual identity in today’s omnichannel world and to better reflect library service today and in the future. We’ll be seeking input from customers both online and in branches to find out how we can make their customer experience better. In addition to the Experience 360 website, promotional postcards and idea books where customers can record their thoughts and ideas will be available at all 100 TPL branches.