City Librarian's Report for September 2022

September 8, 2022 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the September 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

Newly Renovated Albert Campbell Branch Now Open

Albert Campbell Branch is now reopen!
Albert Campbell District Branch is now reopen!

Albert Campbell District (ACD) Branch, a busy library branch in southwest Scarborough, reopened in July after an almost three-year major renovation. Branch highlights include:

  • Increased public space to 8,000 square feet
  • Front garden features native plants developed through consultation with the local Indigenous community for place making and place keeping
  • Access to more technology and enhancements including a 3D printer, recording  studio and iMacs
  • Expanded public spaces including quiet study areas, lounge and reading spaces and flexible spaces for collaboration
  • Reimagined spaces for kids and teens
  • More natural light inside the building, and outdoor spaces including a rooftop terrace. 

Knowledge Keeper Karl Shay began the official reopening ceremony on July 28 with a meaningful welcome ceremony. TPL Board Vice-Chair Alim Remtulla, Councillor Gary Crawford and project architects also attended and shared a few words. Library staff led several activities and tours. One of ACD Branch's new mural artists, Ren Lonechild from Red Urban Nation Artist Collective, and Miinikaan garden designers were also present to chat with interested customers about their work on the project. CityNews covered the branch opening and community celebration. 

Maryvale Reopens

Deputy Mayor at new MRV Kidstop
Deputy Mayor at new Maryvale Kidstop

The expanded and relocated Maryvale branch welcomed customers on Monday September 12. The renovation process started in 2019, and we are thrilled to have almost doubled the size of the branch. The now 11,746 square foot branch is a versatile, warm and welcoming space for the community. The branch has also moved to a highly visible and more accessible location within the Parkway Mall.

The redesigned Maryvale branch now features an enlarged program room, study spaces (new powered tables, laptop bars, and study rooms), a bigger and brighter dedicated teen zone, and a cheerful and dynamic Kidstop. In fact, our Deputy Mayor and Ward Councillor could not resist a stop in the new Children’s space during a recent sneak peek of the branch. 

Summer Wonder and TD Summer Reading Club 2022

Prototypes from Wonder Workshop Adaptation Challenge
Prototypes from the Wonder Workshop: Adaptation Challenge at S. Walter Stewart Branch

Summer Wonder and the TD Summer Reading Club (TDSRC) ran from June 13 to September 3. Throughout the summer, TPL offered 60 featured programs including author and illustrator visits, STEM and various arts themes. In addition, we held 27 French language programs, 15 camps and 42 Wonder Workshops. Kids attending Wonder Workshops learned about design thinking as they prototyped solutions to real-world challenges like pollution, access to clean water, wind power and more.

This year also marked TPL’s second summer with the Beanstack Reading Tracking app, a tool that promotes literacy and helps families participate in summer programs remotely. Between June 13-27, more than 1,000 kids signed up for the TDSRC challenge in the app as part of a Get Your Summer Read On contest. Throughout the summer, kids and families logged 4,100 books read on Beanstack.

Outreach to TDSB Summer Model Schools

MS visit to Model School
Eastview Public School students enthusiastically participate in a game of Library Jeopardy, led by staff Bryan and Annie from Morningside branch

Throughout the summer months, TPL supports TDSB Summer Model Schools by conducting visits to participating locations. The Model Schools for Inner Cities program aims to increase access and opportunities for all students. In July 2022, TPL staff completed 25 visits to 17 schools with almost 2,000 student participants. Students learned all about TPL resources and programs like Summer Wonder and TD Summer Reading Club and had the opportunity to register for library cards. Many students were excited to receive their first ever library card and register for the TDSRC. 

Branch Welcome Signage 

Aframe signage in front of a library entrance. text on sign reads welcome to your library!
New welcome signage at a TPL branch

We are very focused on exploring and implementing new safety and security strategies at TPL. As part of this work, we have developed signage for all branches that welcomes customers and visitors and, in a friendly but clear way, asks them to be respectful and follow our rules of conduct.

The signs read: 

Welcome to your library! We want everyone to have a great experience when using our spaces and services, so let’s work together to make that happen! Please treat our staff – and each other – with kindness and respect. Discrimination, harassment, and violent or disruptive behaviour will not be tolerated. To find out more about our rules of conduct, visit or ask one of our library staff.

This is one of many initiatives we are working on in response to safety and security issues in our branches and spaces. Some activities underway include risk assessments at branches, video camera assessments, workplace violence prevention and response program and training and much more. This work is happening in consultation with staff, the Joint Health and Safety Committee and the Union. This work is aligned with recommendations from the Alternate Approaches to Safety and Security Discussion Table, which were endorsed by the Toronto Public Library Board this spring.

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Innovation Council Presents: Spring 2022 Program Series

Screen capture of the program Contra-Normative Augmented Reality Cosmetics on Crowdcast
Jeremy Bailey and Alla Popp displaying contra-normative augmented reality cosmetics

This past spring, TPL’s Innovation Council presented a three-part series of virtual programs that explored a variety of innovation-related topics, including: filter dysmorphia and augmented reality; civic innovation in Toronto; and the past, present and future of open data. The Innovation Council is an advisory group of recognized leading individuals from the academic, creative, and technology communities.

The first program, Contra-Normative Augmented Reality Cosmetics (moderated by Innovation Council member Jeremy Bailey) explored the use of contra-normative Augmented Reality (AR) cosmetics to address issues related to filter dysmorphia. Panelists included local and global contra-normative artists including garçonnnne (Toronto), Dillea (Toronto), B (Toronto), Shawné Michaelaine Holloway (Chicago) and Heran Genene (Ethiopian-Canadian artist). Members of the audience learned how they can create and use contra-normative filters.

The second program, Civic Innovation: Building the Enabling Infrastructure for New Ways of Working Together (moderated by Innovation Council member, Pamela Robinson) explored some Toronto examples of civic innovation. The panel featured Alice Xu (Manager of the Connected Community/Smart City program at the City of Toronto's Technology Services Division) Tai Huynh (Creative Director at OpenLab at the University Health Network), and Chiyi Tam (urban planner and community organizer).

The final program, Open Data: Past, Present and Future (hosted by Innovation Council member, Tai Huynh) brought together an academic, an investigative journalist, and a data manager to discuss the past, present and future of open data. Panelists included Denis Carr (Supervisor of the City of Toronto’s Open Data program), Inori Roy (journalist and Associate Editor at The Local magazine) and Pamela Robinson (Director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Toronto Metropolitan University).

More than 180 people attended the programs. Members of the audience at all three programs were very engaged in the chat discussion and asked many insightful questions.

Summer Rogers Outage

When a nationwide Rogers network outage left countless people in our city without internet connection or phone service in July,  many headed to their local library branch to access Wi-Fi and use computers.

We saw a significant increase of in-branch activity that day, including:

  • 87% increase in branch visits
  • 79% increase in ‘Reserve a Computer’ sessions 
  • 40% increase of in-branch checkout of materials.

It was another reminder of the important role we play in helping Torontonians access the vital technology, connectivity, spaces and supports they need. 

Wi-Fi Hotspot Lending Service

TPL began a new cycle of borrowing for the Wi-Fi Hotspot Lending service in June. This service allows customers who do not have internet access at home to borrow a free Wi-Fi Hotspot, with unlimited monthly data plans for a period of up to six months. Thirty of our branches located across the city are hubs for this service which helps to provide more equitable access to the internet for all Torontonians. These branches work with their local community agencies to ensure the hotspots are made available to customers who could benefit most from this service. They also support customers navigating this new technology with Book a Librarian sessions and a recommended TPL eResources list to explore. The next six-month lending period will begin in Winter 2023. 

CO2 Monitor Lending

CO2 monitor packaging
CO2 monitor packaging

Customers can now borrow one of 50 CO2 (carbon dioxide) monitors at any Digital Innovation Hub. The monitor measures CO2 levels which can be used to provide a general idea of how well an indoor space is ventilated. While the reading on this monitor is not a direct indicator of risk for airborne infections such as COVID-19, knowing the CO2 levels in an indoor space can help users take steps to improve ventilation. This program has been well-received with mentions in BlogTO, CTV, CBC and generated tremendous discussion on social media.

Building pathways for workforce development

Networking and Mentorship Series Recap

Woman on laptop
The Career Coaches in Residence program will resume again this fall


From May 25th to June 30th, TPL launched the smash-hit Networking and Mentorship Series as part of the Career Coaches in Residence service. The series offered a wide range of programs, workshops, and panels to Torontonians, with a focus on young and early career adults. It was the perfect opportunity to explore trends in the job market, successful career advancement, speak with a wide range of mentors, and create and expand your professional network. The series was attended by over 180 participants and included the following sessions:

  • Explore Careers in Education
  • The Importance of Networking
  • Navigating Failure and Embracing Courage
  • Careers Examined: Human Resources
  • Personal Branding
  • All About Informational Interviews
  • Navigating Identity in the Workplace

The Networking and Mentorship Series is powered by RBC.

Introducing The Entrepreneurs’ Suite at NYCL

The Entrepreneurs’ Suite
The Entrepreneurs’ Suite opened on August 2nd

Located in the Business, Science & Technology Department at North York Central Library (NYCL), the Entrepreneurs’ Suite provides a dedicated co-working space for entrepreneurs to work, connect with other entrepreneurs and social innovators, and access expert staff assistance connecting users with the collections, resources and training to allow them to start and grow their ventures.

The Entrepreneurs’ Suite space is complemented by programming that further supports workforce development, including programs such as the Entrepreneur in Residence, programs for tech upskilling, and tailored information sessions to help users meet their business goals. Customers with a valid library card can apply to use the Entrepreneurs’ Suite by completing an application and submitting it to the department.

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Free Menstrual Products Pilot 

Period product dispenser
Period product dispenser at Sanderson Branch

TPL partnered with The Period Purse on a pilot service at the Malvern and Sanderson branches to serve people who menstruate by providing access to free menstrual products. This service began the week of June 27th and will run for six months, until the end of 2022. Tampons and pads are available to customers for free in all public washrooms in both branches.

The Period Purse is Canada's first and only federally registered charity that deals with period poverty by striving to achieve menstrual equity and reduce the stigma surrounding periods through education and advocacy. 

Amy Arsenio (Assistant Branch Head at Malvern) shared about the success of the pilot so far, "[The pilot is] going great! We are replenishing the women's basket 2-3 times per day. Staff are all very much on board and happy that Malvern was selected as a pilot branch."


Ripley's joins MAP program 

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada - fish tank
Fish tank at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada

TPL welcomed Ripley's Aquarium of Canada to the Museum + Arts Pass (MAP) program this July with great excitement! This downtown attraction consists of 10 carefully curated galleries displaying a cross section of saltwater and freshwater environments from around the world, and the beauty and significance of the animals within it.

The Museum + Arts Pass (MAP) program allows Toronto families to borrow a limited number of free passes to top cultural institutions and attractions with their library card in the same way they would borrow library materials. The program's primary goal is to broaden Torontonians' access to the city's cultural life. This is yet another example of TPL supporting the community and creating equitable access to spaces.

Our Neighbours’ Stories

L-R Geraldine Cahill  Mila Robinson  Councillor James Pasternak  Moon Ja Park and Mandana Attarzadeh
L to R : Geraldine Cahill, Mila Robinson, Councillor from York Centre, Moon Ja Park and Mandana Attarzadeh

As a vital member of the Bathurst-Finch community, Centennial Branch and several local community service agencies joined the Caring Community Challenge by convening partner, UpSocial Canada. Over a period of 18 months, the convening team participated in online workshops, reviewed case studies and engaged in selecting programs to pilot in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood. All of this activity aimed to realize greater connection between youth and seniors from all cultures and to increase feelings of belonging.

The team selected a pilot program, Our Neighbours’ Stories, a collection of interviews with resident seniors, produced by Toronto youth. These stories produced by youth were mounted on posters and displayed at Centennial Branch. On May 26, the local city councillor officially launched the exhibition entitled Our Neighbours' Stories in celebration of this achievement.

Programming at Sunnybrook Hospital 

Manon Luxenburg
Manon Luxenburg delivering programming

In partnership with the occupational therapy team at Sunnybrook Hospital, Manon Luxenberg (Senior Library Assistant) has been delivering virtual programming to the Veterans in K-Wing at Sunnybrook. Manon's programs include reading aloud short stories and poems, sharing jokes, singalong songs like "You Are My Sunshine" and other music. She is broadcast via the hospital TV directly into Veterans' rooms, providing those with low mobility or Covid restrictions a source of entertainment and inclusion. Manon has hosted five programs so far, with a total of 45 participants.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Incident Report Management System

Over the summer months, a cross-divisional team worked to prepare and deliver training on the use of TPL’s new Incident Report Management System (IRMS), in preparation for its September launch. This central, online repository will vastly improve the viewing, editing and sharing of incident reports in an ethically responsible manner, resulting in increased staff awareness about incidents. The IRMS working group collaborated with TPL’s eLearning Leads to develop two eLearning curricula. The IRMS: Introduction & Ethics curriculum was assigned to all staff as required learning (with a 76% completion rate to date), and the advanced curriculum (Working with the IRMS) and live demonstration sessions were assigned to staff on an as-needed basis (with 434 and 279 completions respectively). This blended learning approach has been well received, and the on-demand components have allowed staff to become acquainted with the system in a timely and convenient fashion

Activating a Learning Culture

Members of the Learning & Development Steering Committee delivered two workshops to 133 supervisors in June, on the subject of how to activate a learning culture. The agenda included information about the important role supervisors play in this work, lightning talks from staff representatives describing examples of a learning culture in action at their locations, and a collaborative breakout session activity, and was modelled on a similar workshop delivered to managers earlier this year. Providing supervisors and managers with this learning culture background and context-setting better positions them to support the rollout of learning culture activities to the entire organization later this year, and underscores the message that not only do they play an important supporting role in the learning and development of the staff they supervise, they are also learners themselves.

AI in Everyday Life

TPL collaborated with Michael Ridley (Librarian Emeritus, Guelph; Ph.D. Candidate, University of Western Ontario) to host a staff Lunch and Learn about the impact of artificial intelligence on everyday life. The session, attended by 26 staff, featured a discussion about how the popular app TikTok’s algorithm works and the benefits and risks of its use. Staff then participated in breakout discussions about the role of public libraries in supporting algorithmic literacy education, how to promote civic engagement about issues related to AI, and the role of human rights in AI. Generally, staff participants felt positive about the potential of artificial intelligence but also expressed concern about digital safety in some of the ways that AI is being applied.

Lunch and Learn sessions are an ongoing series that seek to build staff awareness and knowledge related to digital technology, privacy and safety.

Pride Month Staff Social

Pride Alliance staff social
Pride Alliance staff social at S. Walter Stewart Branch

During Pride Month in June, Pride Alliance hosted a social for staff at S. Walter Stewart Branch on the evening of Saturday, June 18. More than 40 staff, family and friends enjoyed a potluck and outdoor picnic, co-sponsored by TPL and TPL Workers Union Local 4948. It was a fun evening and staff enjoyed connecting with one another and also played a Pride Trivia game. Pride Alliance is an employee resource group that fosters diversity and inclusion for 2SLGBTQ+ staff and allies. Their other key initiatives include organizing and facilitating mandatory Positive Spaces training for staff in collaboration with The 519.