City Librarian's Report for January 2020

January 16, 2020 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the January 2020 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 Readers Break World Ebook Record... Again

Child reading on a tablet

OverDrive, Toronto Public Library's main ebook vendor, announced recently that ebook circulation reached "record highs" in 2019. According to a blog post from OverDrive, a record 73 public libraries in 5 countries circulated more than one million ebooks each last year. And, once again, Toronto Public Library led the pack. We passed 6 million ebooks borrowed in late November and, ultimately, Toronto readers borrowed 6.6 million ebooks in 2019,  an all-time high for any library. We were the only city in the 6 million-plus bracket; the library that came closest to our record was Los Angeles Public Library, which circulated 5.9 million ebooks in 2019.

Black Friday 2019 Promotion

Black Friday Special* 100% off all books. Print! Digital! Audio! *And every day at TPL

On November 29, 2019 – also known as Black Friday – we ran a fun social media campaign highlighting that books from TPL are 100 per cent off every day. We also promoted our monthly themed reading lists, genre reading lists and other collection highlights. We shared this content on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram channels and received many views and a great deal of positive feedback. 

New Online Form for Interlibrary Loan

Our interlibrary loan service allows TPL customers to request materials from other library systems. Customers can now request these materials more easily by going to our Interlibrary Loan page and using our new online form. Customers who choose to submit their requests online will need to log in with their library card and pin and enter information about the item they are requesting. After submitting the form, they will automatically get confirmation of receipt and our staff will begin to process the request. Since launching this form in September 2019, we have received over 350 online requests and anticipate that this number will grow as more customers become aware of this convenient, self-serve option.


Breaking Down Barriers to Access, Driving Inclusion

Library Card Drive at George Brown College

George Brown College students
George Brown College students lining up to visit the TPL information table.

As part of the active partnership between TPL and George Brown College (GBC), TPL hosted an information table and a library card drive in front of GBC’s International Centre at the St. James Campus on January 14. While the card drive was being set up, students were eagerly asking questions about library resources and services in addition to lining up to register for a library card. Staff also engaged with many students, some of who had arrived in Canada as little as two weeks prior. The card drive was so popular that students from the nearby Casa Loma campus were calling to inquire about it. We registered more than 125 new library cards and spoke to over 140 students about what TPL has to offer:  useful e-resources, MAP passes, relevant newcomer services, early literacy services for children and more. A student was excited to learn that TPL offers an e-learning sign language course through Gale Courses. Another student shared feedback with staff about the Sun Life Musical Instrument Lending Library: “Amazed that I could borrow a keyboard from the library.”

MYTORONTO Photo Contest and Exhibit 2019

MyToronto 2019 Exhibit

On November 25, 2019, Toronto Reference Library launched the MYTORONTO photography program exhibit, which provides people affected by homelessness and poverty an opportunity to engage in artistic expression. The exhibit features the top 13 photographs, selected from over 2300 entries, and provides an opportunity to raise awareness and advocacy about issues of homelessness in Toronto. We celebrated the launch with an event featuring the MYTORONTO People’s Choice Award winner Barbara Berryman, who shared her personal story of strength and resilience in the face of adversity.


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

Star Metro Wrap

Star Metro Wrap Front Page
Front page.

To celebrate the joy of giving and promote all the great things kids can do with a library card, we took over the front and back pages of Star Metro (the newspaper distributed on the subway) on Tuesday, December 17 with a special kids' library card wrap. The wrap highlighted just a few of the awesome programs and services available for children at TPL, including Leading to Reading, Brainfuse and Dial-a-Story​.

Star Metro Back Page
Back page.

Expert Panel Discuss AI Technology and Justice

AI panel
Panelists at the December 10 event.

On December 10, 2019, an expert panel came together at the Toronto Reference Library's Hinton Theatre to discuss the question, "How can we get Artificial Intelligence (AI) to work for everyone?" With AI algorithms shaping online activities, Torontonians  had many questions and contributions to make the event a robust civic debate. Panelists included technologist Xavier Snelgrove of Probability Studio, tech entrepreneur and techgirlsCanada founder Saadia Muzaffar and Brent Barron from the new Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society at the University of Toronto. They engaged in a lively discussion with an audience of over 50 library users.

This event announced the launch of TPL Algorithmic Literacy programming series, which will include Do-It-Yourself AI workshops, branch-level classes in algorithmic bias and educational opportunities for facilitated online learning at select branches.

First and Best List 2019

2019 First and Best books

On December 7, we announced our top picks from 2019 of the best Canadian children’s books for developing reading readiness in kids under the age of five. Our staff pick books that are both fun and supportive, and celebrate Canada’s talented children’s authors and illustrators. The books on the list are chosen to provide parents and caregivers with their next reading suggestion at the library. Visit the First and Best webpage for the full 2019 list as well as our lists from previous years.

TPL’s Second Year of Environmentalist in Residence Programs a success

Broti with a group of children
Broti Kar at S. Walter Stewart Branch.

Our popular Environmentalist in Residence program celebrated a second successful year in 2019. In the spring, we hosted Broti Kar at S. Walter Stewart Branch and in the fall, Sophi Robertson at Richview Branch. Collectively, our Environmentalists in Residence offered more than 20 free programs and workshops and provided consultations and outreach services as part of the Our Fragile Planet program series. Over 860 participants engaged with Broti and Sophi throughout the year. The Environmentalist in Residence program is supported by the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation.

TPL and Brookfield Institute’s Two-Year Digital Literacy Program Collaboration Reaches Over 800 Youth

Digitally Lit participants
Youth participants at a Digitally Lit workshop.

In Fall 2019, TPL concluded its two-year collaboration with the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship to host their Digitally Lit pilot program, which aimed to enable youth to develop coding and digital literacy skills. We held a total of eight sessions, four each at Centennial Branch in 2018 and North York Central Library in 2019. Together, these sessions reached over 800 learners. Youth developed skills around HTML and CSS, media literacy (e.g. how to spot fake news), digital citizenship, and learned about how digital literacy will impact their future. One participant noted that “I learned a lot about coding and gained experience into a subject that I have never found interest in until attending these classes… I believe that by coming to these classes I will find this useful in my high school career!” Although the pilot has wrapped up, we will adapt materials from the pilot into a set of youth-focused digital literacy programs at the library.


Creating Community Connections through Cultural Experiences 

Most Popular Books of 2019

Top 10 books

On December 9, 2019, we announced the most popular adult books of the year. To determine which books were most popular, we calculated the number of times a book was borrowed and added the number of people waiting for holds as of November 28, 2019. The resulting score tells us which books were most borrowed, and also most wanted. Find out more about the key trends and popular books in other categories.

Celebrating Stories 2019

Celebrating Stories took place in November at the North York Central Library. This professional development event featured keynote speaker author Andrew Larsen, who spoke to staff about the life-changing impact that librarians have had, not only on his life but also throughout the history of libraries. This event also featured workshops with Ojibway storyteller Aaron Bell, Dawn McFarlane from Storytelling Toronto and Rachel Breau from the Centre for Equitable Library Access.


Transforming for 21st Century Service Excellence

Helping Kids Thrive Online Workshops

Throughout November 2019, as part of the Raising Confident Kids series of workshops for parents, five of our branches hosted a Helping Kids Thrive Online workshop. These workshops are designed to support caregivers as they navigate issues surrounding their child’s social media usage, online safety and privacy. In early December, staff also had the opportunity to attend training on the Helping Kids Thrive Online workshop to build staff capacity to deliver more of these workshops throughout 2020.