City Librarian's Report for January 2023

January 16, 2023 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the January 23, 2023 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

What Toronto Read in 2022

Ten book covers of What toronto Read in 2022 adult books
Ten most borrowed books for adults in 2022

TPL released the annual lists of the most-borrowed books of 2022 in early December, highlighting popular books for adults, teens and children from the past year. Mystery and romance novels were in demand with adults last year, while fantasy and mystery books were most popular with teens. Toronto author Nita Prose had the most-borrowed adult book with her debut title, The Maid.

The lists are created using total checkouts from the year combined with current holds. Both physical and digital copies are included in the data.

The annual list of most borrowed books always receives significant media attention and this year was no different. Mike Warner, Digital Content Lead, Collection Development, appeared on CP24 and CBC Radio (along with local author Nita Prose) to discuss the lists.

Announcing the 2022 First and Best List

First and Best 2022
First and Best 2022 titles

On December 6, TPL announced its 2022 top picks of the best Canadian children’s books that 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 showcase Canadian children’s authors and illustrators and are not only fun to read, but also instill a love for reading from an early age. Visit the First and Best webpage for the full 2022 list as well as our lists from previous years. All titles are available at library branches across the city.

Incredible demand for new Prince Harry book

Spare Prince Harry

TPL customers have placed more than 8,500 holds on Spare, Prince Harry’s new book. There are currently 1,212 copies in multiple formats (book, audiobook, eBook and eAudio) on order or circulating at TPL. Recent titles that had comparable demand upon initial release include Becoming by Michelle Obama and Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff. We also shared a reel about the Prince Harry book arriving at TPL on our Instagram channel, which generated over 20,000 plays, 1,100 likes and 270 shares in one day!

Building pathways for workforce development

Adult Literacy Program Back In-person

Adult literacy offices
Left: Stephanie (staff) welcoming learners to the newly renovated Adult Literacy Program office at NYCL. Right: Interior of the new office.

TPL’s Adult Literacy Program had a very successful 2022 with the program operating both in-person and online. We supported 136 learners and held over 3,400 sessions. As of January 2023, the Adult Literacy Program has returned to 100% in-person service in all ten adult literacy offices, including the newly renovated office at North York Central Library. Like all our Adult Literacy offices, this space offers learners a welcoming environment that is conducive to learning. Adult learners are able to work towards their individual goals in a private and distraction-free space, volunteer tutors have full use of library resources, and library staff are better able to support both the learners and the volunteer tutor

The Adult Literacy Program offers free, one-on-one tutoring sessions in basic reading, writing, and math for English-speaking adults 16 years of age and older, and works towards the library’s focus on equity and inclusion.

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Innovator in Residence Programs Highlight Artificial Intelligence and Music Theory and Technology

Screenshot of online event with three presenters on screen.
L to R: Kishawna Peck (Innovator in Residence, Artificial Intelligence), Sageeve Oore (Faculty Member, Vector Institute) and Jason Cullimore (Innovator in Residence, Music Theory and Technology) presented a program about Songwriting in AI on November 29

From October 3 to December 10, TPL hosted two Innovator in Residence programs on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Music Theory and Technology. Both residencies offered in person and online programs, one-on-one appointments and staff training sessions.

Kishawna Peck (Founder and CEO of Toronto Womxn in Data Science) delivered 30 programs that reached 300 participants and covered topics such as responsible AI, self-driving cars and AI in healthcare. The residency included in-person programs at the Toronto Reference Library and informed participants about AI, how it is designed and how it impacts our daily lives.

Professional composer Jason Cullimore delivered 26 programs, including in-person programs at North York Central Library, that reached over 200 participants and introduced learners to the library’s new Digital Piano Lab service. This residency was made possible thanks to a generous donation from the Holdbest Foundation.

Kishawna and Jason also delivered two joint programs on the topics of AI and the future of film music composition and AI and songwriting.

Toronto Public Library Recognized for Doylean Excellence

A glass display housing historical photos and documents.
A Study in Sherlock & His Creator exhibit inside TD Gallery at Toronto Reference Library

On January 5, the Baker Street Irregulars (BSI), the world’s oldest literary society dedicated to Sherlock Holmes, presented the Arthur Conan Doyle Society’s Inaugural Doylean Awards in New York City. Jessie Amaolo, Services Specialist and Curator of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. was recognized on behalf of TPL in the Performing and Visual Arts category for Virtual Tour of A Study in Sherlock & His Creator.

The video is a guided tour of TPL's exhibit, A Study in Sherlock & His Creator, marking the 50th anniversary of its Arthur Conan Doyle Collection and exploring the many facets of the world's most famous detective writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The virtual tour video was a collaborative TPL effort between the Special Collections and Communications, Programming and Customer Engagement departments

Raspberry Pi and Audio Recording Kits Available to Borrow from Digital Innovation Hubs

A collage of kits that can be borrowed
Raspberry Pi, Audio Recording and Arduino Kits (clockwise from the top)

In December 2022, Raspberry Pi and Audio Recording kits became available for loan from TPL’s nine Digital Innovation Hubs, where Arduino kits are also available for loan. The Raspberry Pi Kits can be borrowed for three weeks at a time and the Audio Recording Kits for one week.

Raspberry Pi Kits consist of a Raspberry Pi computer with monitor, keyboard and mouse. Each kit also includes electronic components and video tutorials needed to complete a set of coding/electronic projects.

Audio Recording Kits consist of a digital audio recorder and a set of handheld and lapel microphones. This kit has everything needed for field recording, music making and is especially great for podcasting.

Our social media followers were pleased with the news, with an exceptional total of 30,000 views, likes, comments and shares on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter within one week of the announcement. Many shared their excitement with positive emojis and heartfelt comments like "once again TPL for the win."

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Let’s Discuss Accessibility! Consultation Sessions with CBC/Radio-Canada

Two people looking at a set of brightly coloured cards with different phrases on them, such as “let’s discuss accessibility,” “communication,” and “design and delivery of services.”
TPL staff and a session participant choose a category of accessibility barrier from a set of cards

In December, TPL partnered with CBC/Radio-Canada to host a series of community consultation sessions all about accessibility. We wanted to connect with people in Deaf and disability communities to better understand their realities and the accessibility barriers they experience on a daily basis when it comes to media and cultural consumption. We held sessions in English and in ASL, both in-person and online, with live captioning. Participants explored critical issues such as:

  • What barriers people face when accessing media;
  • How disability and Deaf culture are represented in the stories we create and amplify; and
  • Ways to strengthen our relationships and better meet the needs of diverse communities.

The discussions were lively, engaging, and deeply insightful. The information collected through these sessions will allow both TPL and CBC/Radio-Canada to develop plans and initiatives to better serve people with disabilities and people who are Deaf. A summary of findings will be posted on the CBC/Radio-Canada website later this year.

Three Successful Initiatives in 2022 Thanks to a Generous Donation

Quote by Shawn and Kate: "TPL plays and important role in targeting the root cause of many social issues and offering the support individuals and families need."

In December 2021, Shawn and Kate’s extraordinary unrestricted gift was made with no conditions and empowered Toronto Public Library to invest the funds into areas where they were most needed. The TPL Foundation is proud to share that several new initiatives have already launched as a direct result of the $1.25 million donation:

  • Social Service Teams are providing access and connection to social service and mental health supports to address challenges faced by our city’s most vulnerable residents.
  • Community Librarians are meeting people at their point of need by working directly in Black and Indigenous-focused agencies and delivering critical services to families and individuals.
  • A Financial Empowerment Service Program is underway, offering equity-deserving individuals and those living on low incomes access to financial counselling in select branches.

Learn more by visiting

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Enhancing Available Staff Development on Vulnerability

The Services to Vulnerable People team developed an extensive list of on-demand resources for TPL staff, totalling 29 hours. Since 2021, over 600 staff members have participated in the live and online learning sessions. We are providing staff with the knowledge, training, and tools to meet the unique needs of vulnerable people.

Various learning activities addressed relevant social issues facing our city. Participants explored diverse topics, such as shelter and housing, mental health and resilience, and food access. These information-sharing sessions also promoted collaboration with local community agencies.

In our continued commitment to delivering exceptional customer service, these sessions aim to better equip TPL staff, so they may respond successfully to the unique needs of our communities.

Celebrating Our Staff’s Dedication in 2022

People sitting around round tables inside an event venue.
2022 staff recognition events at the Appel Salon

On November 17, for the first time since 2019, we gathered together in person at the Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon to celebrate staff marking service milestones of 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 years at TPL. One hundred and six staff members reached one of these impressive milestones, collectively representing over 3,100 years of work at the library. At our annual staff recognition event we presented all employees with a letter of thanks and a certificate of recognition, as well as a TPL watch for those who celebrated 25 years.