City Librarian's Report for May 2021

May 14, 2021 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the May 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 Recognizes the Passing of Samuel Ash (1951 – 2021)

Sam Ash with Donation
Samuel Ash with his donated art piece at TRL (2018) 

On April 9, an incredible Ojibway artist named Samuel Ash passed away. In 2018, he donated one of his pieces and emphasized that it should be displayed “in a public library space where it can be viewed for free.” The painting is on display on the second floor of the Toronto Reference Library (TRL). He has art displayed in several museums, including the Royal Ontario Museum and the Government of Ontario Art Collection.

With support from colleagues at TRL and some of Samuel’s family and friends, we reflected on his life, his work and his impact in our Arts & Culture Blog. TPL shares our deepest sympathies to Samuel Ash’s family, friends, loved ones and community.

Innovator in Residence in Data Privacy Highlights

Innovator in Residence- space law program
Cybersecurity in Law and Space Law with guest speaker Donna Lawler and Migan Megardichian 

From March 1 to May 8, TPL hosted an online Innovator in Residence program that focused on data privacy.

Lawyer and certified privacy professional Migan Megardichian delivered 30 programs and several one-on-one sessions that reached over 550+ participants. Programs included Privacy 101 for Small Business, Data Governance Issues in A.I. Systems, Smart Cities and the Responsible Use of Data, and Making Sense of Privacy Policies. The goal was to improve understanding about how data privacy plays a major role in our daily lives.

Migan also invited several data privacy experts to participate in programs that included: Interconnections of Cybersecurity Law and Space Law with Donna Lawler, an Australian lawyer specializing in space law; the Role of Funding in AI with Ana Brandusescu, a professor from McGill University specializing in AI ethics and funding; and Open Data with Denis Carr from the City of Toronto’s Open Data Team. To close out the Residency on May 7th, Migan invited Dr. Ann Cavoukian, previous Information & Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, to speak on privacy and her Privacy by Design framework.

Spring Break Activity Bags and Virtual Programs

Kids picking up activity kits
Our activity kits included a booklet about library collections, literacy-based activities for families to do together, and information on services and programs like Brainfuse, Dial-a-story, Summer Wonder and TD Summer Reading Club.

This year Spring Break took place from April 12-16, TPL supported children and families during this time with special programs, services and a brand new initiative designed to inspire families with fun and creative ways to spend time together and promote online programs.

Eighty-two TPL branches across the city handed out 6000 activity books to Spring Breakers, each one containing a bookmark, Play-Doh and an activity booklet to support literacy and learning skills and promote the use of library services.  

Throughout the week, 1076 participants attended four live virtual programs: The Amazing Magic Mel, Mad Science’s Crazy Concoctions program, author Saumiya Balasubramaniam and The Rainbow Beat Music and Puppet Show. TPL staff also hosted a four-day online camp where 54 children learned to storyboard, design and code a video game in Scratch. A pre-recorded French program, Monsieur Philippe à la rencontre des animaux, was also offered on TPL’s YouTube channel and as of the end of April, has been viewed 121 times.

Building Pathways for Workforce Development

TPL's First Artrepreneur In Residence Series A Success!

Artrepreneur in Residence Program
TPL's ArtIR Paola Gomez (bottom left) discusses collaborating with artist, Isaac Murdoch Bombgiizhik (bottom right) and how artwork can positively impact communities.

Over 226 people attended TPL's first-ever Artrepreneur In Residence (ArtIR) program series, featuring Paola Gomez, co-founder and director of Muse Arts and the creator, director and producer of the HAPPENING Multicultural Festival. Paola presented eight virtual workshops to help artists build their entrepreneurial knowledge and confidence with a diverse line-up of special guests. Topics included Moving from the Starving Artist MythIt's All About Money - Basic Budgeting, Finding Grants and Financial Resources, and The Artist’s Presence in a Digital Era.

The series also featured two Indigenous artists - Philip Cote, who shared the importance of looking into the past, and Isaac Murdoch Bombgiizhik, who talked about The Power of Collaboration.

As part of the residency, Paola also offered virtual one-on-one consultations. We're proud to share that one of the artists who sought her expertise has since received a grant from the Canada Council. 

Career Coaches in Residence Fall 2020/Spring 2021 Highlights

Meet and Greet Program
Career Coaches Meet and Greet Program: Christopher Duff (top center) from Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity moderates a discussion on the value of career guidance with Career Coaches in Residence Tharsheka Natkunam (top right), Cindy Fruitman (top right), Jennifer Gaudette (bottom left) and Ken Lee (bottom right).

In April, the Career Coaches in Residence (CCIR) program wrapped up its pilot two-term program, providing over 460 remote one-on-one appointments to younger adults, supporting them with career and job search advice. With the help of four dedicated career coaches, participants were able to seek guidance on career direction, find insights on effective job hunting strategies, receive support for challenging career situations and more. Coaches were also able to connect with more than 750 participants through various online programs, including a workshop on writing meaningful cover letters, various industry and recruiter panels and even host an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. The response to this program has been overwhelmingly positive, with feedback from participants saying they “found better clarity,” “learned a lot,” and felt “less stressed about the future.”

This program was made possible through the generous support of the RBC Foundation and the Friends of TPL, South Chapter.

Providing the Vital Ingredients for a Democratic Society

TPL Staff Helping Connect Seniors to Covid-19 Vaccine Information

Staff member Claire calls customers
Staff member Claire calls TPL senior customers to provide them with vaccine information

As part of the City’s ongoing effort to ensure the wellbeing of all Torotonians, TPL is calling seniors to make sure they are aware of how to register for their Covid-19 vaccinations, and to provide further information if needed.

TPL staff are calling 7,000 library users who are seniors aged 80+, and will follow this up with calls to 25,000 seniors between 70 and 79. During the calls, TPL staff offer information provided by the City of Toronto and Toronto Public Health. Library staff aren’t booking vaccination appointments, but are connecting them to Toronto Public Health or the appropriate resource if they have additional questions.

Calls started in April and staff are reaching approximately 1,500 seniors per week. This outreach builds on the Seniors’ Wellness program that was launched in 2020 to connect with isolated customers during the pandemic. To date, 19,000 wellness calls have been made.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

North York Harvest Food Bank Includes TPL staff in Registration Drive


North York Harvest Food Bank has offered to include any TPL staff currently working onsite at any TPL location in their vaccine registration initiative. TPL staff will be eligible for vaccinations at one of two clinic sites.

Since April 2020, TPL partnered with the North York Harvest Food Bank, Daily Bread Food Bank and Second Harvest to set up food bank distribution at twelve library branches across the city to provide alternate service locations for existing food banks that were closed. We continue to work in partnership with NYH on the two food banks that are at Albion and Jane/Sheppard.

I am so pleased that this vaccination opportunity has been made available to all TPL staff working onsite, and thank North York Harvest Food Bank for including TPL staff in their vaccination efforts.