City Librarian's Report for February 2022

February 22, 2022 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the February 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

Exhibits for Arthur Conan Doyle fans

Study in Sherlock
A Study in Sherlock & His Creator: 50 Years of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. In celebration, the Special Collections Department curated the exhibit  A Study in Sherlock & His Creator: 50 Years of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, showing in the TD gallery at the Toronto Reference Library until April 16. Visitors explore the many facets of the popular Great Detective and learn about Doyle’s other published works. An assortment of over 100 items including books, original manuscripts, photographs, programs, posters, original art, memorabilia and ephemera are on display. There is also an online virtual exhibit available.

The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy also currently features Cracking the Case: Sleuths in Speculative Fiction. Visitors discover magical, supernatural and bizarre mysteries in this exhibit of science fiction and fantasy detective stories. The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books also presents Meddling Kids: A Children's Mystery Book Exhibit. From the famous Sherlock Holmes to elementary school amateurs, this exhibit explores the development of children’s mystery fiction from the 19th century to the present day.

TPL Reading Challenge 2021: Success Continues

Reading challenge

Our third year offering a city-wide reading challenge has been another huge success. The Reading Challenge began in 2019 as a social media campaign that was later broadened to include in-branch support and programming. Every year, we release new reading categories and we invite Torontonians to join to read widely and discover new books, authors and genres.

In 2021, staff ran 12 online programs that drew 1,250 participants and 210 replays. There were nearly 22,000 visits to the Reading Challenge website. In addition, the Reading Challenge Facebook group gained 450 new members, reaching over 2,100 members in total. More member engagement was also observed in the group – a 7.8% increase in the number of posts and an 11.5% increase in the number of comments from 2020.

More than 300 Reading Challenge participants responded to our year-end survey and provided some positive feedback:

  • 93% were satisfied or very satisfied 
  • 82% discovered new books, authors or genres 
  • 46% used TPL resources, collections and services more often
  • 58% read more books 

Recently the team shared the top 10 most-read books of the 2021 Challenge. The 2022 Challenge has already begun and we hope to resume in-person programming in the near future.

Covid-19 Vaccination Info Session

Covid-19 Vaccination Info Session in Black Community
Speakers L to R: Dr. Latif Murji, Dr. Colette Rutherford, Nancy Boyengo, Dr. David Burt

On January 26, TPL hosted a COVID-19 Vaccination Info Session for the Black, African & Caribbean Communities. Attendees had the opportunity to have their questions answered by medical professionals from the Black community who are actively working on different COVID-19-related efforts. The program covered how traditional and messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines work, how to find accurate information about Covid-19 and ways to access support services.

Speakers included:

  • Dr. Colette Rutherford, Obstetrician & Department Chief and Medical Director for Scarborough Health Network
  • Dr. David Burt, Immunologist, independent biotechnology and vaccine research development consultant and member of the City of Toronto Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity
  • Dr. Latif Murji, Physician Lead of the VaxFacts Clinic and Coordinator of Global Health, Diversity, and Health Equity at Scarborough Health Network
  • Nancy Boyengo, Registered Practical Nurse and Case Worker for the High Priority Community Strategy Team at Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities.

This is one of the many programs planned by TPL this year to help promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

Vaccine clinics at Amesbury Park and Black Creek branches

Vaccine clinic
Vaccine clinic at Amesbury Park

In Fall/Winter 2021, both Amesbury Park and Black Creek Branch hosted a total of 14 vaccination clinics led by Toronto Public Health (TBH) in order to provide hundreds of community members local access to vaccines. Nurses and other TPH staff administered vaccinations on-site and were pleased to partner with the library. Most of the clinics' clients were receiving their first dose and TPH staff were very helpful and informative when engaging in conversation with vaccine-hesitant customers. 

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Digital Innovation Online Programs Grow Reach and Impact

Flickr Photo Gallery
Photos created by participants of the Connecting with Creativity photography series

On February 4, TPL's Ted Belke (Senior Services Specialist, Innovation) and Greg Astill and Marek Holly (Digital Design Technicians) presented “Connecting with Creativity: Building a Community of Online Learners“ at the Ontario Library Association (OLA) Annual Super Conference. They discussed a photography series delivered in 2021 that was designed to teach new skills, while building a sense of community amongst learners.

This OLA presentation highlighted just one of the many successful online classes from last year. In 2021, the Digital Innovation Hub and Pop-up Learning Lab teams delivered 230 online programs to over 4,400 learners; nearly 1,500 were repeat participants, attending two or more classes during the year. Workshop topics included 3D design, 3D animation, photo editing, Python coding and web design.

The majority of program attendees were from the Greater Toronto Area, but learners also joined from locations around the world, including the United States, Portugal, Australia, United Kingdom, Albania, Philippines, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates. Participant feedback and praise were positive, including this recent comment from a feedback form: “Amazing! I love TPL. I do miss in-person workshops but this is a great way to continue the workshops that is accessible to everyone."

Building pathways for workforce development

Decoding the Bias

Decoding the Bias image
Top, L to R: Sasha Costanza-Chock, Shalini Kantayya, Safiya Noble. Bottom, L to R: Ethan Zuckerman, Kishawna Peck

On January 25, TPL and MIT Libraries hosted a well-attended online panel discussion, “Decoding the Bias.” This program explored the need to create an inclusive and equitable artificial intelligence (AI) system and presented biases embedded in data sets and algorithms, as highlighted in the documentary film, Coded Bias. The panel of experts featured Sasha Costanza-Chock (Director of Research & Design, Algorithmic Justice League), Shalini Kantayya (Filmmaker and Director, Coded Bias), Kishawna Peck (Executive Director, Toronto Womxn in Data Science), and Safiya Noble (Co-Director, UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry) and was moderated by Ethan Zuckerman (Associate Professor of Public Policy, Communication and Information, University of Massachusetts at Amherst).

The program was attended by nearly 220 guests and the recording has been viewed more than 55 times so far. This program was part of TPL’s “Eye on AI” series, an ongoing series that asks timely questions about AI and machine learning technologies and their impacts in our lives.

Earlier in the month, nearly 30 staff members from TPL and MIT Libraries got together at a virtual Lunch and Learn to discuss Coded Bias and the role that academic and public libraries serve to help communities build knowledge about AI technologies and skills to identify and combat misinformation.


Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Aging Your Way monthly program series recognized by Government of Canada 

The Government of Canada recently recognized “Aging Your Way”, TPL’s monthly online program series, as a “promising practice from civil society” in its report to the United Nations/World Health Organization outlining Canada’s achievements in supporting aging. The “Aging Your Way” series is a collaboration with CanAge, a national seniors advocacy organization, which promotes opportunities for seniors to learn, contribute to their communities, and build age-inclusive communities. The programs explore critical issues such as housing, health, safety, personal finance, digital technologies, ageism and more. Each program features speakers in discussion with CanAge CEO, Laura Tamblyn Watts. Sessions are informative, but also interactive and informal, with consistently high attendance. Live captioning, information resources sharing and the ability to review past sessions online help promote equitable access.

“Aging Your Way” programs are a welcome and impactful addition to TPL’s range of services for seniors, and hopefully just the first stage in other service collaborations.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

TPL staff at OLA Super Conference

OLA superconference

The Ontario Library Association (OLA) is Canada’s largest library organization and OLA’s Super Conference is Canada’s largest continuing education event in librarianship. This year’s theme was "gather" which can take on a few different meanings depending on context. After the experiences of the past many unprecedented months, many of us have a new appreciation of the importance of this simple, fundamental act. This year, 15 TPL staff also delivered 10 conference sessions on an array of topics including:

  • Serving Vulnerable Populations: Shaping a Holistic Advocacy Response
  • A House for Our Stories: Inspiring Unique Library Designs Through Deep Consultation
  • Accessibility by Design: Creating an Accessible Digital Document Training Program
  • Finding Career Clarity: Helping Younger Adults Navigate the Ambiguous World of Work

For a second year in a row, TPL negotiated a registration package with OLA that includes on-demand access to the conference recordings and materials for a six-month period. This allows all-staff access to the sessions most relevant to TPL’s evolving services, and those recommended by colleagues who participated in the live conference.