City Librarian's Report for February 2021

February 12, 2021 | Vickery Bowles

Comments (0)

Below is my report for the February 2021 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

TPL Reading Challenge 2020: Another Successful Year

TPL Reading Challenge 2020 Banner

Our second year offering a city-wide reading challenge has been a huge success. The Challenge began in 2019 as a social media campaign. In 2020, it was broadened to include more in-branch support and programming. Although we were only able to hold five in-person programs, the Reading Challenge Team quickly shifted to offering book discussions online in April 2020. Throughout the year staff hosted and ran 14 programs with more than 300 participants. There were over 25,000 visits to the Reading Challenge website. In addition the TPL Reading Challenge Facebook group grew from 650 members in December 2019 to over 1650 members by the end of 2020! 331 Challenge participants completed our year-end survey and provided some wonderful feedback:

  • 95% were satisfied or very satisfied with the Challenge
  • 85% discovered new books, authors or genres through participating in the Challenge
  • 48% used TPL resources, collections and services more often

Recently the team shared the top 10 most-read books of the 2020 Challenge and additional highlights. The 2021 Challenge has already begun and, in the first two weeks, over 200 more participants joined the Facebook Discussion Group.

Launch of Child-Friendly Land Acknowledgement Statement

January 11, 2021 marked the launch of a child-friendly land acknowledgement statement at TPL. The statement was developed in collaboration with TPL’s Indigenous Advisory Council and can be used for online and, when it resumes, in-person children’s programming that is led or hosted by TPL staff.

The statement is as follows:

Haudenosaunee (ho-den-o-show-nee), Mississauga and Anishinaabe (a-nish-nah-beh) Nations,

Came together with all their relations. Living together, they had a united wish,

To share the land and waters in peace,

like One Spoon with a Dish.

Now many Indigenous families, Métis and Inuit too,

Live here in treaty agreement, with me and you;

In the spirit of Peace, Friendship and mutual Respect,

We protect each other and the land, which we should never forget.

The statement can be made by staff who have attended the mandatory OFIFC Cycle 1 Indigenous Cultural Competency Training. Staff who have not yet attended the mandatory training may ask another staff person who has to act as host and make the statement on their behalf. These measures are in place to ensure that the statement is made respectfully and with a basic level of understanding and awareness of the Indigenous nations being named.


Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

2020 IntelliSearch Service

Intellisearch team
Intellisearch staff Anna Skrynnyk and Joanne Wadden.

The IntelliSearch service is a fee-based custom research and document delivery service. In 2020, despite being closed between March and August, the service handled over 400 inquiries from the public, an increase of 90% from the previous year. The Intellisearch team provided access to information using the library’s resources as well as those available online.

The requests came from across Canada and around the world, including Australia, Costa Rica, France, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States. Total revenue for 2020 was $17,943, up by 35% from 2019 and up by 235% from 2018. Requests covered topics such as statistics on sexual crime against transgender people in Canada, Canadian shuffleboard championships, history of St. George's Golf Club, and even a copy of a recipe for ginger jellies from the 1958 Canadian Home Journal.

The Library's resources, particularly reference and archived materials, were also used to complete various family and corporate searches. These included articles on Fred Banting, articles published by Oscar Wilde in the 1800s, and articles from the 1800’s Upper Canada Gazette. 

Kids and Families Celebrate Family Literacy Month Virtually at TPL

Applefun Puppetry
Applefun Puppetry’s Mike Harding answers questions after the Forest Trek puppet show

Each year TPL celebrates Family Literacy Month (FLM) by encouraging families to read and engage in family-related activities in January as an extension of ABC Life Literacy Canada's national Family Literacy Day initiative. This year’s celebrations included a new FLM recommended reads booklist for families, as well as special live online program offerings. Applefun Puppetry presented a funny Forest Trek puppet show for families, and illustrator Clayton Hanmer provided a workshop that showed kids how to create their own comics. The month-long celebrations concluded with a program from author Nadia L. Hohn, author of A Likkle Miss Lou, who delivered an interactive presentation celebrating the life of playwright, folklorist, and poet, Louise Bennett-Coverley, also known as Miss Lou. A total of 199 kids and families tuned in for these live presentations.

Thanks to the Friends of TPL, South Chapter, for their generous support.

Building pathways for workforce development

Career Coaches in Residence (CCIR) Pilot Program for Younger Adults

Career Coaches in Residence
Career Coaches in Residence: Cindy Fruitman, Jennifer Gaudette, Ken Lee and Tharsheka Natkunam.

Beginning in February, the CCIR program will offer a second session of remote career and job search help for younger adults. Over the course of 10 weeks, four dedicated career coaches in residence will help young people achieve their career goals through remote one-on-one consultations, workshops and more. The CCIR program completed its first session during Fall 2020, providing 220 one-on-one appointments and connecting with more than 280 participants through online programs.

One participant described their thoughts after attending an appointment:

“Thank you, I really appreciate this service and found it very useful. I wasn't feeling very confident about … how I fit in my desired career path but after speaking with [the career coach], I am able to see my experience and skillset with fresh eyes and understand how to better communicate that to get a job I want.”

This program is generously supported by RBC Foundation and the Friends of TPL, South Chapter.

Google IT Support Professional Certificate Program Wrap-Up

The Google IT Support Professional Certificate (GISC) program wraps up its two-year program with a 76% completion rate across Canada!  This Google-funded program offered 500 marginalized Canadians a chance to gain the fundamental skills to become an entry level IT support professional. Even with the pandemic posing a significant challenge to learners, TPL is proud to have 84 program graduates, an 84% completion rate, across the span of two years. 

On November 17, 2020, TPL held a virtual graduation ceremony with speakers including Sabrina Geremia (Google VP & Canada Country Manager), speakers from TPL, Toronto Employment and Social Services, and the TPL Foundation to celebrate this great achievement and an overall successful program.

Partnership with Volunteer Toronto Inspires Volunteer Opportunities during COVID-19 Pandemic

In January, TPL in partnership with Volunteer Toronto, Canada’s largest volunteer centre, hosted a “Volunteering in COVID-19” online program with 147 participants seeking opportunities to support Toronto’s non-profit and grassroots organizations. The session featured a presentation by Deirdre Millin, Volunteer Toronto’s Employment & Training Specialist, who discussed the challenges and opportunities for youth and adult volunteers in these challenging times, and highlighted a number of opportunities currently available. TPL staff shared information to support participants in their volunteering journey, including access to online databases such as Career Cruising, e-learning portals such as, online programming and our new Digital Access Card.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Staff Town Halls

TPL held a virtual town hall on January 27, open to all staff. These meetings are an important opportunity to come together to talk about what’s happening across the organization, and give staff a chance to ask questions and share feedback and concerns. We introduced virtual town halls in August to provide a forum for staff to connect with senior management in real time, for information sharing and to improve senior management visibility. We are consistently seeing attendance in the 350-450 person range and steady levels of engagement. We will continue with regular town halls in 2021, evolving the format as required in response to participant feedback and information needs.

Fostering Resilience Through Challenging Times

TPL Managers and Leaders recently attended training workshops to study strategies to help with resilience through challenging times. Each individual was given a workbook with tools to use to enhance resilience for themselves or others. Resilience is a capability that can be learned and the hope is that TPL managers and leaders will put these resilience skills and strategies to work in order to adapt positively to pressure, setbacks, challenge, and changes that they are facing in TPL’s current reality.