City Librarian's Report for February 2020

February 14, 2020 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the February 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.  


Breaking Down Barriers to Access, Driving Inclusion

Consultation to Support Accessibility for Children and Families

Community service providers and TPL staff brainstorm accessibility ideas
Community service providers and TPL staff brainstorm accessibility ideas.

On January 15, TPL held a consultation session with community service providers on supporting accessibility for children and families at the library. Participants discussed challenges and opportunities, and explored different ways to make both our virtual and physical spaces more welcoming and inclusive. One of the areas participants provided feedback on was the Library Social Story, part of the City Librarian’s Innovation Challenge. A social story is an experiential and educational tool that teaches children what to expect in new situations. TPL staff are compiling the consultation results and are excited for the next phase of consultations, which will be with children and families.


Holland Bloorview Recreation, Respite, and Life Skills Fair 2020

Families enjoy a storytime with TPL staff at Holland Bloorview
Families enjoy a storytime with TPL staff at Holland Bloorview

TPL was delighted to participate at Holland Bloorview’s 6th annual Recreation, Respite, and Life Skills Fair for children, youth, and young adults with disabilities and their families. Families who stopped by our table expressed that they loved the library and use it a lot, including our fun and accessible OverDrive Kids collections which includes ebook Read Alongs and Stories in Sign Language videos. A few days after the fair, a mom and her two boys, one who is autistic, dropped by North York Central Library. The mom asked the librarian if she had been at the fair. When the librarian said yes, that was her, the mom said, “you’re the reason we are here!” The family loved exploring the KidsStop as well as the books, and found lots to borrow at the right reading levels for everyone.


Expanding Access to Technology and Training 

Library Stories Come to Life at Podcast Jam with Ryerson Transmedia Zone

Podcast Jam panel
Panelists at the Podcast Jam.

On January 21 at Toronto Reference Library, TPL presented a unique opportunity to members of the public, in partnership with Ryerson Transmedia Zone: a podcast jam. At the Jam, participants learned how to make 5-minute podcasts featuring library stories using TPL’s audio recording kits, which will be available for loan from TPL’s Digital Innovation Hubs starting this spring. Teams premiered their works at a listening party the following week at Ryerson’s Creative Innovation Studio. Stories varied from semi-autobiographical narratives about how the library brings families together, to humorous documentaries about the importance of library collections in the formative years of childhood. Attendees were delighted by the creativity and engaging sound engineering displayed in each podcast. They also heard thoughtful feedback from a panel of podcasters, including hosts of our Shelve Under: Podcast, now in its second season.


Idea Jam to Co-Create a TPL Voice Assistant Application

Idea Jam participants
Idea Jam participants.

On January 18 at North York Central Library, members of the public and the voice technology community participated in an Idea Jam hosted by TPL and facilitated by Voice Tech TO. At the Jam, participants crowdsourced ideas for a TPL voice assistant application prototype being developed by Voice Tech TO members for use by Google voice-enabled devices. Using a product design thinking approach, participants generated ideas on how a library voice assistant could work including incorporating multilingual voice commands, recommendations, linking together similar items and events, and a random book recommendation feature. Voice Tech TO is using the ideas generated from this event to support them in the ongoing development of their community project.


Computers for Beginners: New Support for Absolute Beginners

Computer Class at TPL
One of our Learning Centres.

In late 2019, our computer training staff piloted five new classes aimed at learners who are brand-new to using a computer, in three of our branches. These newly-designed classes incorporate more active learning exercises, more time for learners to practice, and activities drawn from new research on how memory works, along with best practices in education. Based on feedback from 207 learners, staff revised and tweaked the class content. Feedback indicated that more than 50 percent of our learners were under 65 years old and 19 percent were motivated to take the classes by workplace or job-hunting needs. Our Computers for Beginners is a five-part series that is now ready to roll out, with training for our staff to support them in our new approach to computer skills learning. Participants will begin by learning to use a mouse and keyboard, how to get the most from Google Search and Maps, and exploring the Windows operating system.


Alderwood Branch Pilots Digital Literacy Programming for Older Adults

Participants at Alderwood Branch
Digital literacy program participants.

In September 2019, through funding from Branch Programming Sponsor the Greater Toronto Airport Authority, Alderwood Branch began to offer digital literacy programs to its community. Funding supported the purchase of a set of laptops and software to enable hands-on digital literacy classes and to enhance outreach, partnership and staff training opportunities. To date, Alderwood staff have facilitated weekly Computer Basics and Digital Life Skills classes for older adults and have launched an Alderwood Branch Genealogy Club. The feedback has been positive from staff and the community. The programming is part of a one-year pilot and will be evaluated at the end of 2020.


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

Google IT Support Professional Certificate Graduation Ceremony

GISC Learners
GISC learners at their graduation ceremony.

The first cohort of the Google IT Support Professional Certificate (GISC) program just completed their 8-month program with a 73 percent completion rate across Canada. In Toronto, 44 out of 50 (88 percent) learners completed their certificate. The GISC program is designed to help learners gain the fundamental skills to become an entry level support IT professional. GISC facilitators helped contribute to the success of the program by hosting weekly learning circles and wrap-around supports such as tech company office tours. On January 22, 2020, Hamilton and Toronto learners were invited to attend a Google Canada Office Tour followed by a graduation ceremony at our City Hall Branch. With over 80 people in attendance, certificates were awarded to 38 Toronto and Hamilton learners. There were several incredible speakers including: Sabrina Geremia (Google VP & Canada Country Manager) and speakers from TPL, the TPL Foundation and Toronto Employment and Social Services. The second GISC program will begin in March 2020.


Kids and Families Celebrate Family Literacy Month 2020

Gordon Korman at Toronto Reference Library
Gordon Korman at Toronto Reference Library.

This January we offered special programs and activities for kids and families to enjoy together as an expansion of ABC Life Literacy Canada's national Family Literacy Day initiative. We held 45 events across our branches – such as comic workshops, puppet shows and STEM activities – that emphasized the importance of reading and engaging in literacy-related activities year-round. Some highlights include a clay workshop by Family Literacy Day Honourary Chair and author Barbara Reid at Armour Heights and Runnymede Branches and a talk with author Gordon Korman at Toronto Reference Library about writing for children. This year, our Family Literacy Month booklet offered recommended reads, reading tips and a new Mini Reading Challenge (PDF). Thanks to the Friends of Toronto Public Library, South Chapter, for their generous support.


Creating Community Connections through Cultural Experiences 

TPL Reading Challenge 2019

Reading Challenge display
Part of the Reading Challenge 2019 display at Runnymede Branch.

On January 13, 2020, we wrapped up our first official Reading Challenge with a prize draw for participants who had completed the Challenge and Advanced Challenge. Five lucky winners were drawn and received a prize pack of books and TPL merchandise. Launched on January 2, 2019, our Reading Challenge aimed to get readers out of their comfort zones to read or listen widely and diversely, discovering new genres and authors. Throughout 2019, there were over 40,000 visits to our Reading Challenge webpage and over 35,000 visits to the 14 related reading lists that were released throughout the year. We recently shared the most popular books read or listened to for last year's Challenge. Many of our branches put up Reading Challenge book displays, and our Facebook Discussion Group had over 650 participants by the year's end. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and for the TPL Reading Challenge 2020 we have added in-person meetups for Challenge participants due to popular demand as well as new Challenge categories.


New Years at Noon

New years at noon dance party at Jones branch
Children and families dancing at the New Years at Noon event at Jones Branch.

The fun began shortly after 11 am on December 31, with families welcomed to over 10 of our branches by friendly staff, New Year's decorations, noisemakers and shakers. Staff explained to children what New Year’s Eve was all about: waving goodbye to the year 2019, and saying hello to 2020 and a new decade. At noon, families celebrated with a countdown followed by making a lot of noise! Throughout the events, participants enjoyed classic stories, rhymes and activities.

Transforming for 21st Century Service Excellence

TPL Raises $109,683 for the United Way

In support of the City of Toronto's Annual United Way Campaign, TPL raised $109,683! The campaign ran from September 17, 2019 to December 20, 2019. This year was an exceptional one for staff engagement and fundraising. TPL employees raised funds through special events including raffles, bingo games and bake sales across all 100 branches. TPL has been participating in the City of Toronto's United Way Campaign for many years. Both TPL and the United Way share a vision of a Toronto with strong communities. This campaign is just one of many ways library staff make a difference in the neighbourhoods we serve. Thank you to everyone who supported another successful campaign!