City Librarian's Report for June 2021

June 11, 2021 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the June 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

Recent Branch Displays

Yorkville and Maria A. Shchuka branches
The Pride pillars at Yorkville branch; Maria A. Shchuka shows their support for the Indigenous and LGBTQ2S+ communities

Our Yorkville branch is celebrating Pride Month and the LGBTQ2S+ community by wrapping up their famous pillars in our new trans flag colours this year. As usual, we've planned a series of engaging, informative and lively online programs for all ages, delivered by TPL staff and community collaborators. 

June is also National Indigenous Month and in the midst of the recent tragic events in BC, it’s more important than ever that we celebrate Indigenous cultures and histories and learn more about our responsibilities as settlers living on Turtle Island. I encourage you to visit our Indigenous Celebrations page to see our list of June programs, read blog posts by TPL’s Indigenous Digital Content Lead Jamie Lee Morin and select community members. This year’s Read Indigenous lists, developed in collaboration with TPL’s Indigenous Advisory Council, which highlight a number of wonderful items in TPL’s collections by Indigenous authors, illustrators and knowledge keepers.

TPL Hosts Pop-Up Vaccination Clinics

Parkdale branch
Lineup outside of Parkdale branch

Earlier this spring, TPL contacted the City to offer library branches as pop-up vaccination clinics. In response, TPL was asked to partner with Ontario Health (Toronto) and community health agencies to host six vaccination clinics in May at Parkdale, Maria A. Shchuka and Goldhawk Park branches.

More than 1,100 people were vaccinated at the clinics, thanks in large part to direct community outreach. Many of these people were hard to reach or may not otherwise have chosen to be vaccinated, but did so as a result of the clinics’ targeted outreach and because they considered the library a safe and familiar place to receive this service.

TPL staff volunteered to help run the vaccination clinics, and many were also involved in the preparations. I’m very proud that we have been able to help with Toronto’s vaccination response in such a meaningful way and we will remain open to future opportunities.

Grab & Go Community Consultation Kit for the New Dawes Road Library & Community Hub Project

Community Hub Project
Library staff preparing a community consultation kit.

Staff working on the new Dawes Road library & community hub have found new ways to consult with the public. Community members can grab a consultation “to go” and share their feedback on the development of the new facility. The library should double in size and include a new community hub run by the City of Toronto. Customers are encouraged to take home a consultation Grab & Go kit that includes a questionnaire and instructions on how to return their feedback. Children are also asked to draw their dream library. Community members have been so excited for this project and the services it will soon bring to the neighbourhood.

Toronto Public Library Foundation’s Literary Circle event

Vickery Rich and Sarah Image - Use this
Vickery Bowles, City Librarian, TPL, Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Executive Director, DC Public Library and Sarah Fulford, TPLF Board Chair and Editor in Chief, Toronto Life Magazine

Richard Reyes-Gavilan, Executive Director of the DC Public Library, and I took part in a virtual event on May 11 moderated by Sarah Fulford, TPLF Board Chair and Editor in Chief of Toronto Life Magazine. The conversation explored the essential role public libraries play in supporting vulnerable communities, and how they will be instrumental in helping cities recover from the pandemic. The talk reinforced the positive impact TPL and the DC Public Library are having on the cities they serve, and how donor investment can empower libraries to deliver vital programs and services. The timely discussion touched on many of the core values that public libraries hold – equity, diversity, inclusion – and recognized TPL not only as a leader and innovator here in Canada, but as a shining example to libraries around the world.

Building Pathways for Workforce Development

Poetry Saved Our Lives 

Josh from Poetry Saved Our Lives
Poetry Saved Our Lives coach Joshua "Scribe" Watkis on our teen Instagram channel, inviting teens to join the program.

Since 2015, TPL has been offering Poetry Saved our Lives, a poetry and spoken word workshop series for teens. Every week, teens build community with their coach and peers through writing exercises. They discuss how to develop flow, practice performing, and encourage and support one another. This winter, the program moved virtually with coach Joshua “Scribe” Watkis leading a nine-week series. Many teens who attended in-person were happy to come online to share their work and develop skills. On April 7, participants met for an end-of-year showcase where they shared pieces about navigating life and the pandemic. This spring, the program has returned for another nine-week series with acclaimed coach Patrick de Belen. It is our hope that these young people continue to be inspired to pursue their passions and future careers in the arts. 

Providing the Vital Ingredients for a Democratic Society

Untold History: Stories of the Chinese-Canadian Community in the Greater Toronto Area

Untold Stories Chinese Canadian Archive
Jean Lumb (5th from right) at V.J Day celebration parade in Toronto in 1945. Chinese Canadian Archive. Donated by Arlene Chan in 2017

A new digital project highlighting TPL’s Chinese Canadian Archive will receive funding from the Digital Museums Canada (DMC) program managed by the Canadian Museum of History. Untold History: Stories of Chinese Canadians in the Greater Toronto Area (working title) will explore family stories, community landmarks and historical events. Visitors will be able to view photos, letters, memorabilia and new oral histories from TPL's Chinese Canadian Archive, and will be invited to share their own. Untold History is planned to launch in Fall 2023.

Toronto Newcomer Day

Journey to Embracing the Arts with Koom Kankesan
Author and arts journalist Koom Kankesan (left) openly discusses his newcomer journey with TPL host and librarian Elsa Ngan.

TPL participated in the seventh Toronto Newcomer Day celebration online on May 25, welcoming newcomers to Toronto. Participants were introduced to available services and everyone celebrated their many contributions to the city. This year, TPL staff appeared in the promotional video in addition to showcasing our programs and services. TPL also hosted a conversation with author and arts journalist Koom Kankesan about his journey from being a newcomer to establishing an arts career. Attendees shared their appreciation for his story. Koom was also featured in an interview with New Canadians TV. To mark the day, TPL created a special booklist featuring titles for all ages that are true to newcomers’ experiences.

Civic Life: Food Insecurity in the City

Civic Life Food Insecurity
Panelists discussing food insecurity in Toronto. Top (Left to Right): Fatin Chowdhury, Development & Communications Manager (BCCF), Alisa Lurie (Host & TPL Librarian), Christina Hoang (Community Organizer) Bottom: Sashoya Simpson, Emergency Food Box Program Assistant (BCCF)

In May, TPL hosted a Civic Life program about food insecurity in Toronto. TPL’s Civic Life programs focus on supporting Torontonians in understanding and connecting with the world beyond their private lives.

Panelists Fatin Chowdhury and Sashoya Simpson from Black Creek Community Farm spoke about their work with diverse communities and sustainable food. Community leader Christina Hoang shared her work in engaging community members to address issues of urban inequity. Christina also did a live demo on how to turn food scraps into broth, a recipe that can be found in her Quarantine Cookbook. A lively discussion took place about the use of food boxes, community gardens and other local efforts. TPL librarians have created a Food Insecurity Resource Sheet for more information and ways to get involved.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Positive Spaces Training for Staff

TPL is offering mandatory Positive Spaces training for all staff beginning with senior management. Delivered by The 519 and TPL Pride Alliance, the Positive Spaces training empowers staff with information and tools to provide excellent, respectful, and welcoming customer service to the LGBTQ2S+ community. Four of eleven scheduled sessions have taken place.

Staff that attend this session will increase their knowledge and ability to:

  • Identify and discuss common words to express sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in Canada
  • Identify and discuss examples of homophobic and transphobic discrimination and harassment
  • Demonstrate and share an empathetic understanding of the barriers faced by members of queer and trans communities
  • Discuss ways to make our environment safe and inclusive for queer and trans people
  • Understand TPL policies and practices

To date, close to 100 staff members have completed the training including 61 managers and all sessions are fully booked. 

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