City Librarian's Report for January 2022

January 14, 2022 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the January 2022 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 and City of Toronto Co-Host International Day of Persons with Disabilities Virtual Event

Clockwise from L to R: Mayor Tory, ASL Interpreter, Councillor Wong-Tam
Clockwise from L to R: Mayor Tory, ASL Interpreter, Councillor Wong-Tam

On International Day of Persons with Disabilities (Dec 3), TPL co-presented a virtual event with the City of Toronto to celebrate the stories, experiences, and inclusion of people with disabilities in literature and the arts.

Mayor John Tory opened the event with a greeting that included a commitment to continue working to remove barriers and advance meaningful inclusion for Torontonians with disabilities. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Chair, Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee) was a wonderful host and introduced featured guests: author and disability rights advocate Amanda Leduc; author and multidisciplinary artist Vivian Chong; writer, performer, and Dis/Play curator Ophira Calof; Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille, Marjorie Chan; along with TPL staff Winona McMorrow (Accessibility Services), Leigh Turina and Bonnie Ing (IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities).

Thank you to City of Toronto staff and elected officials, library staff, featured guests, and all the attendees who celebrated with us and made the event a joy and success. A recording will soon be available on the City of Toronto site.

Accessibility Book Lists and Blog Posts

Books from our accessibility-related reading lists for kids, teens, and adults
Books from our accessibility-related reading lists for kids, teens, and adults

As part of our International Day of Persons with Disabilities celebrations, TPL published a blog post and a new recommended reading list. The list highlights books for adults published in 2021 that centre and celebrate the lives and experiences of people with disabilities and people who are Deaf.

We also added a new section to our Accessibility webpage to feature these and other online resources created by library staff:

  • Book lists - recommended books for kids, teens, and adults about Deaf and disability experiences.
  • Blog posts - library posts on accessibility, disability, and Deaf Culture.
  • COVID-19 community resources– online resources to help navigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic from organizations supporting Deaf and disability communities in the Toronto area.

We look forward to continuing to develop more library resources that celebrate, promote, and support accessibility at the library and in our communities.


Building pathways for workforce development

Announcing the 2021 First and Best List

First and Best 2021
First & Best List

On December 7, TPL announced its top picks from 2021 of the best Canadian children’s books to help get kids under five ready for reading. The First and Best annual list is part of TPL’s Ready for Reading program, developed to help parents and caregivers support the development of early literacy skills in children from birth to five through fun, everyday activities. The books on the First and Best list celebrate Canada’s talented children’s authors and illustrators and are not only fun to read, but also instill a love for reading from an early age. All titles are available at library branches across the city.


Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Raising Confident Kids

Tamara Balan and Ann Douglas
Tamara Balan (TPL Board Member) introduced Ann Douglas, author of Happy Parents Happy Kids

To support parents and caregivers, TPL continued the Raising Confident Kids programming series with four online presentations in November. The Hospital for Sick Children delivered Moving Forward while Running in Place: Children’s Mental Health & COVID to share findings about the impact of COVID-19 on children’s mental health and provide supports and coping strategies. Educator and anti-racism activist Jay Williams presented Let’s Talk Race to share what is currently happening in our schools and to offer goals, tips and strategies for discussing race, anti-racism, and allyship. Ann Douglas, author of Happy Parents Happy Kids and The Mother of All book series, presented Happy Parents Happy Kids to share how parents and caregivers can tame the anxiety, embrace the joy, and thrive alongside their kids while building a better world.

The 519 delivered Creating a Safe and Gender Affirming Inclusive Environment for Kids and Families to provide a broader understanding of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and how parents and caregivers can be allies within their homes and community.

Our Fragile Planet, Environmental Program Series 2021 Recap

Birding Kits in collaboration with Birds Canada
Birding Kits, provided through a collaboration with Birds Canada.

This year, over 1,200 people attended Our Fragile Planet programs, TPL's environmental literacy series, supported by TD Friends of the Environment) since 2014. The series offered 37 virtual programs featuring Indigenous presenters and knowledge community leaders on accessing urban nature spaces, wildlife conservation experts (with live feathered guests!) and more.

The series also includes TPL's Environmentalist in Residence (EnvIR). Junaid Khan, an ecologist at Pollinator Partnership Canada, focused on decolonizing approaches in conservation practice through relationships and collaborations with communities of colour and Indigenous peoples on various topics.

TPL partnered with Birds Canada to pilot birding kits in three branches. The kit provided Torontonians with more opportunities to connect with nature through binoculars and birding resources. By increasing access to nature and its health benefits, the birding kits also build on environmental literacy and inspire future environmentalists.

Seniors Services Receive Honourable Mention

Library staff speaking on the phone, with a mask on.
Emoke, TPL librarian, phones a senior.

In December 2021, TPL was awarded an Honourable Mention for our “outstanding work in supporting seniors during the pandemic and for sharing [our] experiences widely in mainstream media.” The W.K. Lamb Award recognizes outstanding library service to seniors and is awarded biennially by the Canadian Federation of Library Associations and Ex Libris Association. Since the start of the pandemic, TPL made it a priority to connect with vulnerable and socially isolated seniors who may not have access to the internet or other supports. A team of 20 staff made 27,000 check-in calls to seniors 70+. Over 100 staff mobilized to make 14,648 calls to provide vaccination information to seniors as part of the City of Toronto outreach strategy. The Seniors Tech Help line received 1,113 calls and ran over 300 appointments to support seniors with their technology questions over the phone, and 84 online programs were delivered for a senior audience.


Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Second Annual Innovation Symposium A Success

Library Leaders Panel during the Innovation Symposium
Top (L to R): Marie Ostergaard, Director of Aarhus Public Libraries; Vickery Bowles, City Librarian, TPL, moderator; Ng Cher Pong, CEO, National Library Board, Singapore
Bottom (left to right): Chris Brown, Commissioner, Chicago Public Library; Anthony Marx, President, New York Public Library

On December 14, TPL hosted its second annual Innovation Symposium. This virtual event celebrated library success stories and learnings from the past year and looked ahead to 2022. Nearly 170 library staff from countries around the world attended including Iceland, Singapore, Denmark, USA and Canada.

This inspiring gathering consisted of:

  • a panel discussion with library leaders moderated by City Librarian Vickery Bowles
  • a lightning talk presentations
  • a keynote address from sociologist and bestselling author Eric Klinenberg (Palaces for the People)

Participant feedback was positive and several attendees noted how interesting it was to see that despite geography, libraries around the world are all thinking about and addressing similar issues relating to digital equity, workforce development, supporting seniors and other vulnerable groups, and investing in their staff.

Positive Spaces Training for Staff

Pillars at Yorkville Branch decorated by pride flags

In 2021, TPL Pride Alliance, an employee resource group that helps foster and support an inclusive environment for 2SLGBTQ+ staff and allies, collaborated with The 519 to launch TPL's mandatory Positive Spaces staff training initiative. The training supports the work of TPL’s 2SLGBTQ+ Service Plan and TPL’s commitment to equity and inclusion and to fostering welcoming and inclusive spaces for all gender and sexuality diverse communities and our staff.

At each session, participants learned about the Ontario Human Rights Code with a focus on Sex, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression as well as the importance of pronouns and gender expansive language. Staff also discussed common scenarios they may encounter at work.

This year, 12 sessions reached nearly 275 staff, including three kick-off sessions with management staff. Feedback from staff has been positive with one participant noting:

"Incredible webinar! It was long, but it definitely had to be that way. It truly is a lot of information and it is so nice to be able to take it in at a reasonable pace. Every topic was introduced well and helped develop learning… Taught me so much… definitely one of the best Webinars I've attended!”

In 2022, Positive Spaces training will expand to offer additional sessions, with the goal of reaching up to 400 staff. Evening and Saturday sessions will be offered to increase access for part-time staff, including pages.