City Librarian's Report for October 2020

October 8, 2020 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the October 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.

Opening up our public space

Reopening Our Branches

To date, we have reopened 78 of our 100 branches. Throughout this challenging time, the library is providing vital services to our residents. This includes access to much-needed spaces for vulnerable populations, and technology for those who need education and employment support. Before opening any of our locations, careful consideration has been given to the health and safety of our staff and customers. Our computers and spaces are evaluated to determine capacity and use while respecting physical distancing. I am happy to announce that we will be opening five more branches by the end of October, to ensure we are serving as many residents across the city as equitably as possible. These branches are Albert Campbell Pop-Up, Armour Heights, Bridlewood, Eglinton Square and Gerrard/Ashdale.

TPL supports local Pow Wow

Pow Wow blog book covers

During COVID-19, many Indigenous community events were postponed or cancelled. However, Ryerson University Pow Wow persevered with a virtual Indigenous Education Week from September 21 – 25. This included a livestreamed Pow Wow. TPL proudly supported the Ryerson University Pow Wow Committee by loaning out our Wi-Fi Hotspots. This collaboration allowed community members who had minimal or no internet access to participate in online programs and the Pow Wow live stream. TPL also helped to promote and raise awareness of the events through our blog post and encouraging readers to visit the Ryerson University Pow Wow page. All resources shared in the blog post were by Indigenous content creators. Events from Indigenous Education Week and the Pow Wow are available to view on YouTube.

Highlights from our French programs online

Currently, we continue to offer a variety of French language programs online. Recent highlights for French programs include a workshop with author Soufiane Chakkouche and the fourth session of our online French book club. Both events were covered by local francophone newspapers. We also hosted our first Crowdcast live French event: a program on Monet and Impressionism, in collaboration with Alliance Française. Ophélie Delacour presented live from France and the event replay is available online. This was the most successful French online program so far, with 99 live attendees and 47 replay viewings to date. Participants attended live from across the globe, including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, India, Israel, Mexico and Russia.


Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

TPL contributes to pilot and report on digital literacy access for youth

Youth working together
Youth participants in the Digitally Lit + Coding pilot hosted at North York Central Library

In late September, the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship released their report, Plugging In: Empowering communities to ensure digital literacy access for youth, which provides recommendations for how organizations can ensure that Canadian youth have access to digital literacy and coding education. The recommendations emerged from the two-year Digital Literacy + Coding Pilot, which ran at five partner sites across Ontario, including TPL. Participants included youth who are underserved by, disengaged from, and/or experienced barriers to accessing formal digital literacy education. TPL's pilot consisted of eight cohorts and attracted 741 participants. TPL's pilot is being extended through the "Youth-Focused Digital Literacy" project, one of the 2019 City Librarian's Innovation Challenge winners submitted by staff members Teresa Leung and Aleksandra Majka. Online programs for youth are planned this fall on topics that include AI, digital privacy and digital citizenship.

The Sorbara Family makes $100,000 gift to Toronto Public Library

Toddler in front of a book shelf
In October Toronto Public Library Foundation is doubling donations to shine a spotlight on the growing digital divide in our city.

On October 1, 2020, the Toronto Public Library Foundation (TPLF) announced a generous donation from the Sorbara Family (PDF) in support of North York Central Library, with partial funds up to $50,000 used to match donations made to TPLF’s Fall Community Campaign.

October is Canadian Library Month, and all month long the Foundation is shining a spotlight on the growing digital divide in Toronto. In a digital world, where so many daily tasks happen online, access to a computer and the Internet is simply essential ̶ and TPL is making a difference. Donations made throughout October will be doubled thanks to the matching gift, and immediately directed to help with the Library’s highest priority needs, such as free access to computers, Wi-Fi, online literacy and learning programs, and more.

To donate, visit the Toronto Public Library Foundation website or call the TPL Foundation office at 416-393-7123. You can also follow TPLF on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and share your stories with the hashtag #ImLibraryPeople.


Building pathways for workforce development

Google IT Support Professional Certificate year 2 update

The second cohort of the Google IT Support Professional Certificate (GISC) program started in March this year. A few weeks in, in-person learning circles had to move online. During this transition, the GISC Canada team did a great job supporting the learners. Free laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots were provided to learners who needed them. In Toronto, 12 learners received laptops and 5 received hotspots. GISC facilitators also provided support for resume building, effective letter writing, job search and networking workshops and much more. Currently, 23 of 50 (46%) of the Toronto learners have completed the certificate program. An additional 18% will have completed it by mid-November. The nation-wide goal was a completion rate of 45% by the end of 2020, which has already been surpassed!

This program is made possible thanks to a generous donation from Google Canada.


Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Orange Shirt Day 2020

Orange Shirt Day book covers

Orange Shirt Day is September 30 annually. In acknowledgement of this day, TPL staff member Jamie published a blog post to raise awareness of various experiences that occurred at Indian Residential Schools. The majority of resources shared in the blog post were written by Indigenous authors, with the major exception being contributions by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The blog post was shared on Toronto Public Library’s Facebook and Twitter, as well as on Yammer. It was also shared via email to all TPL staff on September 29, 2020, as a way "to learn more about Indian Residential Schools and Orange Shirt Day… and learn stories of survival, of finding joy in the darkest of times, and resilience."


Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Complimentary PRESTO card initiative

TPL and The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) are working together to provide complimentary PRESTO cards to customers who do not have one, or who may face challenges in purchasing one. As of October 5, 2020, PRESTO cards will be available at select Toronto Public Library branches, while quantities last. Each card comes with a brochure outlining how to load the card and how to use it when travelling on the TTC. TPL and TTC are working with the City of Toronto's Poverty Reduction Strategy Office and Community Coordination Program to share information about the initiative with agencies and community partners to improve access to transit among low income residents.


Answering staff questions at our second virtual town hall

Screenshot of the virtual town hall
TPL’s Human Resources Director Brian Daly answers questions at TPL’s first virtual town hall in August

On September 30, TPL hosted our second virtual town hall to address staff questions and concerns about the ongoing reinstatement of our services. Staff were encouraged to submit questions in advance of the hour-and-a-half session – sharing more than 60 questions – and asked another 50 during the live event, which was attended by 350 staff and included live captioning. For those who were unable to join the session, a video replay, a transcript, and a Q&A were posted on our intranet site.

These town halls are the first of many new initiatives the library is introducing to share information and gather staff feedback, so that we can build on our learnings and manage the tremendous amount of change we are dealing with every day.