City Librarian's Report for May 2019

Below is my report for the May 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

Online Card Renewal Now Available

Online card renewal
Online card renewal screen.

Eligible TPL customers now have the option to renew their memberships anywhere, anytime without having to visit a physical branch. Adults and Teens with a full-service library card can renew in the 30 days before their card expiry date using their online account. This feature has been one of the most commonly requested account enhancements and has garnered a positive response from our customers since its launch on April 2. Within the first few weeks over 3,500 customers benefited from the convenience of Online Card Renewal. Read the FAQ to find out more.


Breaking Down Barriers to Access, Driving Inclusion

Walk-Up Weekdays with Toronto History Museums 

We're celebrating Museum Month with the City of Toronto. On Walk-Up Weekdays in May 2019, TPL customers have free admission Tuesdays through Thursdays to the City-owned and operated Toronto History Museums with their library card. These beautiful heritage spaces share Toronto's stories and tell our city’s history. 


Expanding Access to Technology and Training 

GO Open Data Conference at Toronto Reference Library

On Friday, May 3, Toronto Reference Library hosted the Go Open Data Conference, an annual Ontario-based event that is attended by all sectors interested in learning about and promoting the creation and use of open data. Previous events were hosted in Barrie, London and Markham. The 2019 conference theme was “Open Data: Inclusive, Equitable, Ethical and Impactful” and included speakers and panellists from the City and Province’s open data teams. City Councillor and TPL Board Member Paul Ainslie, TPL's Director of Service Development and Innovation Pam Ryan, and several international professionals from Australia and Finland spoke at the event. The sold-out event was live-streamed and one session had 300 viewers. There was also active discussion on Twitter and the #GOOD19 hashtag trended in Canada. Twitter user @Farah_Way raved: "I'm loving the public library love at #GOOD19 - appropriate when being hosted by the Toronto Reference Library @TorontoLibrary, and because the immense amount libraries contribute to equity and inclusiveness."

In addition, the Toronto Reference Library hosted the Go Open Data Conference Hackathon on Saturday, May 4, co-organized with Civic Tech Toronto. The library-hosted hackathon was the most well-attended hackathon in the conference's history - with 75 participants working on civic challenges related to algorithms, civic data trusts, libraries, data literacy, and more.


Partner Program with VentureKids Focuses on Building Entrepreneurship and Digital Literacy Skills

Beginning in April, TPL is partnering with VentureKids Canada to host a program for teens focused on building entrepreneurial and digital literacy skills at Agincourt Branch. Over nine Saturdays, students learn concepts such as product building, financial literacy, web development and growth hacking. VentureKids is a not-for-profit organization that teaches youth from Toronto’s under-served and low-income communities how to code and launch their own startups. This pilot may pave the way for additional partner programs to be hosted at the Library.


Google IT Support Professional Certificate (GISC) in Libraries Program Update

GISC Canada is a 2-year program led by TPL with three participating libraries in Canada (Edmonton, Hamilton and Surrey). Over the next 2 years, five dedicated staff members will support 500 learners recruited from our communities and across Canada as they complete the Coursera-hosted Google IT Support Professional Certificate. The first cohort of 250 learners was selected and enrolled in the program in the first week of April 2019. Each week, members of the GISC Team host 13 in-person study groups (2-3 hours per session) and four one-hour online conference calls to support the learners. Each learner's progress is carefully monitored and extended support is offered to those with questions or falling behind.

One learner describes his thoughts after being selected to be part of this program: "I have never been so excited in my entire life as I am to complete this course... With this [certificate] I will have a foundation with which to stack all the building blocks I’ve learned [until] now and will learn throughout the class and afterwards. Words can’t express how grateful I am for this chance. It’s a life long dream of mine to work in IT and help people."


Creating Community Connections through Cultural Experiences 

Chance of a Lifetime for Book Club Members


Fourteen young women from the A Room of Your Own book club had the chance of a lifetime to meet Michelle Obama who was in Toronto on May 4 for her Becoming book tour. First Book Canada awarded the book club tickets to the Becoming book tour. Tanya Marie Lee, the book club organizer, tweeted @MichelleObama in April, asking if the youth could meet Michelle Obama in person. Later that month, Michelle Obama’s office got in touch with TPL and we were very excited to connect them with Tanya. Michelle Obama’s Instagram story (above) captures the heartwarming meeting.

A Room of Your Own meets at Lillian H. Smith Branch. There are 170 young women who attend the book club regularly, most from priority neighbourhoods in Toronto. Authors from all over North America attend the club and join in the discussions about books with strong female protagonists of different backgrounds.


Supporting UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages

The United Nations declared 2019 as International Year of Indigenous Languages to raise awareness and promote learning about Indigenous languages and their contribution to the richness of cultural diversity worldwide.

As a registered supporting partner, TPL actively supports the ongoing work of Indigenous language and literacy. In collaboration with the Canadian Federation of Library Associations, local Indigenous community groups and organizations, TPL:

  • Facilitates language instruction for all ages and for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike.
  • Features travelling language exhibits detailing the history of Inuktitut and Cree.
  • Continuously develops an Indigenous language collection.
  • Provides audio recordings for TPL’s land acknowledgement statements to support pronunciation of Indigenous names and words.


Language revitalization is a part of TPL’s Strategies for Indigenous Initiatives (PDF), which is the Library’s official response to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.


Celebrating New Canadians: Citizenship Ceremony at Toronto Reference Library, April 23

Vickery Bowles and New Canadians
City Librarian Vickery Bowles welcoming a new Canadian.

On April 23, 57 new Canadians from 23 countries took the oath as part of a community citizenship ceremony at Toronto Reference Library. This event was made possible thanks to the partnership with Institute of Canadian Citizenship (ICC) and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The event began with a special welcome from Elder Laureen "Blu" Waters Gaudio, greeting the audience and new Canadians as Treaty People. Roundtable discussions gave the new Canadians the opportunity to learn about active citizenship and the Canadian values of diversity,  mutual respect and freedom of self-expression. Read more about this wonderful ceremony.


2019 Design a Bookmark Contest Celebrates Art and Kids

The winners of TPL’s popular annual Design a Bookmark Contest were announced at an awards ceremony on April 17 at North York Central Library. The contest, which celebrates art and kids, saw over 5,000 entries this year by budding artists under the age of 13. A jury consisting of four TPL staff members and children’s illustrator Clayton Hamner selected 16 winners in various age categories. The bookmarks are available in all 100 TPL branches.

The special guests at the awards ceremony were library board member Fenton Jagdeo and children’s illustrator Clayton Hamner.

Design a Bookmark Awards

Winners of 2019 Toronto Star Short Story Contest Announced

Launched in 1978, the annual Toronto Star Short Story Contest is organized in partnership with TPL. This year, the celebration of the finalists and awards ceremony was held on April 16 at the Yorkville Branch. Congratulations to first-place winner John Hart of Toronto for his story "Walk With Me”. Second place went to Lena Scholman of Hamilton for her story “North of Us”, and the third-place winner was Nicholas Anthony James Pullen of Ottawa for his story “Famous Blue”. Learn more about the 2019 finalists and winners and read their stories in this Toronto Star article.


Annual Cameron Hollyer Memorial Lecture Held April 6, 2019

On April 6, the Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection hosted the annual Cameron Hollyer Memorial Lecture at the Toronto Reference Library. The Hollyer Lecture was established in 2002, and honours the first curator of TPL’s world-renowned Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. This year’s lecture – “In Sherlock’s Footsteps” – welcomed award-winning mystery writer Martin Edwards, President of the Detection Club and Chair of the Crime Writers' Association, who spoke about the connections between Sherlock Homes and the Detection Club. He highlighted how members past and present have honoured Sherlock Holmes in their work through the Sherlockian pastiche. Notable mentions included Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, A.A. Milne and Ronald Knox.


Transforming for 21st Century Service Excellence

City Librarian’s Innovation Challenge

On April 30,  the inaugural City Librarian’s Innovation Challenge was launched. This annual call-out invites all TPL staff, at all levels and locations, to submit creative ideas around a specific focus. This year, the focus is on improving customer experiences at the Library and is inspired by TPL’s new visual identity and brand promise, Activate Something Great. The innovation challenge is just one of several initiatives rolling out from the TPL Innovation Strategy (PDF), also launched to library staff on April 30. The strategy envisions a culture of experimentation with an open, collaborative and engaged workforce by providing staff with opportunities to participate in innovative work.