City Librarian's Report for October 2022

October 12, 2022 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the October 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 Wychwood Branch Now Open!

Interior of branch taken from second floor looking down. Includes high ceiling and spiraling stair case.
The renovated branch reopened to the public on October 3

We are very excited to announce the reopening of the Wychwood branch on Monday, October 3 after a beautiful expansion/renovation. Wychwood Branch first opened in 1916, constructed with a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Deemed a Toronto Heritage Building in 1976, the branch experienced an addition in 1978 and a retrofit in 1995. As its neighbourhood grew, so did the library. This latest renovation more than doubled Wychwood branch's size from 6,400 square feet to 17,000 square feet. The light-filled addition, adjacent to the original historical building, blends the old with the new and provides the community with a modern library while celebrating its stunning historical features.

Highlights include:

  • KidsStop, a literacy-rich, tactical learning environment for children and their caregivers, based on the theme of a beaver lodge
  • Dedicated Seniors’ Space with flexible furniture for programs such as book clubs and tech training
  • Reimagined spaces for adults, kids and teens with quiet study, lounge seating and flexible spaces for collaboration
  • Improved accessibility throughout including an elevator and barrier-free washrooms
  • Third floor mezzanine boasts an incredible view of Great Hall, as well as the original fireplace
  • Behind the fireplace is a deck with outdoor seating overlooking the Wells Hill Lawn Bowling Green
  • Second floor also features tables fashioned from one of the 75 year old Norway Maple trees removed during construction
  • Outdoor plaza features a garden with native plants and trees, along with flexible seating

A reopening celebration is planned for Tuesday, October 25 at 10:00 a.m. 

Wellness Exchange: discussing mental health at the library

On September 15th, library staff facilitated a community conversation centred around mental health. Guest speakers included mental health educator, Rebecca Higgins, and Steve Rogers, a person with lived experience from the Dream Team. In this supportive environment, attendees shared their unique experiences with mental health. They were thrilled that the library offered a way to connect with other individuals, especially after struggling with social isolation during the pandemic. After the session, participants shared they had an increased awareness of existing supports and services in the community and expressed a desire to see more programming in the future. It was a great opportunity to relay the message that mental health affects everyone, whether at work, at home, or in the community.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist announcement at the Toronto Reference Library

The Jack Rabinovitch Reading Room at the Toronto Reference Library hosted the announcement of the Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlist on September 27th. The event, which was livestreamed on the Giller Prize Facebook page and on CBC, was a wonderful opportunity to show off this beautiful new space that is dedicated to Canadian literature. It includes Jack Rabinovitch’s Giller collections and memorabilia donated by the Rabinovitch family. 

Ontario First Nations School Outreach Initiative

As part of TPL’s Board-approved Indigenous Strategies response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action, TPL extended the eligibility of membership to include persons living on First Nations reserves in Ontario. This past September, Membership Services, in collaboration with Youth Services and Indigenous Initiatives, organized a virtual visit to two school classrooms on Ontario First Nations reserves.

Students were presented with information on TPL’s digital services, resources, and online programs. Over 40 students were registered with Digital Access Cards, instantly breaking down the barriers to access and connecting them immediately with digital resources such as eBooks and eAudiobooks, research databases, and eLearning resources. We hope to continue our work with Ontario First Nations reserves and reach many more customers in 2023.

Visual Art Workshops

Teen painting workshop
Teen painting workshop

TPL has recently developed partnerships with several art schools including the Canadian Contemporary School or Arts, Artbarn School and Fresh Paint Studio to enhance its program offerings for teens. Instructors from these schools, as well as professional artists including book illustrator Soyeon Kim and comic artist Kean Soo, will bring their subject expertise to 20 visual arts workshops in 20 Youth Hubs this fall. Workshops include watercolour and acrylic painting; still life, landscape and portrait drawing; oil pastel; cartooning; illustration; and printmaking. This series is made possible by a generous donation from the estate of Rita-Anne Piquet. Rita-Anne was an accomplished artist and arts educator who nurtured young people and their talents.

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

AI Programs for Children with STEAMlabs 

STEAMlabs program at Morningside branch
STEAMlabs program at Morningside branch

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology and the fundamentals of machine learning do not have to be intimidating and inaccessible for anyone to start learning. This September, 11 TPL branches hosted workshops on various AI topics for children with STEAMlabs. The workshops aimed to provide participants with a broad understanding of how AI works and empower them to apply this knowledge in real life.

In these workshops, children learned technical concepts around neural networks, applications of vision AI, and natural language processing. Additionally, participants had the opportunity to explore how AI uses neural networks to make predictions and how it can be trained to recognize everyday objects as well as detect intent from speech and respond back. More than 65 children and family attended the programs.

Feedback from participants and staff alike has been positive with one staff noting: “Big thanks to STEAMlabs and BoA for supporting such an amazing, fun, interactive program! We appreciate your kindness & patience.” These programs have been generously supported by Bank of America.

Seniors’ Digital Literacy Programs

Seniors Digital Literacy Graduates
Seniors Digital Literacy Graduates celebrating with Community Librarian Rabia Pirani

TPL community librarians wrapped up the first round of digital literacy classes at four Toronto Seniors Housing Corporation locations. Over seven weeks, the community librarians delivered a series of beginner computer classes plus regular Book-a-Librarian appointments. Fifty-seven seniors participated in the classes, covering a variety of basic digital literacy skills: connecting to WiFi, searching the internet, and using email. Offering library service at seniors’ point of need supports Toronto’s Senior Strategy 2.0, as well as providing social interaction, building community and teaching valuable skills. Over 92% of participants were satisfied with the course. Comments included “I am thankful for this course. Now I know how to use a computer,” and, “I learned a lot and I am very thankful for the opportunity to do so.”

The City of Toronto has approved permanent funding for Community Librarians. Seniors’ Digital Literacy Community Librarians are also generously supported by donations to the Toronto Public Library Foundation from an Anonymous Lead Donor, Richard and Joan Boxer, The Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, and other donors.

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Complimentary PRESTO Card Initiative


In collaboration with the TTC and the City of Toronto, TPL has been providing complimentary PRESTO cards to customers since 2020. The goal is to provide a PRESTO card to anyone who does not yet have one and who may face challenges in purchasing one. Over the past two years, this service has expanded to 56 TPL branches, giving out over 68,000 PRESTO cards to customers and local community agencies.

Recently, the City of Toronto shared information about this initiative with housing providers who, in turn, connected with their local branch to provide PRESTO cards to their clients. We have been delighted to support these requests from agencies such as Scarborough Heights Cooperative Homes, Wilcox Creek Cooperative Homes, and Loft Community Service. This past summer proved to be a popular time for the PRESTO card service with 14,825 cards given out over June-Aug 2022.

Since TPL is well-positioned as a welcoming, safe, and accessible part of many Toronto neighbourhoods, we were pleased to be identified as a pickup location for anyone who participates in the Fair Pass Transit Discount Program. This collaboration has been very successful and we are thrilled to continue supporting our customers with barrier-free access to complimentary PRESTO cards! Read more about the Complimentary PRESTO Card Initiative and a list of pickup locations.

Toronto Star Opinion Piece: Libraries play important role in promoting democracy

Celebrate democracy program at Toronto Reference Library
Celebrate democracy program at Toronto Reference Library

Toronto Star featured an opinion piece that I wrote in response to an article that questioned the health of Toronto’s democracy. In the piece, I highlight our new interactive website, Know Your Vote T.O. , and the Celebrate Democracy events at library branches across the city. TPL is doing its part in helping Torontonians become more engaged and informed ahead of the October 24 municipal election. Know Your Vote T.O. and Celebrate Democracy offer access to unbiased, accurate information and opportunities for discussion. I also note some of the wonderful things happening to make elections and our democracy more engaging, including the Democratic Engagement Exchange, Operation Black Vote Canada and Apathy is Boring.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Evolution of a Learning Culture

As September is back-to-school month, it was a fine time to roll out initiatives related to the continued evolution of a learning culture at TPL. We unveiled TPL’s Learning Culture Toolkit – a document filled with tips, activities and resources to enhance learning in our daily work. To encourage staff to share their learning journeys and inspire and motivate each other, we’ve also introduced the ”Today I learned (TIL)” Yammer group. All staff are invited to join, to share learning insights, stories, and helpful resources.

Finally, we featured a presentation about the learning culture initiatives at the September staff town hall. This introduced many staff to the learning culture statement for the first time, and also served as an opportunity to engage all participants in a learning activity, to demonstrate how easy it is to boost your learning a few minutes at a time.