City Librarian's Report for November 2020

November 6, 2020 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the November 2020 Toronto Public Library (TPL) Board meeting. It summarizes 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

Customers love our online book clubs

Staff hosts for TPL Reading Challenge online discussion
TPL staff members Jennifer, Amy and Christie at the October 21 TPL Reading Challenge online discussion.f

Last year we hosted over 200 book clubs across our 100 branches. Since we have moved to offering online programs this year, we have held 48 online book discussions with 819 participants! Customers love the wide variety of online book clubs, from fiction to mystery, to graphic novels, LGBTQ2S+ books and print to screen. We also have a book club in French and another in Mandarin. Book talks include our popular Talk about Books and TPL Reading Challenge discussions. 

The Jack Rabinovitch Room set to open at Toronto Reference Library

Jack Rabinovitch created the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 1994 to recognize excellence in Canadian fiction. Over the years, he assembled an important collection of Canadian literature. With Jack’s passing in 2017, his family donated this extensive collection to Toronto Public Library. Now this collection will be available to access in The Jack Rabinovitch Reading Room. The room will also be home to TPL’s Writer in Residence program, and be a spot where aspiring writers can work, collaborate and create. Located on the 4th floor of the Toronto Reference Library, the new 2500 square foot space was designed by Moriyama & Teshima Architects (MTA). It will open in January 2021 and be available for anyone to enjoy. 

This room was made possible thanks to the generosity of donors who helped the Toronto Public Library Foundation reach its $1 million fundraising goal.


Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Digital Inclusion Week 2020

Women in tech
Women in Tech panelists. Top: Audrey Nesbitt and Teresa, TPL staff host. Bottom: Vesta Korniakova, Tania De Gasperis.

From October 5 to October 9, TPL participated in Digital Inclusion Week. We showcased our digital and technology resources, staff expertise and collaborations with local experts. Our staff led and hosted 10 programs with 210 participants. This includes two successful lectures by local experts in the field of technology. One particular highlight was a Women in Tech panel discussion. The event featured Audrey Nesbitt, blockchain specialist, Vesta Korniakova, Synthetic Biologist, and Tania De Gasperis, Artificial Intelligence professional. At the event, they discussed unconscious biases, decentralizing technology and its impact, AI ethics, the Internet of things (IOT), and the Contact Tracing App for Covid-19. This program is part of our Youth-Focused Digital Literacy project. This project was proposed by TPL staff Teresa Leung and Aleksandra Majka as part of our 2019 City Librarian's Innovation Challenge.

TPL creates colouring book featuring local history

Vintage classroom colouring page
Vintage classroom colouring page.

Our Special Collections staff transformed 40 historical items into printable colouring pages. Each scene is paired with a fact related to Toronto or Ontario history. The colouring book is available for anyone to download — including educators and parents in need of activities for remote learning. The public domain items featured in the colouring book are part of the 170,000+ digitized photos, maps, books and more available on our Digital Archive Ontario website. So far, over 1,700 customers have checked out the colouring book.

New streaming theatre subscriptions

National Theatre's Production of Small Island
Leah Harvey and CJ Beckford in the National Theatre's production of Small Island

This spring, we acquired several new streaming theatre collections on a trial basis. We have recently subscribed to these services long-term. Now our customers can watch hundreds of plays online for free with their library card. The collections include plays from Broadway, the British National Theatre, L.A. Theatre Works and the Royal Shakespeare Company. Plays include Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch, A Streetcar Named Desire with Gillian Anderson, and Romeo and Juliet with Orlando Bloom. 

Spooky stories and historic photos

114 spooky stories

In the spirit of Halloween, the CN Tower and The Haunted Walk of Toronto partnered to share some of the city’s spookiest stories. These stories, available on our Local History & Genealogy blog, feature well-known Toronto landmarks. Customers can enjoy these stories, historic photos from Digital Archive Ontario and a list of recent recommended horror reads.

The stories are also available in French.


Building pathways for workforce development

Small Business Month 2020

In September, TPL hosted Kerin John, Black business activist and founder of @BlackOwned.TO. John led a talk about Black Owned Toronto: Supporting Community Beyond Business, kicking off our Small Business Month in October. Many of the programs are available to watch online, including How To Avoid Tokenism: Meaningful Marketing Through Diversity & Inclusion. During this time, we also recognized that digital marketing has been essential. Tech Expert and Author of See You on the Internet: Building Your Small Business with Digital Marketing, Avery Swartz shared tips and resources in the Digital Marketing on a Shoestring Budget virtual program. More than 100 customers participated in these three online programs.


Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Culture Days 2020

Culture Days is a cross-country celebration of arts and culture. This year, it ran from September 25 to October 25. TPL offered five online programs and workshops for our customers. Event replays, such as a family storytime with Sage Tyrtle, are available online on our TPL Programs CrowdCast channel. 167 customers attended these virtual events live. The celebration at TPL wrapped up with an Indigenous bead stringing workshop with Naomi Smith. Participants received bead kits in advance with traditional items to create a bracelet.

Programs and events were offered in partnership with Ontario Culture Days and the Neighbourhood Arts Network.

Ontario Public Library Week 2020

Ontario Public Library Week promotion image

Ontario Public Library Week was October 18-24, 2020. During this week, Ontarians are asked to consider the vital role libraries play in the community. Staff member M. Elwood put together a book list and blog post on the destruction of libraries and books in history. Topics covered include: the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, operations that took place during World War II to preserve documents and manuscripts, and librarians who sought to save books from being burned in Timbuktu by Ansar Dine rebels. During the week, more than 420 customers viewed the book list.

Library Settlement Partnerships (LSP) return to TPL

LSP staff member

From April to September, LSP shifted to provide online programs and much needed settlement services to more than 16,700 newcomers. LSP partners also recognize the importance of providing in-person settlement support. We are working closely with our partners and are taking a safe, phased approach to resuming services. As of mid-October, five branches have welcomed LSP back for one-on-one appointments with customers.

LSP is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.


Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

From Survive to Thrive: Leadership and resilience in our current reality

Recently, our Change Management Team hosted the first of three sessions to support TPL managers in building resilience as they lead during these challenging times. Managers were introduced to the Thrive Cycle of Resilience (Survive, Adapt, Recover, Thrive) and workshopped some tools that they can use to help support their own resilience, foster resilience in their teams and improve resilience in TPL. Upcoming sessions will provide opportunities for managers to dive deeper into these tools, and additional resilience training will also be offered to other staff, including branch and department heads, as well as service specialists.

Directors Visit TPL Branches

PapeDanforth Staff
Director of Branch Operations, Moe Hosseini-Ara, and Director of Transformational Projects, Alyssa Van Graft (first and second from top right respectively) visit staff at the Pape/Danforth Branch.

We heard at our recent Town Halls that branch staff were eager for Directors to visit branches and see first-hand what modified TPL operations look like during COVID-19, from the perspective our front-line workers and our customers. Directors toured branches, spoke with staff and customers, and in several locations, were also able to take the time to meet with staff in small groups to listen to staff concerns and answer their questions. Said one Director of her experience, "I find these visits so beneficial to my understanding of branch operations and staff issues and challenges. And it’s also just great to meet staff and put faces to names, especially during these isolating times. It’s inspiring to see the dedication of staff and the appreciation of our customers as we open up our spaces and services."

To date, 8 Directors and I have visited 30 of our branches, and 9 more visits will take place before the end of the year. Visits are scheduled to continue into 2021.



Edited November 6, 1:10pm. Corrected number of branches visited from 24 to 30.