City Librarian's Report for September 2019

September 13, 2019 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the September 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

Activate Your Commute Campaign with Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)

TTC reads streetcar advertisement

In a new campaign that launched on August 26, TPL and the TTC have partnered to provide free, fast, easy access to librarian-curated ebooks that commuters can read while they ride. TPL cardholders who download the free Libby app enjoy full access to digital content, including thousands of ebooks and eaudiobooks. We will also be hosting pop-up activations at TTC subway stations this fall to register and renew cards on the go. Visit or read the press release to learn more about this exciting partnership.

TPL Gratefully Receives Donation to Upgrade Preservation and Digitization Equipment

In July, the TPL Foundation secured a generous gift from donors Vera and John Chau, in support of the digitization of Special Collections. This gift was inspired by a Heritage Society tour of the Preservation and Digitization Department Vera and John attended in 2017. The very generous gift will allow Preservation and Digitization to upgrade some of our high-end digital scanning equipment and increase the amount of digital content made available online to the public via the Digital Archive.

Breaking Down Barriers to Access, Driving Inclusion

Walk-Up Weekdays Provided Free Access to Toronto History Museums

Museums Month banner image

TPL proudly partnered with the City of Toronto to celebrate Museum Month in May by creating a new initiative, Walk-Up Weekdays. Throughout the month, customers with a TPL card received free admission to the City-owned and operated Toronto History Museums Tuesdays through Thursdays. Due to this initiative’s success, with over 600 people taking advantage of the free admission, Walk-Up Weekdays was extended until August 29. This fantastic pilot project encouraged and enabled TPL customers to explore and discover how Torontonians lived in the past. In total, 966 TPL customers customers took part from the beginning of May to the end of August, increasing and opening up access to arts and culture. The most-visited Toronto History Museum was Fort York with 162 visits.

Engaging with Indigenous Communities in Toronto

On June 18, 13 representatives from key Indigenous nations, communities and organizations took part in a community consultation at Toronto Reference Library. The purpose of the event was to engage Indigenous communities in a meaningful, culturally-relevant dialogue about library service. From this event, we received feedback for improvements to existing TPL services and programs as well as new ideas. Participants commented on all aspects of library service: programs, outreach, collections, digital services, library spaces and recruitment. The results of this consultation will help to inform our strategic planning and work plan development. This event supports the recommendations from our Strategies for Indigenous Initiatives (PDF), and marks the start of ongoing communication and relationship building with Indigenous communities in Toronto. It was planned and delivered with support from Innovation Seven, a consulting firm specializing in Indigenous engagement.

Access Expo and JuneFest

TPL staff members at Access Expo
TPL booth at Access Expo. Left to right: Winona McMorrow (Senior Services Specialist, Accessibility Services), Leigh Turina (Children's Librarian, North York Central Library), Lindsay Tyler (Senior Manager, CELA) and Iana Georgieva-Kaluba (Branch Head, Oakwood Village Library and Arts Centre).

On June 6 and 7, TPL partnered with the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) to participate in Access Expo at Variety Village, along with many other organizations that provide accessible services for people of all ages and abilities and their families and caregivers. Staff connected with approximately 300 attendees and shared information about accessible library services, spaces and collections, including CELA collections for library members with print disabilities.

TPL and CELA partnered again on June 10 for JuneFest at Nathan Phillips Square, organized by the Canadian Helen Keller Centre as part of the annual Deafblind Awareness Month. Despite the rain, members of the deafblind community and supporters came together to make this another fun and successful event.

Expanding Access to Technology and Training 

Photovoice Project at Todmorden Room

Photovoice project
The final Photovoice project display at Todmorden Room.

This year the recipient of the Ann Keller Award, part of the Anne Keller Endowment Fund managed by the Toronto Public Library Foundation, was Todmorden Room. This Fund supports collections, programs, and services and staff development directed toward serving children ages 12 and under. Shinta Martina, staff member at Todmorden Room, applied for the award to support Photovoice, a program to empower the children to express their experiences and tell their stories in their own voices through photography.

Photovoice encourages children and stimulates their imaginations to help them to express their feelings about their local community, neighbourhoods, and environment. The participants, between 7 and 12 years old, each received a disposable camera to take pictures around their community. They then selected three to five pictures to describe in their own words and put on display. On Friday, September 6, the participants presented their projects in front of their families, to great acclaim.

Picademy at TPL

Participant at Picademy
Picademy participants.

North York Central Library’s Creation Loft team hosted the first Picademy event to be held in Canada during the week of August 12. Picademy is the Raspberry Pi Foundation's face-to-face professional development program supporting tech educators. Over 80 participants received hands-on instruction over the course of four days. Participants learned how the Raspberry Pi can be used to teach digital literacy and digital making skills. The free training drew participants from across Canada, the United States and as far away as Guatemala and Trinidad.

Raspberry Pi computers are currently available to try out in the Digital Innovation Hubs. Starting this fall, customers may borrow and take home a Raspberry Pi kit with their TPL card. The kit includes a screen, keyboard, mouse and projects to complete. These kits follow the successful introduction of Arduino Lending Kits in 2018.

Summer Coding Camps with Project Include

In July, children and teens at Albion and Cedarbrae Branches had a great time learning Java during week-long coding camps organized in partnership with Project Include. Project Include is a university student-driven organization with a mission to promote diversity in the tech industry and give everyone a fair chance to succeed in tech. The  program was popular, and participants related well to the Ryerson and U of T student facilitators who kept the workshops fun and dynamic with physical activities, visual tools and pop culture references. Participants were both challenged and engaged by the content and learned about how coding is used in a variety of fields.

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

Summer Wonder and the TD Summer Reading Club 2019

Wonder Wall at Brentwood Branch
This Wonder Wall at Brentwood Branch invites children, "Don't wonder in silence, post your questions here!" Library staff researched and posted answers to each question.

Summer Wonder is a suite of programs and services for children ages 6 – 12 and their parents/caregivers. The aim is to promote wonder, creativity, discovery and encourage a passion for the lifelong pursuit of knowledge. Wonder Walls and Creativity Challenges, available in 98 branches across Toronto, inspired further discovery and learning activities for children and caregivers to try together.

Throughout July and August 2019, we offered 155 featured workshops, events and summer camps across the system. Creative arts, writing, robotics and coding were just a few of the topics covered along with author visits and MAP Family Programs with our MAP partners. Of these 155 events, 33 of them were in French.

The TD Summer Reading Club continues to be a cornerstone of Summer Wonder and on Saturday June 22, 2019 TPL participated in our annual Get Your Summer Read On Day. During this one-day registration drive 2,546 children registered for the Club.

Additionally, throughout the summer months TPL supports TDSB Summer Model Schools by conducting visits to participating locations. In 2019, 16 of the 24 Summer Model School locations were visited by TPL staff with 2,857 student participants.

Michelle Mulder_TD SRC Author Visit at AG
Author Michelle Mulder and participants at her visit to Agincourt Branch.

Food Writer in Residence Program a Success

Claire Tansey and Chris Nuttall-Smith
Food Writer in Residence Claire Tansey and Top Chef Canada judge Chris Nuttall-Smith.

Throughout May and June, North York Central Library hosted our first Food Writer in Residence, Claire Tansey, author of the best-selling cookbook, Uncomplicated: Taking the Stress Out of Home Cooking. Claire delivered workshops on the art and skill of food writing and photography. Additionally, aspiring writers could submit their manuscripts for review and feedback meet one-on-one with Claire to discuss how to develop their writing for publishing. Many of the writers were particularly interested in adapting their ancestors’ recipes for a modern kitchen. A special highlight of Claire's residency was a visit from Top Chef Canada judge Chris Nuttall-Smith, who shared his experiences as a professional food critic.


Creating Community Connections through Cultural Experiences 

Fall 2019 Season of Appel Salon Launches

Appel Salon Fall 2019 banner

The Fall 2019 lineup for the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at Toronto Reference Library has been announced and the season kicked off on September 9 with Emma Donoghue, the bestselling author of Room. Upcoming highlights include: Irish author Kevin Barry discussing his Booker Prize longlisted novel Night Boat to Tangier; Sheila Heti's interview with Benjamin Moser about his biography on the late Susan Sontag; and Toronto’s Zalika Reid-Benta in conversation with Glory Edim, Jamia Wilson and Renee Watson to discuss their contributions to Well-Read Black Girl, a compilation of original essays from Black women writers about the importance of seeing themselves represented in literature. The entire Fall schedule is available at

Sam Ash Painting Now on Display, Second Floor of Toronto Reference Library

Untitled painting by Sam Ash

In 2018, renowned Indigenous artist Sam Ash donated a large, untitled painting to Toronto Public Library, to be permanently displayed for the public to enjoy. Other works by Sam Ash hang in the Canadian Museum of Civilization as well as the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City, Michigan, which has one of the largest collections of Indigenous art in the United States. The painting is on a wood panel and was created by the artist in 1990, and required conservation work prior to installation. Our Preservation and Digitization Department assessed the painting and had it fully restored. It was put on display at the end of August on the second floor of Toronto Reference Library, adjacent to the Idea Garden.

Plum Blossom from the Bitter Cold Exhibit Now Open

TD Gallery Plum Blossoms exhibit

Our newest TD Gallery exhibit, Plum Blossom from the Bitter Cold: Selections from the Chinese Canadian Archive, opened on August 17 and runs until October 27. The exhibit showcases an ambitious work in progress: our award-winning Chinese Canadian Archive (CCA), part of our Special Collections at Toronto Reference Library. The CCA provides a home for materials that capture the fascinating history of Chinese Canadians in the Greater Toronto Area. Through photos, correspondence, diaries, memorabilia and other donated records, the CCA documents Chinese Canadians’ daily life, community spirit and contributions to our city and to Canada. The archive begins a valuable conversation and acts as an important community building exercise by covering an under-researched area in Canadian history.

Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine Hennadiy Zubko Visits North York Central Library

On Thursday July 4, the Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine Hennadiy Zubko paid a visit to North York Central Library and met with Moe Hosseini-Ara, Director of Branch Operations and Customer Experience, and other senior management staff to discuss the role of libraries and best practices, with an eye to improving libraries and community centres in Ukraine. In a Facebook post following the meeting, Hennadiy Zubko wrote of Toronto Public Library, "I have a rule – I visit famous libraries during my trips. I would like to again share my positive impressions – this time about Toronto Public Library... 18 million physical visits per year; 30 million book transactions annually. Keep in mind: every fifth person in Toronto visits the library once a week. Despite digitization, the number of visits is increasing each year...I was impressed by the management team and approaches. [There is a] powerful training program for personnel, [and] a system of change management in place." Read the full post (in Ukranian) and see the photos Zubko took during his visit.

Summer Indigenous Events

At the annual Indigenous Arts Festival held at Fort York, June 22, TPL staff spoke with over 300 attendees, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, about our services, programs and collections. A main draw of the table was a selection of Indigenous authored books available for borrowing. People appreciated the convenience of borrowing a book right from a community event and were pleased to find a range of material for various ages and interests. On June 26, staff also attended the annual Indigenous History Month Celebration at Yonge-Dundas Square and offered a similar selection of Indigenous authored material that was equally well-received.

Indigenous Services also initiated a partnership with Ojibiikaan Indigenous Cultural Network in June. Ojibiikaan offers land based teaching for Indigenous families every Sunday at Evergreen Brick Works. TPL staff now visit once a month to provide a selection of books by Indigenous authors for borrowing. Emphasis has been on providing dual language or exclusively Indigenous language material.

Nai Children's Choir Performs at Toronto Reference Library

NAI Children's Choir
Nai Children’s Choir performing at Toronto Reference Library.

Over 20 newcomer children sang about their hopes and dreams of peace at Toronto Reference Library on the evening of June 14. More than 150 proud parents, friends and more came out for Celebration of Home: A Concert with Nai Children’s Choir. This was one of the first free public performances by the choir and they also performed a few pieces with special guests, the Canadian Arabic Youth Ensemble. TPL has been providing relevant support for the children and their families.


Transforming for 21st Century Service Excellence

TPL Venues at Canadian Meetings and Events Expo

TPL staff at the Canadian Meetings and Events Expo
TPL staff at the exhibition booth wearing #libraryinspiredevents t-shirts.

On August 13 and 14, TPL had an exhibit booth at the Canadian Meetings and Events Expo to feature our unique meeting and conference spaces. At the booth, expo attendees were treated to delicious treats from the library’s caterers and received a complimentary book and bookmark. TPL staff, wearing branded t-shirts, engaged with over 200 attendees at this two-day event, raising awareness of our fantastic spaces and venues. Attendee interest in hosting their future events at a TPL venue was very high.

#libraryinspiredwedding Giveaway contest

Toronto Reference Library first floor

In July, we were pleased to launch a #libraryinspiredwedding giveaway contest on Instagram, @tplvenues. The contest featured TPL’s unique library wedding venues and a $5,000 discount for three lucky couples to host their 2020 wedding on the first floor of Toronto Reference Library. The goal of this contest was to raise awareness of our Venue Rentals service and promote our library branches as unique wedding venues. We received over 20 qualified contestants and the winners were contacted at the end of August. Many of our followers responded with positive and exciting comments on the Instagram post, such as this “The library would be the best location to have our families come to the city and celebrate our special day.”


Edited on September 18 at 11:48am. A correction has been made to the section on the donation from Vera and John Chau.

Edited on September 20 at 2:12pm to clarify the number of French language summer programs.