City Librarian's Report for December 2022

November 25, 2022 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the December 5, 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

Providing Valuable Service in the Community

Lynie Awywen, one of TPL’s Community Librarians
Lynie Awywen, one of TPL’s Community Librarians

On October 19, over 120 people attended a Wellness day hosted by TAIBU Community Health Centre. TAIBU provides Black-identifying communities with programs and services in a culturally affirming, Afrocentric environment. Lynie Awywen, TPL’s Community Librarian, presented on the various ways that library services help facilitate self-care. Community librarians work within external organizations to provide library services onsite.  

The community shared many heartwarming stories and new enthusiasm for the library filled the room. There was loud applause when Lynie mentioned TPL’s elimination of late fines. Lynie issued over 25 new cards, renewed memberships, registered Book-A-Librarian sessions, and helped participants with Readers’ Advisory. Drop-in device help and registration for digital literacy classes were particularly popular.

This event is an example of TPL’s focus on equity and inclusion and commitment to breaking down barriers to access.

The Stories of Little Jamaica at Maria A. Shchuka

Rita Cox with MAS window display
Dr. Rita Cox in front of MAS window display

In September and October, Maria A. Shchuka branch hosted a three-part program in partnership with Storytelling Toronto: The Stories of Little Jamaica. Anansi storyteller Kesha Christie engaged community members in a nostalgic walk to explore the collective experience of growing up in the Caribbean, where the practice of storytelling was commonplace. The finale of the program featured Order of Canada recipient, former children’s librarian and head of Parkdale branch, and renowned storyteller, Dr. Rita Cox. Dr. Cox enchanted listeners with one story after another, beginning with a spooky story and finishing with a hilarious story that had the audience in stitches. 

After the program, Dr. Cox posed for pictures in front of the branch’s beautiful window display created by staff members to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection. Staff created a QR code and posted it next to the colourful portrait of Dr. Cox, to direct passersby to the collection’s page.

National Housing Day Recognition at North York Central Library

Film screening
PUSH documentary screening at North York Central Library

Each year on November 22, National Housing Day raises awareness about housing issues and homelessness across Canada. In recognition of National Housing Day, TPL partnered with Homeless Connect Toronto (HCT) to host two events at the North York Central Library. For the month of November, TPL showcased ‘Journeys to Home’ in the North York Central gallery space. This well-received exhibit featured first person ethnographies about individuals' journeys to housing.

On November 22, TPL hosted a screening of the documentary PUSH, which sheds light on the ongoing housing crisis, followed by an informative panel discussion with local housing expertsThe event was a huge success with 50 attendees and a very vibrant discussion of housing issues ranging from the important concept that housing is a right to the upcoming provincial legislation, Bill 23 and its potential impact on the affordable housing crisis in Toronto. Newly elected councillor for the area, Lily Cheng (Willowdale Ward 18) attended the event. All panelists commented that the library is so important and one of the last remaining public spaces in our community.

Homeless Connect Toronto is a registered Canadian charity committed to helping individuals end homelessness in their lives. The charity seeks to engage the community through advocacy and awareness of issues contributing to homelessness. Our annual National Housing Day event was a great opportunity to recognize our united efforts to support people experiencing homelessness and the importance of information exchange around the current housing crisis facing Toronto.

Laura Freeman, Senior Services Specialist Adult Literacy, noted that not only is TPL’s partnership with Homeless Connect Toronto so important but "hosting events like the National Housing Day program, raises awareness of issues contributing to homelessness, which is vital to community engagement and creating a more liveable city."

2022 Environmentalist in Residence (EnvIR) at Mount Dennis Branch 

Our 2022 Environmentalist in Residence (EnvIR) was Shamily Shanmuganathan, co-founder of Corals and Bees, an online platform dedicated to promoting intersectional environmentalism and advocating for climate justice. Shamily offered 10 programs and five community consultations to over 100 people during her residency at Mount Dennis Branch. 

From September 5 to November 12, Shamily worked with Indigenous presenters, offered virtual and in-branch Climate Career Chat panels, and Pollinator Paint Cafes to spark creativity and conversations around upcycling (reusing discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original) while growing native plants. 

Shamily also took part in a nature walk with community leaders and co-hosted a children's nature photography workshop. This marks the fifth year of the EnvIR program where an industry expert offered free programs, workshops, and community consultations as part of the Our Fragile Planet program series, supported by TD Friends of the Environment.

Building pathways for workforce development

Cedarbrae’s Community Youth Fair

Youth at Cedarbrae branch
Youth at Cedarbrae branch

On September 28th, Cedarbrae branch hosted a Community Youth Fair, welcoming local organizations to the branch including Strides Toronto, Rosalie Hall, Access Employment and the Toronto Police Service to network and share resources with youth. 

The event was a huge success with over 100 youth attending  and making valuable connections with community agencies. It helped to re-establish community partnerships that were put on hold during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several community partners reported that this was their first in-person outreach event in over two years, and that they were thrilled to be able to engage in much-needed face-to-face interactions with local youth. Participants learned about TPL’s broad range of youth-focused resources including Youth Hubs and homework databases, as well as local employment and training opportunities available to them including employment at the library.

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Digital Inclusion Week programming

Jason Cullimore, Innovator in Residence, Music Theory & Technology
Jason Cullimore, Innovator in Residence, Music Theory & Technology

During Digital Inclusion Week (October 3 to 7), TPL hosted 35 in-person programs and eight online programs that were attended by nearly 350 participants. Programs highlighted topics such as digital content creation and interactive digital art, digital privacy and safety, using Microsoft Office and more. 

TPL also launched two Innovator in Residence programs focused on Artificial Intelligence and Music Theory & Technology, including a discussion with Elissa Strome (Executive Director of the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research). 

Digital Inclusion Week is an annual North American-wide initiative that promotes digital equity in local communities. This year, TPL was one of 238 participating organizations.

Rent Geared to Income Subsidy: Navigating MyAccesstoHousingTO sessions

Participants learn to navigate MyAccesstoHousingTO
Participants learn to navigate MyAccesstoHousingTO

From July to November, TPL and the City of Toronto’s Access to Housing team collaborated and hosted over 40 sessions on navigating MyAccesstoHousingTO at select TPL branches. TPL staff facilitated convenient access to computers and to Wi-Fi connection for over 100 participants. They received hands-on and practical guidance on navigating MyAccesstoHousingTO and maintaining their Rent-Geared-to-Income eligibility.

Internet Connectivity Kits (ICKs)

Two young girls
TPL partnered with several community agencies through the City of Toronto’s Social Development, Finance & Administration and Shelter, Support and Housing Administration to provide Internet Connectivity Kits to Toronto residents.

With generous support from the Toronto Public Library Foundation, TPL provided 94 individuals and families with Internet Connectivity Kits  this fall. The kits provide recipients with a laptop and Wi-Fi hotspot (with two years of data services). The Internet Connectivity Kits program aims to support vulnerable residents who have been identified by community partners as having an urgent or critical need for internet connectivity and access to a technological device.

With an Internet Connectivity Kit, participants are now able to:

  • access online information, such as critical health resources or social supports
  • support online learning and education
  • reduce social isolation and maintain connections to family and friends

One of the Internet Connectivity Kits recipients shared their feedback:

"This is such a relief and will make life so much easier for my girls in school. The internet is such a necessity especially now. " – Renee W.

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Library Settlement Partnerships Week

Since 2007, TPL has been helping newcomers with their settlement needs through Library Settlement Partnerships (LSP) by working with seven local settlement agencies. This  October, TPL and settlement agencies collaborated to host the annual LSP Week celebration, which also marked LSP’s 15th anniversary. The theme was Health & Wellbeing, and 60 participants joined a conversation about bridging the connection between healthy food and lifestyle choices with Certified Nutritional Practitioner, Lucy Frankel. The topic generated lively online discussions and highlighted the importance of self-care. 

At this time, all 14 LSP branches offer appointment-based in-person one-on-one support. LSP programs continue mostly online, with plans to bring back more in-person programs. In 2021, LSP served over 29,500 newcomers and delivered over 900 programs. This service is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Active Living Tradeshow: connecting people with accessible library services

Friendly TPL and CELA staff ready to chat about accessible library services and collections.
Friendly TPL and CELA staff ready to chat about accessible library services and collections

On November 4 and 5, the Active Living Tradeshow took place at Variety Village, welcoming individuals, families, and organizations interested in increasing their awareness of inclusive living opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. Attendees enjoyed panel presentations, activities, and an exhibitor showcase featuring accessible products and services. Toronto Public Library staff were joined by staff from the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and together we enjoyed meeting people and talking all about accessibility at the library: our accessible computer technologies and reading devices, our accessibility services, and our accessible collections, such as CELA collections for library members with print disabilities.

Celebrate Democracy and Know Your Vote T.O.

library program
Celebrate Democracy launch event at Toronto Reference Library, with (L to R): Sarah Yaffe, Tiffany Ford, Michelle German and Joe Cressy

TPL recently wrapped up its Celebrate Democracy series following Toronto’s municipal election on October 24, 2022. Aimed at boosting civic engagement and awareness of the electoral process, TPL launched Celebrate Democracy and the Know Your Vote T.O. website in partnership with MASS LBP. The site, which received over 300,000 page views, provided information on candidates running for mayor or city council and detailed their thoughts on Toronto’s biggest issues.

This project promoted civic engagement and invited participants to engage with democracy. From October 14-24, 13 library programs took place with 228 total participants, including online and French programs. Vote Pop-Ups, offered in 15 libraries, encouraged participants of all ages to share what matters to them. The Celebrate Democracy webpage includes links to programs, booklists and resources. The booklist has received over 4,700 views and includes more than 70 titles for adults, youth and children. Celebrate Democracy is funded through generous donations to the Toronto Public Library Foundation.

Celebrate Democracy: Kids Can Vote 

Voting booth at S. Walter Stewart Branch
Voting booth at S. Walter Stewart Branch

As part of the lead up to the Municipal Election on October 24, four fictional candidates for mayorship were created using responses from the real mayoral candidates on Kids could view the candidates’ profiles online, or in a printed pamphlet available at all library branches. Kids then voted in-person at select branches, or online at

Evidence shows that introducing kids early in life to elections and voting has a positive impact on lifelong voting habits. Participating in a voting activity teaches them that their voice matters and helps them appreciate the value of voting and civic engagement. Kids across the city voted to elect Anita as the fictional Mayor of Torontoville. The biggest issue Anita wanted to address was climate change. Visit to see a full breakdown of the results.

UnJudge Aging: A Human Library 

Tina Robeznieks, UnJudge Aging participant
Tina Robeznieks, UnJudge Aging participant

On Saturday, October 29, Northern District branch hosted UnJudge Aging, a human library about aging. Library customers had the opportunity to check out 18 human 'books,' who shared their experiences about growing older during 30-minute sessions. A few examples of their stories: reflecting on growing up as a racialized person in Scarborough, becoming an entrepreneur later in life, caring for a partner with young onset dementia and accompanying a family member through a medically assisted death. 

UnJudge Aging is a project proposed by the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE), supported by a New Horizons for Seniors grant, and organized in collaboration with the Institute for Life Course and Aging (ILCA) and the City of Toronto. UnJudge Aging is also a research project, led by Dr. Lynn McDonald, Scientific Director at NICE, investigating the potential of human libraries as an intervention to reduce ageism. Results of the research will be available in Spring 2023. 

Helping low-income Torontonians in financially challenging times

Financial Empowerment
Financial Empowerment at TPL

In September 2022, TPL launched a Financial Empowerment initiative in partnership with WoodGreen, North York Community House (NYCH), and Prosper Canada to assist low-income Torontonians with financial-related topics. Over 31 customers at the Downsview and Riverdale branches have been served since the pilot's launch. Customers can sign up for one-on-one sessions online at This service was developed as part of the City of Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy Initiative.

Homeless Connect Toronto Event: Community Partner Outreach

library booth
The TPL table at the HCT event. Staff members L to R: Jenny Huntley, Rosa Maria de Barros, Liana Sukiasyan, Chris Carelli, Aminata Mageraga, Teresa Leung

On October 16, TPL participated in Homeless Connect Toronto’s (HCT) “one-stop-shop” event for individuals at risk of and experiencing homelessness in Toronto. The event, held annually at Mattamy Athletic Centre, brings service providers together to provide free onsite services and resources to those in need. TPL staff members connected with nearly 300 individuals, registered 78 new library cards and gave away 11 boxes of donated books - record numbers for TPL at HCT. 

Existing TPL users expressed positive feedback about our services, including several appreciative comments about our large collection of eBooks and diverse offerings of online resources. New cardholders mentioned their eagerness to attend User Education programs and schedule Book-a-Librarian sessions. At previous HCT events, staff frequently assisted guests facing barriers posed by the accumulation of library fines. Following the elimination of late fees, guests at this years’ event reported significantly fewer issues.

The Services to Vulnerable Persons Committee coordinated TPL’s involvement at HCT. Staff were grateful for the opportunity to serve community members at their point of need

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Learning Leads Symposium

The second annual Learning Leads Symposium was held virtually on October 5. Organized by members of TPL’s Learning & Development Steering Committee, the event was open to all learning leads (designated staff contacts who are responsible for liaising with their department or division to coordinate staff learning opportunities), and served as an opportunity to discuss recent learning culture initiatives. Through a combination of presentations, lightning talks, breakout rooms and interactive experiences, participants had ample opportunity not only to learn, but also to share their own expertise. Learning expert and author Julie Dirksen delivered the keynote talk, and inspired the audience with her practical and engaging tips about how to match our learning strategies to learners’ needs. Feedback from the event was positive, and the planning team is looking forward to working towards making the 2023 edition even better!