City Librarian's Report for February 2023

February 17, 2023 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the February 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

Another year of steady growth for the Reading Challenge 

Stack of books on a wooden table with text that reads TPL Reading Challenge 2022
TPL Reading Challenge

The beloved TPL Reading Challenge (RC) began in 2019 as a social media campaign and later expanded to a system-wide initiative that includes in-branch promotions . Every year, with support from a dedicated staff team, TPL releases new reading categories to encourage Torontonians to read widely and discover new books, authors and genres.

In 2022, the RC team hosted 12 online programs that drew 362 participants and 192 replays. They also published 27 blog posts featuring reading recommendations by other TPL staff and challenge participants for each category. The posts averaged an impressive 1,000 views per post. The final post of the year features the top 10 most read books of the 2022 RC.

Throughout the year, there were nearly 24,000 visits to the RC website, a slight increase from 2021. In addition, the RC Facebook group continued a steady growth, gaining 400 new members and reaching over 2,500 members in total by year end.

Lastly, more than 150 challenge participants completed our year-end survey and provided some positive feedback:

  • 99+% were satisfied or very satisfied with the reading challenge
  • 90% discovered new books, authors or genres
  • 60% read more books
  • 50% were doing the RC for the first time in 2022

The 2023 challenge began on January 3, this time with new categories. We are also excited to resume in-branch meet-ups again, which our survey respondents were especially looking forward to having back this year.

Don Mills Branch at Sounds of the Season event 

Young participant having fun at the Sounds of the Season event
Young participant at the Sounds of the Season event

Don Mills branch partnered with CBC Toronto, North York Harvest and Daily Bread Food Bank to present Sounds of the Season in the branch parking lot on Saturday, December 17. The outdoor space was brought to life with a number of event tents featuring live entertainment such as storytelling, music, and dance. There was also a holiday craft table, photo booth, and a chance to visit with Santa. Delicious hot chocolate was provided by Tim Hortons, and the community was invited to contribute non-perishable food items or cash donations to the food banks.

Don Mills customers were very generous and large crates of food were collected along with sizeable monetary contributions. CBC Toronto was on hand to cover the event, and our very own Selwyn Chung, Assistant Branch Head, was interviewed regarding the library's role in supporting Toronto's Food banks.

Building pathways for workforce development

Virtual Interview Room Launch at Malvern branch 

Malvern branch's new Virtual Interview Room opened Feb 6th
Malvern branch's new virtual interview room opened February 6th

This month, Malvern branch opened TPL’s first Virtual Interview Room. The space provides job seekers with a dedicated space to prepare for and participate in virtual interviews, with software and hardware including a computer, webcam, ring light and headset. It also features access to valuable employment-oriented collections, library services and community employment resources to support the job search. 

The idea for this project was submitted as part of the 2020 City Librarian's Innovation Challenge by librarians Habibah Ahmad, Suzanne Alimoglu and Claire Fyfe. The Challenge invited staff to submit ideas to enhance or improve our public spaces – and support our strategic priorities. As Toronto’s workforce and economy continue to change, and with so many facing job losses and struggles, the room will create greater equity and access for our communities.

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Celebrating Data Privacy Week at TPL

Staff member Yonghai Ke leading a privacy class at McGregor Park branch
Staff member Yonghai Ke leading a privacy class at McGregor Park branch

TPL celebrated Data Privacy Week (Jan 23-27), a week dedicated to learning the impact technology has on our privacy rights and the importance of valuing and protecting personal information. TPL hosted three in-person and online programs about digital privacy and smart cities, as well as a talk by Dr. Brenda McPhail, Director of Privacy, Technology and Surveillance at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Dr. McPhail spoke about the first Canadian Artificial Intelligence and Data Act that is encompassed in the proposed Bill-C27, otherwise known as the Digital Charter Implementation Act, 2022. The program reviewed governance, data and personal rights when using technologies powered by AI. The programs generated lively discussions and garnered positive feedback.

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

TPL’s Anderson Ruffin Abbott archive added to UNESCO’s Canada Memory of the World Register 

Anderson Ruffin Abbott (in academic robes)
Anderson Ruffin Abbott (in academic robes)

Anderson Ruffin Abbott was the first Canadian-born Black physician and a man of many national and international accomplishments. In addition to his work as a physician, journalist, educator and hospital administrator in Canada, he served as a civilian surgeon in the Union army during the U.S. Civil War, and became a trusted associate of Abraham Lincoln.

TPL’s Anderson Ruffin Abbott archive includes books, legal documents, correspondence, manuscripts, newspaper clippings, notebooks, scrapbooks, photographs and artifacts donated by Abbott’s descendants. This archive has been selected for inclusion in UNESCO’s Canada Memory of the World Register, part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme intended to showcase the most significant documents of world heritage. As of 2022, there were only 27 collections inscribed to the register. Toronto Public Library is proud to steward and provide access to this significant and notable collection of documentary heritage.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Introducing TPL’s New Accessibility 101 Curriculum

Screenshot of the welcome slide of the module
Each slide of the module includes narration, closed captions and American Sign Language (ASL) video.​

The new, mandatory Accessibility 101 curriculum is the latest initiative of TPL’s Multi-Year Accessibility Plan to make accessibility a priority in our daily work.

This curriculum is an Equity and Inclusion core learning opportunity for all staff, volunteers and contractors, and consists of two modules:

  • key accessibility concepts, provincial legislation and accessible customer service best practices
  • an overview of TPL’s accessibility services

The Accessibility 101 curriculum helps us take a step forward in our learning journey to ensure our customers and employees with disabilities feel welcome at the library and can access our services how and when they need to.

Ontario Library Association Super Conference: Walking in Two Worlds

OLA banner featuring illustrations of nature and a city.
The 2023 OLA Super Conference was held from February 1-4 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre

After two years of an online-only format, the Ontario Library Association was pleased to be able to offer its first-ever hybrid Super Conference, the theme of which was ‘Walking in Two Worlds’: “This walking in two worlds, knowing and not knowing, old and new, equity and diversity, truth and reconciliation is where we find ourselves as we embrace for our next steps together.”

Approximately 260 TPL staff registered (with the vast majority electing to attend in person) and enjoyed a wide variety of sessions, including keynote speeches by Vivek Shraya, Anand Giridharadas and Elamin Abdelmahmoud. Ten of our staff also presented at the conference, on topics such as shelter outreach, correctional library partnerships, and Chinese book clubs, to name a few. After so much pandemic-related isolation, it was invigorating to be a part of that much library love under one roof!