City Librarian's Report for April 2021

April 16, 2021 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the April 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

Design-a-Bookmark Contest 2021 Winners Announced!

Design-a-Bookmark Contest 2021 winners
Design-a-Bookmark Contest 2021 winners

You can now view the top 16 winning designs from the Design-a-Bookmark Contest 2021 on TPL Kids! This annual contest lets children use their imaginations to create beautiful bookmark designs. The top winners were acknowledged at a virtual Awards Ceremony on Saturday, March 27th. Contest judge and guest artist Anoosha Syed presented a drawing workshop and shared tips. Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s contest. Children ages birth-13 years are invited to enter the 2022 contest. Entry forms will be available online and in branches in October 2021.

Voice Tech Global Workshop

Ideas for the voice assistant

On March 20th, TPL worked with Voice Tech Global on an online workshop to build a voice assistant for TPL. This would allow users of voice-enabled devices to learn more about library programs. Nearly 30 participants used voice-enabled devices to learn about programs based on their interests and keep track of upcoming programs. Voice Tech Global members will take ideas from this workshop to improve the TPL voice assistant. 

Toronto Mesh Workshop

How to reclaim the internet screencap
How to Reclaim the Internet screeengrab

Toronto Mesh presented programs online in March. Topics included the internet, building better networks, digital literacy and privacy. Toronto Mesh began building a community network in 2020. It gives users access to affordable internet. Over 40 people shared their experience and lessons learned.

Online Escape Rooms for Teens 

Teens in Escape Room
Teens in Escape Room (taken before Covid-19)

Since May 2020, TPL has offered nine online escape rooms to help teens stay engaged. The escape rooms began as a program in branches, but have since moved online. TPL has received many positive comments from families and teachers about the escape rooms being fun and entertaining during this stressful time. As of mid-March, the escape room webpage has been viewed more than 30,000 times since August 2020. 

Dawes Road Virtual Open House

Dawes Road
Dawes Road

TPL hosted a virtual open house to kick off the renovation and expansion of the Dawes Road branch. The branch will expand to 20,000 square foot with a 5,500 square foot community hub space. 

The community hub will house our City of Toronto partners in Social Development, Finance & Administration. The open house was a lively and engaging event with over 50 participants in attendance. Participants were eager to hear from:

  • City and TPL staff
  • Councillor Brad Bradford (Ward 19, Beaches-East York)
  • the design team from Smoke Architecture and Perkins & Will.

Participants responded enthusiastically to the presentation with many questions and ideas. The project will immediately move into next steps and engage both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in consultation through the summer of 2021. This is the first major capital project that will undertake Indigenous Placemaking. Indigenous perspectives are incorporated into building design, signage and architecture as an integral part of the renovation.

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Adult Literacy eBooks readily available

Adult Literacy Ebooks  Readily Accessible
Adult Literacy eBooks

Using Overdrive has been hard for many adults who are working on their reading skills during the pandemic. Finding books at a lower reading level is difficult for people with low literacy skills. To help with this, TPL created a new list of 132 books in OverDrive or through the Adult Literacy Collection webpage. Many of these books are available in print format at 55 branches as well. The collections will help adults who are working on their reading, writing and math skills and include fiction and non-fiction material.

Seniors Tech Help supports Digital Inclusion and Literacy

Staff help with technology questions through our Seniors Tech Help service, now extended until summer. The service started with Toronto Community Housing senior residents and organized seniors' groups but quickly became much more popular after promotion.  Staff help with digital resources, online video and more. Seniors loved having support in the safety of their homes, and many gained skills and confidence. 

Here is one example how we make a difference:

Firstly, thank you so much for the service provided by TPL to seniors such as myself during these many months. Being 81 years of age, I found myself being pretty special in that someone “cared” about our well being … I found out about the availability of certain programs offered by TPL. Narmatha was excellent when guiding me through basic computer skills. 

Coding for Kids After School Clubs

After School Coding Clubs
After School Coding Clubs

In March, the Children’s Services Department and members of the Pop-Up Learning Labs team worked on Coding for Kids programs. These were part of TPL’s Virtual After School Clubs for children ages 6-12. Each week participants explored coding concepts using block style coding and resources from Throughout the month, 336 participants attended live and 163 participants watched replays. Coding programs can help children develop critical thinking and problem solving skills while engaging in STEM learning. Virtual After School Clubs are free, weekly programs that teach children to become lifelong learners and support their academic success. We run programs on many topics like coding, magic, art and science. Children have fun, build confidence and work as a team—even online. After School Clubs run each Tuesday from 4-4:45 p.m. until the end of June.

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Craft Kits for Resettling Families

Craft Kits for Resettling Families from Sanderson Branch
Craft kits ready for delivery

Sanderson branch staff delivered these craft kits for families resettling at a settlement agency’s site. The families loved them and the agency wants to continue to do the same for future welcome packages. Staff were used to doing family story time sessions with them, but now the craft kits help support refugees during this time. TPL keeps ties with various agencies serving newcomers and their families.

Virtual Personal Finance Campaign

Screenshot of Personal Finance Program
Author and economist Keisha Blair (right) with Jessica Moorhouse (left), money expert and host of the Mo' Money Podcast. Hosted by Diana (middle), Senior Services Specialist - Programming & Events.

From January to March 2021, TPL ran 24 virtual programs on financial literacy. Over 1,110 people watched our Personal Finance programs for different ages. Programs included opening a bank account, budgeting, and a first-time home buyers panel (for Young Adults). Attendees loved having financial information geared toward them.

The Investor Protection Clinic of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law presented topics on finance and free legal services for seniors, new Canadians and lower income communities. Other topics on investing, tax benefits and Retirement Planning During a Pandemic were popular, especially the presentations by Canada Revenue Agency on filing tax returns and protecting yourself from scams. 

Distributing Care Kits and socks to vulnerable persons 

Thanks to community partner donations, TPL has been handing out TPL Care Kits and socks at 11 branches across the city. Each kit contains personal care items such as soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deodorant, tissues and more. TPL Care Kits provide a crucial resource to people experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable residents facing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. TPL Care Kits and socks are available by request at the 11 participating locations: Deer Park, Sanderson, Lillian H. Smith, Parliament, North York Central, Agincourt, Barbara Frum, Bloor/Gladstone, Gerrard/Ashdale, Riverdale, and Albion.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Youth Digital Intern Program

Digital Interns
TPL's Youth Digital Interns Top to Bottom, Left to Right- Alize De Matas (Page), Syed Mahmood Akbarzada (Public Service Assistant), Shakira Rasul (Public Service Assistant), Rick Bhatia (Page), Narmathaa Kulendirarajah (Public Service Assistant), Myuran Balachandran (Library Assistant), Monica Tse (Public Service Assistant), Michelle Vasconcelos (Clerk-Caretaker)

From December 2020 to March 2021, TPL hosted eight youth, ages 15-30, for a 15-week internship funded by the Government of Canada through Computers for Success Canada (CFSC-OPEC) and the Computers for Schools Plus (CFS+) Interns program. Six Library Assistant interns provided Seniors Tech Help and two Digital Design Technician (DDT) interns supported the Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs). The interns participated in over 45 hours of professional development and a mentorship program supported by staff from the Service Development and Innovation division.

The DDT interns completed self-directed learning about DIH software & equipment, delivered and moderated online programming (such as Introduction to Cosplay: 3D Design and Building Accessories), supported remote high school outreach and created their own blog posts, including Technology is Making our Fashion Dreams and Imagination Come to Life. The Seniors Tech Help interns assisted over 430 senior callers and completed an additional 184 phone appointments with seniors who needed thorough tech help. The team developed and delivered nine online computer classes, three virtual outreach presentations and conducted 412 wellness check-in calls to seniors across the city. Most of the interns had not done this type of work prior to the internship, but each of them brought unique energy that contributed to the success of this project!

Edited April 19, 11am: Structural edits made for clarity and ease of reading