City Librarian's Report for April 2019

April 18, 2019 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the April 2019 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

Second Union Station Digital Download Kiosk Installed

We are thrilled to announce the installation of TPL's second digital download kiosk at the newly-renovated Union Station. The first kiosk, located in the lower level food court, was installed in November and was met with an enthusiastic response from the public. To date, the promotional video we posted on social media has received over 14,000 views on Twitter and Facebook. Our second kiosk is located in the GO Station on the main floor and is much more visible, so we're anticipating more great response. Users can select from a wide range of downloadable ebooks and audiobooks, and are required to download the Overdrive app.


Breaking Down Barriers to Access, Driving Inclusion

Phone It Forward Partnership with CNIB

Phone it Forward box at Toronto Reference Library
Phone It Forward sign and box of donation envelopes at Toronto Reference Library.

TPL is excited to partner with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind Foundation​ (CNIB) to support the Phone It Forward initiative.​ This initiative refurbishes used smartphones, loads them with accessibility apps, and gives them to people with sight loss.

Smartphones are valuable communications and accessibility tools that can be used by people with sight loss for important everyday tasks, such as travelling independently with GPS, identifying colours and faces, or reading alternative format library collections, including accessible formats from Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA). However, almost half of Canadians living with sight loss do not own a smartphone. The unemployment rate for people with sight loss is triple the Canadian average, making affording a smartphone difficult for many, a need that Phone It Forward aims to address.  

Pre-paid envelopes for donating smartphones can be found at all 100 TPL branches. This initiative is also being supported by other member libraries of Canadian Urban Libraries Council (CULC).


Aging in the City Talks

In partnership with York University, TPL presented a series of talks on "Aging in the City". This series is the public education component of a seven-year global study on “Age-Friendly Communities within Communities”. The study includes 12 cities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway and Taiwan. Its approach departs from the “one size fits all” model of thinking and acknowledges the differences diverse communities experience in aging – a concept that guides the Toronto Seniors Strategy (PDF).

Sixty participants attended the “Aging, Truth and Reconciliation in the City” talk at Toronto Reference Library on March 25 by Dr. Tamara Daly and Dr. Sean Hillier, the leaders of the global study. Elders in Residence, Frances Whiskeychan and Patrick Etherington attended the talk and were invited to offer a smudging ceremony and thoughts on inclusion and reconciliation of Indigenous seniors in age-friendly practices.


Expanding Access to Technology and Training 

Let’s Learn Tech Learning Circles: Linux Unhatched

Six branches offered Linux Unhatched in February and March 2019
The six branches that offered Linux Unhatched in February and March 2019: Northern District, Lillian H. Smith, Agincourt, Cedarbrae, Albert Campbell and Downsview.

In February and March 2019, TPL expanded on the Let’s Learn Tech Online platform, offering the Linux Unhatched course as a learning circle. Learning circles at the library are study groups guided by staff for people who want to take a free online course together in a welcoming space. Learners meet weekly and work together through the course material. The Linux Unhatched course was offered at six branches across the city in collaboration with local branch staff, and learners met twice a week for four weeks. To date, the program has been more successful than anticipated, either matching or exceeding typical attendance for User Education programs, despite less than desirable weather conditions. With the success of this first series, another series will take place this coming spring/summer at an additional four branches: Brentwood, Fairview, Maria A. Shchuka and North York Central Library.


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

Game Jam at Toronto Reference Library

Game Jam participants hard at work
Game Jam participants hard at work.

On March 14, over 35 participants attended the sold out “Game Jam: An Insider’s Look at Game Design” competition at Toronto Reference Library, presented in partnership with Ryerson TransMedia Zone and co-organized by the TPL Incubator. The Game Jam provided a skills development opportunity for customers, Ryerson faculty and students and TPL staff. Teams competed to adapt the Aesop fable “The Miller, His Son, and their Ass” (PDF) from TPL’s Digital Archive into a game that addressed the Game Jam theme of civil disagreement in our technologically-mediated society. Participants and staff enjoyed talks from Ubisoft Toronto, lessons on how to use design thinking principles, and the fast-paced competition to create a game prototype. Participants had less than four hours to complete and pitch their work with a presentation. It was a close competition, with Team TPL edging out the other five teams and winning the “Top Game Award”.


Personal Finance Programming, January to March 2019

Jessica Moorhouse at Riverdale branch
Personal finance expert and award-winning blogger Jessica Moorhouse presenting "Become a Side Hustler" at Riverdale branch.

TPL offers personal finance programs year-round, with an emphasis during our Personal Finance Campaign, which runs from January to March. This year, over 1,460 customers attended personal finance programs during the campaign. In-demand programs run multiple times, in different locations across the city. Some of the most popular highlights for 2019 include:

  • Salary Negotiations for Women
  • Consumers Rights When Purchasing a Vehicle
  • Retirement Success Workshops
  • Financing a Child
  • How to File a Simple Tax Return (taught by the Canada Revenue Agency)
  • First-Time Home Buyers Speakers Panel
  • Become a Smarter Investor
  • Become a Side Hustler

Several of these events were standing-room-only, and will be offered again at other locations later this year.

Creating Community Connections through Cultural Experiences 

The List: Great Reads for Youth 2019 Launched April 12

The List 2019 cover image

TPL is pleased to share the 2019 edition of The List: Great Reads for Youth, TPL’s annual booklist for teens. The List is an excellent resource for self-directed discovery of new books and genres. It offers diverse book recommendations curated by our youth librarians and reviewed by teens. The print magazine features 50 books and excerpts from 10 teen reviews. All 100 books can be found on The List website along with video reviews from teens.

With categories about mental health, #ownvoices, social justice and non-fiction in addition to fantasy, science-fiction, poetry, graphic novels and thrillers, The List supports reading for pleasure, learning and thoughtful discussion on the issues that affect young people. Pick up a copy at your local library branch or find The List online.


April Fools! Purrfect Pals

On April 1, we shared a fun video promoting our Purrfect Pals program, a service that allows customers to borrow a cat reading companion for three weeks. Litterboxes, food and cat comforts not included. 

Many customers commented on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts about how much they enjoyed this April Fools joke, lamenting the fact that it wasn't real. For those looking for the purrfect pal, we'd recommend adopting through the City of Toronto's Animal Services.

Elders Return to Toronto Public Library

Elders in Residence Frances Whiskeychan and Patrick Etherington
Elders in Residence Frances Whiskeychan and Patrick Etherington.

Elders Frances Whiskeychan and Patrick Etherington are a husband and wife team that has worked in a variety of Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous organizations. They are both Indian Residential School Survivors and have led Awareness and Healing Walks for Truth and Reconciliation. Frances Whiskeychan and Patrick Etherington served as the first ever Elders in Residence for Toronto Public Library in fall 2018. While their program came to an end in 2018, TPL’s relationship with them has continued, and they returned to Toronto the week of March 25-29, 2019 as Visiting Elders.

During this visit, Elders Frances and Patrick shared their knowledge and teachings with a range of library patrons and staff. They introduced Grade 4 students at Mount Dennis branch to Indigenous teachings related to the land, and the importance of the family Home Fire. At Bridlewood branch they offered a smudge and teachings to newcomers participating in an English Conversation Circle. Community members received counsel and teachings in one-on-one interviews at the Toronto Reference Library and Mount Dennis branch, and staff were honoured to have the Elders open meetings with a smudge and teaching.

In their role as Elders, they work first and foremost with Indigenous community members in accessing TPL services and spaces, and by providing culturally-informed support and guidance. They raise awareness and understanding amongst non-Indigenous communities too, and create space for Indigenous literacies within TPL. The Elders in Residence and Visiting Elders Programs are a part of TPL’s Strategies for Indigenous Initiatives (PDF), our official response to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.

Toronto Storytelling Festival Events Attract Hundreds of Kids, Families and Adults

Storytellers at StoryJam
Storytellers Sally Jaeger, Mariella Bertelli and Carol Ashton entertain families at StoryJam’s Teddy Bear Picnic. Photograph by Joe Tamko.

During March, TPL participated in the 40th annual Toronto Storytelling Festival, one of the largest urban storytelling celebrations in the world. A highlight of the Festival was the second annual StoryJam on Sunday, March 24, a full day of storytelling events at the Toronto Reference Library. There were visiting storytellers from Scotland and England, Indigenous tellers, local tellers, and storytelling-related activities and vendors. TPL also participated in the Festival’s Storyfire events. At Storyfire, our staff delighted audiences with their favourite stories at Beaches and Morningside branches. Also part of the Festival was the “Stories Told Eye to Eye, Mind to Mind, Heart to Heart” series of programs, which took place at six library branches across the city, featuring the visiting international and Canadian storytellers.


French language programs during Congé de mars and Semaine de la Francophonie

C'est pas geni'AL show Entre Science et Magie at Oakwood Library
C'est pas geni'AL (Entre science et magie) show at Oakwood Village Library & Arts Centre during Congé de mars.

Congé de mars (March Break, March 11-16, 2019) is always eagerly anticipated by Francophone and French immersion students and their parents and this year was no exception. A total of 14 branches hosted a variety of performers, with over 950 French-speaking participants. Two particularly busy programs saw an enthusiastic crowd of 135 at the show of La reine des neiges at North York Central Library, and 125 gathered for African music, songs and stories at Danforth/Coxwell branch. All of the interactive performances of Entre science et magie were also very well attended, with the children greatly enjoying the hands-on demonstrations.

The following week, four branches celebrated La Semaine de la Francophonie (Francophone Week) with a record attendance of 435 children and parents in total. At S. Walter Stewart branch, most of the 195 children attendees were from La Mosaïque French school, and were impressed by Little Red Theatre. Many French Immersion schools had a great time at Woodside Square branch. And the "Petit Prince" show at Brentwood branch kept 68 10-year-olds fully engaged and participating. One parent commented, "J'ai trouvé ce spectacle formidable. Les deux artistes ont beaucoup de talent et ils ont su établir une belle relation interactive avec les enfants." ("I thought this show was wonderful. Both artists are very talented and were able to establish a good interactive relationship with the children.")


Eiko Otake’s A Body in a Library Performance

Eiko Otake performing at Toronto Reference Library
Eiko Otake performing "A Body in a Library" at Toronto Reference Library. Photograph by William Johnston.

On Friday March 15, Japanese-American artist Eiko Otake performed "A Body in a Library" at the Toronto Reference Library. The artist appeared as an unidentified ghostly figure who roamed throughout the building, re-enacting the traumas of a nuclear disaster. This performance was part of a multi-part exhibition and seminar entitled "A Body in Fukushima", organized by professor Tak Fujitani from the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. Photographs by Bill Johnston documenting Eiko’s visit to the land devastated by earthquakes, a tsunami and nuclear meltdowns appeared at both the Toronto Reference and Robarts Library. The artist – who has performed at the Whitney and the Guggenheim – chose the library because it was a vital public space: “I am deeply impressed with everyone's commitments and how the Toronto library is indeed an oasis for many, especially for those who have less places to go to. Thanks for your tireless work. It was certainly the most spectacular library I performed in!”


Rob Bowman Talk, "John Coltrane: Interstellar Space"

Rob Bowman at Don Mills branch
Professor Rob Bowman at Don Mills branch.

On March 13, customers at Don Mills branch enjoyed a highly-informative presentation entitled "John Coltrane: Interstellar Space." Over 60 attendees were at this wonderful event with Musicologist and Grammy Award-winning York University Professor Rob Bowman. Bowman took the audience through a journey that explored John Coltrane's recordings as evidence of an artist deeply involved in a quest for both spiritual and musical transcendence. Bowman took particular delight in informing his audience that he was raised in Don Mills and recalled coming to the library as a child. Bowman won a Grammy in 1996 in the “Best Album Notes” category for a monograph. A five-time Grammy nominee, author, and founding member of The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Bowman has interviewed many artists including the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd Bob Marley, Isaac Hayes, and Smokey Robinson.


Transforming for 21st Century Service Excellence

Albion Branch Recipient of 2019 AIA/ALA Library Building Award


Albion branch is one of the recipients of the 2019 AIA/ALA Library Building Award. This annual award is a partnership between the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Library Association (ALA) that recognizes the entire library structure and all aspects of the design, including consultation. We are in very distinguished company this year alongside two other public libraries: the new Calgary Central Library and the Louisville Free Public Library South Central Regional Library.

In the words of the jury “this new library relies on its graceful gestural form and colourful façade to promote engagement. It assumes the vital role in a community that has become an arrival point for new immigrants, offering traditional services as well as cultural orientation, social integration, enhancement of employment skills and access to technology.”

The new construction of a 28,000 sq. ft. district library in the north-west corner of the city has been tremendously popular since its opening in June 2017. The branch experienced a 25% increase in visits over 2017. Our architectural consultants Perkins + Will Canada will be given the award during a ceremony in Las Vegas during the AIA annual conference in June.

Deloitte Innovation Forum: Reinventing the Library

For the fifth annual Deloitte Innovation Forum, which kicked off on April 1, Ivey Business School students were challenged to rethink the customer experience at Toronto Public Library, and "find ways to enrich the experience for the library’s millions of users." Working in teams, the students had 30 hours to research, strategize and pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. The winning idea focused on the concept of a community librarian: bringing staff out of library buildings, and having library booths at parks or community events to bring the library to new customers. Participating in the event as jurors were Fenton Jagdeo, Board member; Vickery Bowles, City Librarian; and Alex Morris, Partner, Deloitte Canada. You can read the article about this Innovation Forum on the Ivey Business School website.


Online Community Room Rental Service

Fairview Meeting Room 1 Availability
An example of the Community Room Rental availability calendar.

In March, TPL launched a new online self-service option for renting community rooms across the library system. The online option features pictures and details on each room and includes a search function to help customers see room availability in real time. The goal is to improve and enhance the customer experience through a convenient, easy-to-use self-service option. We’ve already received lots of feedback from customers, such as this “The new search engine is so good to have…. it is definitely helpful to see if your library choice is available!”