City Librarian's Report for October 2021

October 15, 2021 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for October 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

Take & Make Teen Program Series

Kennedy-Eglinton Teen Among Us Keychain
Kennedy-Eglinton Teen Among Us Keychain

Teens from all over the city took part in the Take and Make program series in August. The series consisted of four weekly online workshops on intro level textile projects.  The to-go bags with materials and instructions to complete the projects were distributed at each of the 23 Youth Hubs. Teens could choose to complete the craft projects at home or in their local Youth Hub.

  • Close to 900 to-go bags were picked up.
  • Approximately 250 participants joined the series live.
  • 135 watched the workshop recordings after the live broadcasts.
  • 106 teens participated at a Youth Hub location.

Take and Make was well received with a staff member saying, “All the bags were given out, and teens seemed really excited about them.” A recording of the program series is available for viewing. Teens were invited to share their completed projects by tagging them on Instagram @tpl.teens


Scarborough Made – Resilience

Art Installation at Cedarbrae Branch

New installation at Cedarbrae Branch
New installation at Cedarbrae Branch

Local Scarborough artist Sid Naidu recently installed these black and white portraits outside Cedarbrae branch on the west-facing windows along Markham Road. These visually stunning portraits will be on display for three months until the end of December.

Naidu does work with ArtworxTO, an organization that provides opportunities for BIPOC and/or 2SLGBTQ+ youth to gain professional experience, skills, and networks in the media arts industry. ArtworxTO is a partnership between Toronto Arts Foundation, the City of Toronto, and the Ontario College of Art & Design University (OCADU).

I hope you can take an opportunity to drop by the Cedarbrae Branch and experience this powerful and thought-provoking installation up close. We are honoured to host this art installation and recognize its importance to community building and engagement for the residents of Scarborough. Kudos to Sid Naidu and his team for a wonderful contribution to the community and for working with us in this collaborative program!

Vaccination clinics 

To help reach Team Toronto’s target of 90 per cent of residents age 12 and older being fully vaccinated, the City of Toronto is moving ahead with its VaxTO campaign, which launched this past spring to connect Torontonians with COVID-19 vaccination appointments and information. To help with this effort, TPL is supporting Toronto Public Health’s plan to offer rotating clinics in vaccine-prioritized neighbourhoods. Beginning the week of October 12 for three weeks, vaccination clinics will operate at three library branches from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Amesbury Park on Tuesdays, Black Creek on Wednesdays and Dawes Road on Fridays.

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

New webpage for teachers and parents

Child using library computer
Child using library computer

TPL launched an online resource for educators, parents and caregivers to support K-12 students. The page provides quick access to library resources such as booklists, homework help, programs, live online tutoring, virtual exhibits and YouTube videos. The recommended links are organized by category and grade level, making it easier to find information. The information on the page was developed to support teachers deliver their curriculum, and to help parents with homework support and remote learning. 

Seniors Tech Help

Nerissa Craig, Senior Library Assistant, offering Seniors Tech Help
Nerissa Craig, Senior Library Assistant, offering Seniors Tech Help

Seniors Tech Help was a one-on-one service offering remote technology help to seniors. The service was launched in January 2021 as a grant-funded pilot and was extended until September as a result of its success. TPL played a large role in addressing seniors’ social isolation through digital literacy support as part of the City’s Seniors’ Strategy 2.0. 

From January 2021 to September 2021, Seniors Tech Help staff: 

  • Conducted a total of 336 appointments
  • Responded to over 1100 customer queries via phone and email.
  • Taught more than 300 customers how to connect with friends and family virtually using their devices and applications. 

Over 40% of inquiries were related to learning about and accessing TPL’s digital collections—highlighting the importance of these collections. Skills like these are invaluable to Toronto’s socially-isolated seniors. Moving forward, customers can access quick one-on-one assistance through Answerline and access more extensive help offered remotely or in-person in branches.

Free vaccine documents printing in branches

Print your proof of vaccination for free
Print your proof of vaccination for free

To support those who do not have access to a printer, TPL is offering free printing of vaccination receipts at library branches. People can also use computers and free wifi at library branches to access and download their documentation, or submit a print request from anywhere using TPL’s Print anywhere – Mobile Printing.  The library received supportive comments and shares on social media and the story was reported on Global News, CTV, Daily Hive, and Narcity.

Building pathways for workforce development

Digital Canopy Wi-Fi programs 

The Digital Canopy Wi-Fi program supports young Black adults in gaining experience in the IT industry, and trains and prepares them for a work placement.

The 12 week IT training program ran from April to June and included:

  • Soft skills training from the CEE Centre from Young Black Professionals
  • IT training using the Cisco Networking Academy curriculum supported by TPL staff; and
  • A short introductory course on Wi-Fi taught by a George Brown College professor.

Ten young adults graduated from the program and are looking forward to their work placements in late fall. The program received positive feedback with one participant commenting, “I appreciated the IT lessons that better helped me understand more about Technology and how the internet works. These are such great skills that I'm happy to continue to use in my future and onwards. Thank you all!”

The Digital Canopy Wi-Fi program was offered in partnership with Cisco Canada, George Brown College, the CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals and the City of Toronto.

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Civic Engagement at TPL

Sharing resources from the Democratic Engagement Exchange
Sharing resources from the Democratic Engagement Exchange

TPL is part of the Canadian Vote Coalition, a coalition of national, regional and local community organizations and leaders committed to non-partisan voter engagement. In the weeks from the writ drop to the federal election on September 20, the Service Development & Innovation’s Community Outreach & Engagement team developed a staff resource page about the election in order to support library staff in civic engagement.

TPL’s partner on civic engagement initiatives, Democratic Engagement Exchange , designed a Voting FAQ and Resource Sheet. This document proved to be a reliable source of information that assisted library staff in answering commonly asked questions from the public and promoting informed voting. 

TPL’s Communications, Programing & Customer Engagement team also took to our Twitter and Instagram accounts to share vetted, non-partisan election materials and to encourage civic participation. These election readiness efforts were made possible by the successful collaboration between TPL’s partners and departments.

TPL provides space for federal election

TPL supported the 2021 federal election by providing space for advance polls and election day polling. A total of 37 branches hosted polling stations, working with Elections Canada to ensure all the sites were open and ran smoothly for the advance polls and on election day.  

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Branch visits

TPL Directors and I recently resumed our visits to branches across the city to see the work that is underway as TPL continues to reinstate more services. The senior management team was struck by how welcoming branch staff have continued to make our spaces, while still maintaining important measures to ensure everyone’s safety.

These visits have also been an opportunity to hear directly from staff about their experiences over the past few challenging months, and answer questions. To date, Directors and I have gone on more than 80 visits, with more planned through November.

Vickery Bowles and Hector Vargas
City Librarian Vickery Bowles with Branch Head Hector Vargas outside of Leaside branch

October staff town hall 

On October 7, TPL held its monthly virtual staff town hall. It was a productive session, and topics covered included the mandatory vaccination policy, reopening and looking ahead to services that will be gradually reinstated, from Sunday hours to in-person programming. As usual, there was an open Q&A. Directors and I answered staff questions on a wide range of topics, from the plans for updating the Jane/Dundas branch name, to how TPL is supporting vulnerable communities, to anti-racism training and more. Staff who were unable to join the live event can access a video replay and transcript of the session.

Online training on vaccinations

TPL has implemented an online training program to provide a comprehensive overview of the benefits and risks of COVID-19 vaccines.   The training program was designed and developed by Toronto Public Health, and was made available to all TPL staff.  In addition, TPL staff were directed to vaccination information that is available online through Toronto Public Health and Ontario Health.