City Librarian's Report for September 2021

September 20, 2021 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the September 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

Kindergarten Let’s Go! Activity Bags at TPL

Kindergarten Let’s Go! Activity Bags at TPL
Branches promoted TPL’s new Kindergarten Let’s Go! activity bags in August. 

To help support kids and families starting kindergarten, TPL introduced new activity bags with fun ways to spend time together and promote school readiness skills. Kindergarten Let’s Go! Activity Bags were available at open branches to children aged 3-5 from August 23 - September 04. 

The activity bags included a booklet supporting literacy and learning skills and promoting library services. To encourage discovery and play, the bags also included stickers, bubbles and sidewalk chalk. The bags were a big hit.  

Broadening Toronto’s digital access and inclusion

Summer Wonder and TD Summer Reading Club 2021

Summer Wonder window display at Leaside branch
Display at Leaside Branch

TPL’s Summer Wonder and the TD Summer Reading Club (TD SRC) ran between June 14 - September 04. The national kids’ website had almost 1.4 million page views and while much of the website is freely available without registration, over 21,000 kids across Canada registered with the program, with almost 3,700 kids selecting a TPL branch as their home library. Kids submitted over 24,000 book reviews, a 10% increase over 2020. New this year, TPL introduced the Beanstack Reading Tracking app which saw over 800 readers logging over 1,425 books.  The library also offered 20 virtual programs, including two camps, and saw over 2,000 enthusiastic  kids participate live along with their families. 

19 branches across Toronto featured a TD SRC StoryWalk® displaying  The Thing Lou Couldn't Do, written and illustrated by Ashley Spires. More reading fun was offered in grab & go bags filled with TD SRC recommended reads and books inspired by questions kids asked on our  Wonder Wall.  Interactive window and sidewalk displays connected families to their local branch and the exciting summer programs they’ve grown to love. 

“Digitally Lit”, a Virtual Summer Camp for Youth Focusing on Digital Literacy

Jamboard Activity on Relationship with Tech
Screen capture of an activity showcasing participants' love/hate relationship with technology.

From August 16 - 20, TPL ran “Digitally Lit”, an online, week-long camp for teens about technology and digital spaces. Participants learned about digital relationships, misinformation, privacy & security, artificial intelligence and inclusive design through interactive activities, debates, discussions and guest speakers. Youth were encouraged to share their learnings by remixing their very own webpage project. 

Some teens commented that they had only learned about misinformation before attending the camp and most felt that they had gained a better understanding of digital literacy concepts. One of the participants describes their learnings from the program: “I [have] learned to look at technology from a different point of view, like […] how when building a website, you should think about people with disabilities.” 

This program is part of the “Youth-Focused Digital Literacy” pilot project, one of the 2019 City Librarian’s Innovation Challenge winners, which aims to provide accessible and engaging digital literacy programs for youth. 

Innovation Council Presents: June 2021 Program Series

Salimah Ebrahim, Adam Roy Cohoon, Zahra Ebrahim
L to R: Salimah Ebrahim, Adam Roy Cohoon, Zahra Ebrahim

This June, TPL's Innovation Council presented a three-part series exploring the theme of what it means to return to a place – virtual, hybrid and in-person - in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

TPL’s Innovation Council is an advisory group of recognized leaders from the academic, creative, and technology communities. 

The first program, Post-COVID Toronto: How Can We Come Back Well? was moderated by Innovation Council member Pamela Robinson (Director, School of Urban and Regional Planning, Ryerson University) and explored how we can return to a more open, social, public life in-person in a post-COVID Toronto. The panel featured Adriana Beemans, Director, Inclusive Local Economies Program, Metcalf Foundation and Daniel Fusca, Manager, Public Consultation for Parks, Forestry & Recreation, City of Toronto. 

The second program, Post-Pandemic Hybrid Futures, was moderated by Innovation Council member Jeremy Bailey (Artist and Head of Experience, FreshBooks), and explored the possibility of a hybrid future in the creative sector where the physical and digital exist together. The panel featured Anika Meier, Writer and Curator, Alda Escareno, Artist, Designer and Instructor at OCAD university and David Maggs, Metcalf Innovation Fellow, Senior Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Sustainability, Potsdam, 

The final program of the series, The Return: Learning From the Best of our Year in the Virtual World was moderated by Zahra Ebrahim (City Builder and Organizer) and explored the opportunities that the virtual world has opened up and how accessibility has shifted because of online platforms. Participants also had the opportunity to explore the virtual social gathering tool Bramble. The panel featured Bramble Co-Founder, Salimah Ebrahim, and Adam Roy Cohoon, artist, access advocate and tech tester. 

In total, there were 95 attendees. Audiences were very engaged in the discussions and asked many insightful questions. 

Summer Books Series 

Summer Books
TPL's Summer Books series featured conversations with some of today's leading authors

TPL’s new Summer Books series included 18 virtual events featuring engaging conversations with authors of some of the hottest books around. 

The series kicked off in June with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and author Ayad Akhtar talking about Homeland Elegies. Author Dawnie Walton discussed her debut novel, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, and a special panel discussion featured contributors to Indigenous Toronto: Stories that Carry this Place. Rob Kenner talked about The Marathon Don't Stop - The Life & Times of Nipsey Hussle, bestselling author Lisa Taddeo discussed Animal, and Bryan Washington, Kristen Arnett and Christopher DiRaddo joined the Domestic Revolutions: Gay Family Life in Three Novels panel discussion hosted by Jason Wagar. Best-selling writer Ross King talked about The Bookseller of Florence, Anuk Arudpragasam discussed his Booker Prize longlisted novel, A Passage North, and Tahmima Anam talked about her gripping novel, The Startup Wife. 

All events in the series are available to watch on-demand on the TPL Culture channel on Crowdcast. 

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Welcome to Your Library Email Launch 

Welcome to your library
Welcome to your library email preview

On September 01, we launched a Welcome to Your Library email for new members who opt in for email notifications. This personalized email greeting from TPL highlights online account features, branch information, online services and more. Within the first two weeks, 4077 welcome emails were sent, with an impressive open rate (62.67%) and click rate (18.54%).

The Welcome to Your Library Email is one piece of TPL’s larger email communications strategy which, through a number of different initiatives, will help deliver exceptional customer experiences that are convenient, seamless, personalized and timely. 

An updated print version of the Welcome to Your Library brochure is available for customers who prefer not to sign up for email notification.