City Librarian's Report for December 2019

December 5, 2019 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the December 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

Toronto's Six Millionth Ebook of 2019


On Thursday, November 28, just before midnight, somebody borrowed Toronto Public Library's six millionth ebook of 2019. This is a new record for us; in 2018, Torontonians borrowed more ebooks than anyone else in the world, at just over five million. We've beat our own personal best! The six millionth ebook borrowed was Realms: The Roleplaying Game Art of Tony DiTerlizzi. Read more about this milestone.

Ask a Conservator Day

Instagram screenshot
Screenshot from our Ask a Conservator Instagram story.

On November 4, the Preservation and Digitization department coordinated a series of Instagram Stories in celebration of Ask a Conservator Day. Two of Preservation and Digitization’s Conservators fielded questions in a candid video format. Questions answered included:

  • What does a conservator do?
  • What got you into this career path?
  • What is the oldest object you've ever worked with?

The Instagram stories generated a lot of positive feedback from customers who were excited to learn more about conservation work.


Breaking Down Barriers to Access, Driving Inclusion

Young Women’s Empowerment Event at Malvern Branch

Young Womens Empowerment workshop participants
Young Women's Empowerment workshop participants.

The Young Women's Empowerment initiative began in 2018 in response to the rising rate of human sex trafficking among teenage girls in the Malvern community. It was created to provide vulnerable young women, who were identified as being at-risk or already involved in sex trafficking, with tools and strategies to empower themselves, realize their self worth and potential, and provide resources to help them get out of the sex trafficking business. A second set of workshops was held on November 12, 2019, organized by Malvern Branch’s Social Worker and Branch Head along with community agencies, local schools, and community police officers. Attendees were excused from school for the day to attend workshops designed with the goal of facilitating dialogue and building capacity so that they could develop necessary skills, a sense of community and the confidence to advocate for change. Support for the initiative is widespread among community partners and organizers plan to continue to offer these workshops on an annual basis.

Seniors Strategy 2.0 – Supporting Social Connectedness and Building Digital Literacy

Recently, TPL piloted a new series of classes for seniors with little or no computer experience to introduce them to essential digital literacy skills. The unique, series-based approach took the same group of seniors through six weeks of classes supported by dedicated practice sessions. As the groups met week after week, social bonds formed and were in evidence as learners helped each other navigate a new digital landscape, mastered new skills and made new friends. Using laptops or iPads, staff helped seniors learn how to use a mouse or touchscreen and keyboard, get the most from a Google search, navigate their neighbourhood using Google Maps, and gain their first exposure to email. The pilot is currently being evaluated, but early feedback supports a wider rollout in 2020. Many learners expressed interest in attending more classes like this while others, who could not get into the full sessions, asked when the next series will be offered. As we heard from one instructor: “Lots of people helped each other out; [there was] lots of conversation and jokes! One senior said she needed this and was so happy to make seven new friends!”


Expanding Access to Technology and Training 

High School Outreach

High school outreach librarian
Laura, a high school outreach librarian, works with a student during a Lest We Forget presentation.

The services of our High School Outreach librarians were recently highlighted in a blog post for Remembrance Day about the Lest We Forget project, a partnership with Library and Archives Canada that helps students use primary documents to research the First World War. Librarians visit high schools across the city year-round to share information about the library, make library cards and teach research skills, media literacy and how to use our digital resources.

Let’s Learn Tech Learning Circles Update

Let's Learn Tech participants
Let's Learn Tech learning circle participants.

Let’s Learn Tech Online continues to offer free and engaging technology courses for learners seeking to develop their digital and tech skills. Currently, over 1700 TPL customers have enrolled in Cisco Networking Academy courses. Linux Essentials and Python essentials were recently added to the Let’s Learn Tech online platform for advanced learners. Additionally, staff are offering an increased number of programs supporting learners who want to complete courses at the library. This year, a total of 24 Let’s Learn Tech learning circles were offered at library branches across the city. Courses included Linux Unhatched, Introduction to IoT, Introduction to Cybersecurity and Be Your Own Boss, a technology entrepreneurship course. Participants enjoyed learning with others, meeting new people and gaining new skills. Congratulations to all of the graduates!

Fort York Innovator in Residence Teaches Digital Illustration Skills

Marley Allen-Ash workshop
Marley Allen-Ash leading a digital illustration workshop at Fort York Branch.

Starting on October 1, Fort York Branch hosted a 10-week Innovator in Residence program focused on digital illustration. Toronto-based illustrator Marley Allen-Ash delivered a series of programs, classes and one-on-one consultations on topics that included Introduction to Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for Illustration, creating a simple illustrated and animated pattern, and using digital tools for zine making. Marley’s clients include The Globe and Mail and Reader’s Digest and her work has been recognized by American Illustration, 3x3 Magazine and Creative Quarterly. Marley’s classes were well-received and the community has expressed that they would like more of this programming after her residency, which concludes on December 9.

Toronto Pearson International Airport Enables Digital Innovation Hub Programs at Richview Branch

Mateo Palmisano
Mateo Palmisano.

Thanks to a donation from Branch Programming Sponsor, Toronto Pearson International Airport, Richview Branch offered a series of digital and technology programs at its Digital Innovation Hub this September through November. “Music Production with Mateo Palmisano” introduced aspiring musicians and producers to the fundamental skills required to succeed in the industry. Trinity Square Video taught workshops about media arts skills. Fabrice Strippoli Photography led hands-on workshops on topics that included getting to know your camera, composition and an introduction to light control. Michael Chambers delivered workshops on sound production. The Hand Eye Society delivered a full-day workshop about game development.


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

Algorithmic Literacy Programming

Recently, two pilots were held at the Richview Branch and North York Central Library Digital Innovation Hubs to launch our new Algorithmic Literacy programming stream. These pilots consisted of a series of multi-week workshops for Do-It-Yourself Artificial Intelligence. Participants received hands-on time with object recognition and voice recognition algorithms through project kits produced by Google's AIY team. Additionally, Gerrard/Ashdale and Maria A. Shchuka branches hosted discussions on algorithmic bias and how the Internet is not the same for all users. All events were well-attended by both staff and customers.


Creating Community Connections through Cultural Experiences 

Described Audio Guided Tour for You, Me, Us: Outstanding Books for and about Young People with Disabilities Exhibit

For the current TD Gallery exhibition, You, Me, Us: Outstanding Books for and about Young People with Disabilities, the Preservation and Digitization Department created its first-ever described audio guided tour for visitors. The gallery exhibition highlights “the best of the best” from the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Collection for Young People with Disabilities, housed at the North York Central Library. The IBBY librarians and the TD Gallery team collaborated to create the content. The described audio guided tour complements other accessibility features in the You, Me, Us exhibit, including tactile floor plans and braille captions. The audio tour is available via embedded audio tracks and is on the exhibit website.

Kairos Blanket Exercise for Youth Advisory Groups

YAG meeting October
Youth Advisory Group (YAG) volunteers.

This fall, 10 of our Youth Advisory Groups (YAGs) participated in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise (KBE), with 158 participants across the sessions. The KBE builds awareness and understanding of our shared history as Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada by having participants literally walk through situations that include pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance. It reaches both the mind and the heart and is contributing to a movement for reconciliation through education across the country. Many of the YAG volunteers talked about how emotionally engaged they were in their learning. As young ambassadors for the library, opportunities to develop skills and learn about their peers, communities and broader society are important for these volunteers both in the library and personally as they become civically-engaged young people.

Tutor Conference Marks its 10th Year

Jocye Grant at Tutor Conference
Keynote speaker Joyce Grant.

On November 16, TPL volunteers from Adult Literacy, Leading to Reading and Youth Hubs met at North York Central Library for the tenth annual Tutor Conference. Keynote speaker Joyce Grant spoke about fake news today and how to spot it, imparting excellent methods for our volunteers to pass on to their students and adult learners. A variety of workshops were offered in the afternoon, including: how to use reading aloud to reinforce early literacy concepts; adult literacy tutoring techniques; and key strategies for youth engagement. The tutor conference is one of the ongoing development opportunities that TPL provides for our volunteers. This, along with one-on-one support, helps volunteers develop their skills as mentors, reading partners and tutors in this diverse city.

Staff Recognition Event

Staff Recognition 2019
Staff celebrating 30 years with TPL.

On Thursday November 14, TPL celebrated the achievements of our long-serving staff. We recognized 154 staff from across our 100 branches and many departments who hit a milestone year of 25, 30, 35, 40 or even an astounding 45 years of service. Collectively, these staff represent over 4800 years of service at TPL. Sue Graham-Nutter, Toronto Public Library Board Chair, attended the event and brought greetings on behalf of the Board.

Inform, Engage, Collaborate Community Engagement Training

Participants at Inform Engage Collaborate
Participants at Inform, Engage, Collaborate.

On November 14, library staff and City of Toronto division staff participated in a full day of open conversation to further support local community collaboration. This event was part of our community engagement training planned in partnership with City of Toronto, Community Development Unit (Social Development, Finance and Administration). The training, in the format of a World Cafe, brought together community residents, city division reps and library staff to share their community engagement challenges and to celebrate their successes. Conversations and discussions also included ways to enhance partner collaboration. Resident Advisory Committee members and Local Champions guided participants and offered key insights. During the day, Randell Adjei – author, inspirational speaker, community leader and spoken word artist – enlightened the crowd with a spoken word performance and open mic where participants had the chance to pitch innovative program ideas. A graphics facilitator captured thoughts and ideas that came from the table discussions throughout the day.

Literacy in Shelters Conference

Speaker at Literacy in Shelters
Participants in the Tools for Emotional Intelligence workshop.

In November, Frontier College and TPL’s Services to Vulnerable Persons Work Group collaborated to present the Literacy in Shelters Conference. This free conference was for staff and volunteers of shelters and community agencies that work to support learning and change in the presence and aftermath of violence, neglect and other traumatic experiences. Dr. Jenny Horsman, a community-based researcher and educator, set the tone for the day by reviewing how violence and other traumatic events impact the ability to learn and change, and introduced supportive approaches. The afternoon workshops focused on tools and resources to support preschool up to high school students in literacy, learning and emotional intelligence. Sessions featured leaders from TPL, Frontier College and Generation Chosen.