City Librarian's Report for December 2021

November 26, 2021 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the December 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

Young Voices 2021 Virtual Launch Event 

Young Voices Magazine Cover
Young Voices Magazine Cover. "Dreaming" by Emiliya Volchenko, 17

Young Voices is TPL's magazine of creative writing and visual art, created and selected by Toronto teens. Over seventy people attended the November 4th launch of this year's magazine. It was an opportunity to congratulate the young creators and hear many of them speak about their work. Several teens mentioned reading Young Voices and feeling thrilled to be included in a magazine they admire so much. Teens participated in the interactive event that included two breakout sessions and filled the chat with supportive comments for their talented peers.

Copies of Young Voices 2021 are now available to pick up at all TPL branches and the accessible PDF is also online. TPL has published Young Voices annually since 1965. The publication is generously supported by the Friends of Toronto Public Library – South Chapter. 

North York Harvest Food Bank Reveal #ArtStartsTO mural with Albion staff

New murals on North York Harvest shipping containers at Albion
New murals on North York Harvest shipping containers at Albion

North York Harvest Food Bank held a partnership celebration event on October 29th at the Albion Branch shipping container food bank. The highlight was a new mural exploring themes of Afrocentrism and food and movement that was created by four youth artists in partnership with Art Starts TO.

Over 35,000 people have been served from the Albion Branch food bank to date. When the pandemic hit, North York Harvest lost many of their community food bank spaces. Organizers noted that the TPL space and staff support received were extremely appreciated and vital to their organization being able to continue to offer services. Pam Ryan (Director, Service Development & Innovation), Elton D’Costa (Library Service Manager), Chris Carelli (Senior Branch Head) and other Albion staff were on hand to lend their support to this wonderful celebration. Read this news release for more on TPL's partnership with the North York Harvest Food Bank.

Return of Sunday Service

Beginning October 17, TPL branches resumed Sunday service, which had been paused during the pandemic. Eight new branches are now open on Sundays, bringing the total number of branches open on Sundays to 58. Customers were delighted to see this popular service resume at branches across the city. At Cedarbrae, Branch Head Seth Mortezavi reported that people lined up outside waiting for the branch to open. Study spaces filled up, computer use was high, and families searched the stacks for children’s materials together. Other locations noted the printers were busy, as customers printed their enhanced vaccine certificates with QR codes. A big thank you to everyone working on Sundays, and to those who worked behind the scenes to make this important service available. It was certainly a challenge in the current environment, but it’s wonderful to see so much activity in our branches again, and to take another step towards “normal.”

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Halloween Programs from Children's Services

Spooktacular Storytime
TPL staff (L to R) Christine, Oksana and Ramona delivered a spooktacular story time for kids and families on October 29.

The Children’s Services Department celebrated Halloween with two fun virtual programs for kids and families. The first program, Scare Your Friends, featured author Joel A. Sutherland, who encouraged children eight years and older to write spooky stories. This Sophie’s Studio workshop took place after school with a group of very keen writers. Sutherland, known for his Haunted Canada series, kept viewers thrilled from start to finish. The second program, A Spooktacular Storytime, provided parents and kids give years and younger with a perfect treat of Halloween-themed stories, songs and rhymes. Over 60 families across the GTA tuned in to view the two programs. Check out our TPL Kids Crowdcast channel for more virtual programs that kids and families can enjoy!

Virtual Escape Room and Library Booklist for Kids

To celebrate Canadian Library Month and Ontario Public Library week in October, TPL's Children's Services Committee (CSC) created a Virtual Escape Room to highlight programs and services for kids and families. The CSC also developed a booklist with children’s materials that feature libraries and featured the Design-A-Bookmark Contest as part of the initiative.

The Virtual Escape Room and booklist promoted the important role libraries play in supporting healthy, confident and successful kids while introducing kids to services at TPL. Customers placed 50 holds on items featured in the booklist and there were 42 completions of the Escape Room.

Aging Your Way programming in partnership with CanAge

Laura Tamblyn Watts
Laura Tamblyn Watts, Founder and CEO of CanAge

This monthly online educational series for seniors began in March 2021, and featured leading experts in discussion with CanAge Founder and CEO Laura Tamblyn Watts on topics such as health, digital literacy, ageism, caregiving and fake news. Seniors engaged actively with questions, comments and requests. The programs were popular, averaging 100 attendees per session, and provided easy accessibility with live captioning, post-program recordings, key learnings, and additional information resources. The online environment enabled nationwide access to content and presenters, and a quick response to seniors’ interests. The team is already planning for events in 2022. 

Digital Inclusion Week

Teen working at Albion branch

During Digital Inclusion Week (October 4 to 8), TPL hosted 13 online programs attended by over 225 participants. The programs covered a diverse range of subjects, including artificial intelligence, how the Internet works, smart cities, digital privacy, fake news, social media, 3D design, and creating resumes using Microsoft Word. There was also a panel discussion for youth about careers in tech. TPL was one of over 100 libraries and community agencies throughout North America that participated in Digital Inclusion Week by offering programs that supported digital inclusion and digital equity.

Cities Coalition for Digital Rights

On October 26th, TPL presented at a virtual meeting hosted by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and Cities Coalition for Digital Rights (CC4DR), and attended by nearly 80 city and civic leaders around the world. The meeting included a discussion about how cities can support their citizens’ digital rights and digital literacy needs.

Toronto is one of nearly 50 cities that has signed the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, which seeks to protect and uphold digital rights at the local and global levels. TPL supports the CC4DR’s objectives in a variety of ways, including offering programs covering subjects such as digital literacy, digital and data privacy and artificial intelligence.

At the meeting, TPL’s Fiona O’Connor (Senior Services Specialist, Digital Literacy Initiatives) presented an environmental scan that summarized the initiatives being led by cities that have signed the CC4DR declaration. In 2022, the CC4DR team, located in Amsterdam, and TPL will continue their collaboration through the design of a digital literacy workshop for representatives from CC4DR cities.

Building pathways for workforce development

IT Essentials Online Learning Circle

IT Essentials Course Page and Instructor
IT Essentials Course Page (left) and TPL's Larysa Essex (right)

In October, TPL expanded on the Let’s Learn Tech Learning Circles program to include the IT Essentials course on Cisco’s Networking Academy platform, which aligns with the industry-recognized CompTIA A+ certification. Technology training programs are expensive and inaccessible to low-income residents. With Bank of America’s support, TPL is providing this training program free to 15 Torontonians (ages 16 to 64) facing barriers to workforce training and development opportunities.

One learner commented that they had always wanted to pursue a career in IT, but financial hardships were a major barrier, while another stated that the learning circle format works well with their style of learning.

Learners meet online once a week for 90 minutes to work through course material together. Weekly office hours are also available to provide additional support as needed. The program runs over the course of eight months, with paid CompTIA A+ certification exam vouchers distributed to learners upon completion of the course.

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

On Civil Society: Climate

OCS Facebook 1200x630
On Civil Society Series

Our On Civil Society series relaunched in October 2021 and featured online programs, discussions and topics on the environment and climate change. With a new lineup of online programs and new ways to get involved, the series pushes boundaries, explores our differences and takes you deeper into the issues affecting our world today. Conversations this season focus on local, national and international issues and perspectives.

Our On Civil Society - Climate series in October included nine programs featuring leading experts and thinkers from all over the world, discussing the most critical topics of our time, with a focus on Oceans, Waters and Wetlands. On Civil Society: Climate is a collaborative project sponsored by Toronto Public Library, the Consulat Général de France à Toronto et Institut Français. This program is generously supported in part by Chris M. Reid.

New Book Donation to Families Living in Shelters and Temporary Housing

Children’s books and Kindergarten Let’s Go! Activity Kit on display at one of the receiving sites.
Children’s books and Kindergarten Let’s Go! Activity Kit on display at one of the receiving sites.

Many families appreciated the books donated by TPL during the onset of the pandemic last year when there were limited library services and community support. From August to October this year, the support continued with the delivery of more books and TPL Kindergarten Let’s Go! Activity Kits to families living in shelters. With this timely delivery, more than 730 new, age-appropriate and thoughtfully chosen children’s and teens books were given to several family shelters and to sites where asylum seekers are temporarily staying, including those for Afghan families. The book donations serve as a welcoming library connection to the different sites and to the families. The initiative’s success was made possible by inter-departmental collaboration, including staff from Service Development & Innovation, library branches and Distribution Services.

Library Settlement Partnerships (LSP) Week celebrates Belonging

Citizenship Judge Suzanne Carriere at LSP Week Celebration
Citizenship Judge Suzanne Carrière at LSP Week Celebration

Since 2007, TPL has been helping newcomers with their settlement needs through Library Settlement Partnerships (LSP) with seven local settlement agencies, supported by funding from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Every October, TPL and LSP agency partners collaborate to host the annual LSP Week celebration. This year’s theme – “We Belong” – had over 80 participants celebrating our diversity. The theme particularly resonated with LSP staff as they celebrated the reinstatement of in-person LSP service in nine library branches across the city, bringing LSP services back where they belong. Citizenship Judge Suzanne Carrière, shared the new Canadian citizenship oath and discussed meaningful newcomer contributions to Truth & Reconciliation. Singer, songwriter, storyteller, artist, and activist Aqua Nibii Waawaaskone brought the audience together through traditional, contemporary, and original hand drum songs and stories. In 2020, LSP served over 28,000 newcomers and delivered over 730 programs.

Community Innovation Training with a Local Community Action Table

Community Innovation Workshop
TNLIP’s Newcomer Community Action Table shared their thoughts about their learnings at the end of the workshop.

TPL staff from the Service Development & Innovation division and Fairview Branch teamed up with the Toronto North Local Immigration Partnership (TNLIP) to host a Design Thinking and Community Innovation workshop for TNLIP’s Newcomer Community Action Table. The action table is a group of active immigrant community members who work closely together with TNLIP and its member agencies to identify newcomer needs and find ways to support successful immigrant settlement and integration in the North Toronto area. TPL staff delivered a virtual workshop on how to use design thinking tools and methods to create positive change on local issues that matter to the community. Participants also learned about relevant library resources. The action table was excited to learn about design thinking tools that they could use to help newcomers access services and resources in their community. As a result of the workshop’s success, TPL will continue to collaborate with TNLIP and the action table on future training sessions.

New Directory of Services for Seniors and Caregivers in Toronto

TPL is pleased to be part of a collaboration that involved multiple City divisions and community partners to see the new Directory of Services for Seniors and Caregivers in Toronto printed and distributed over the next few weeks. This valuable resource provides information for seniors and caregivers on the services and supports that are available in Toronto. The Directory was co-created with the input and support of many seniors, caregivers and service providers across the city. With the support of organizational partners serving Black, Indigenous, Francophone, newcomers, Veteran and 2SLGBTQ+ seniors, there are also specialized chapters about targeted supports available for these communities.

The distribution of the Directory supports Recommendation 25 in the Toronto Seniors Strategy 2.0. City of Toronto and 211 will also be launching training videos to further support library staff before the print copies arrive at library branches. TPL is pleased to work with partners and support this initiative that ensures seniors have access to such vital information.

Public Libraries: Responding in Times of Crisis

In November, I was thrilled to participate in a thoughtful panel discussion about how libraries respond in times of crisis, organized by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). It was wonderful to share our experiences and learn from others, including my co-panelists David Lankes, a Professor of Librarianship at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information and Dr Sadie-Jane Nunis, the Head of Learning & Knowledge Curation and Editor at the Singapore Institute of Management. It was terrific to see over 200 attendees, asking questions and discussing the essential role of public libraries in communities from all over the world. There was great interest in TPL’s experiences with food banks, seniors phone calls, vaccination clinics, internet connectivity kits and so much more. I felt privileged to be able to speak about all of this important work on such a global scale.

In addition to highlighting the ways libraries across the world provided practical and emotional support to communities during the pandemic, the panel reflected on how these efforts reinforced the value of libraries as critical community supports and on the remarkable skills of library staff in adapting and innovating in response to local need.

TPL Marks Remembrance Day

This year marked the Year of the Poppy, which recognizes 100 years since the poppy was adopted as a symbol of remembrance in Canada. In honour of this milestone, the City added a poppy to the Toronto Sign in Nathan Phillips Square, which will be part of future Remembrance Week commemorations. Also in recognition of the centenary, TPL arranged for a wreath to be laid at Old City Hall through the Royal Canadian Legion.

TPL also recognized Remembrance Week in several ways including meaningful branch displays, booklists for kids and adults and programs. For example, Lest we forget, our November 2021 monthly featured reading list features fiction and non-fiction titles that examine Canada's participation in global conflicts and how these events have shaped our nation.

Poppy to the Toronto Sign in Nathan Phillips Square
Poppy added to Toronto Sign in Nathan Phillips Square


Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

United Way Campaign

TPL's United Way campaign is now in full swing, with staff ambassadors hosting fundraising events across the system. Last month, the ‘TPL Virtual Team’ walked, biked and rolled their way to raising more than $1,500 in the recent City of Toronto Virtual Run. A special congratulations to two TPL staff – Lynette Hartwell and Hang Bui – who each won an amazing prize in the city-wide United Way Incentive Draw.