City Librarian's Report for May 2023

May 11, 2023 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the May 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

Toronto Star Short Story Contest at Yorkville Branch

The awards ceremony took place at Yorkville branch on April 18
The awards ceremony took place at Yorkville branch on April 18

The 45th annual Toronto Star Short Story Contest ceremony took place at Yorkville branch on April 18. The talented winning writers’ inspiring and diverse stories, including first place winner Alice Gauntley’s “Free to a Good Home,” second place winner Jasmine Ng’s “Fish and Forgiveness” and third place winner Natalya Anderson’s “Two Cadavers Seek Witnesses at Shoppers Drug Mart” can be read in the Toronto Star.

Thousands attend TCAF at Toronto Reference Library

Over 25,000 attendees enjoyed the 2023 Toronto Comic Arts Festival at the Toronto Reference Library

TPL was once again the host sponsor for the 2023 Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), held April 28-30 at the Toronto Reference Library. Over 25,000 attendees passed through the doors for three days of programs, exhibits, and author/illustrator signings on all things comic and graphic arts-related. Featured guests included Kate Beaton, Megan Kelso and Jun Mayuzuki, and programs covered a wide range of topics, such as authors rights and Indigenous self-publishing. TPL also had a popular zine and button-making table that was supported by members of the Toronto Reference Library's Teen Council.

Earth Day programs and community cleanups

Recent Earth Day Celebrations at TPL
Participants learn how to Grow a Pollinator Container Garden by getting hands-on experience with soil and plants with the Toronto Master Gardeners at Malvern Branch.

Throughout the month of April, TPL celebrated Earth Day with various in-branch and Live & Online programs for different audiences. Children and families got hands-on in a bird-feeder making activity with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), adults and seniors started their own pollinator container gardens with Toronto Master Gardeners (TMG), and virtual audiences learned to identify bird sounds. 

A new booklist about nature and the environment, as well as a variety of in-branch programs and Our Fragile Planet programming, supported by TD Friends of the Environment Foundation continue this month. The City also recognized Earth Day through its annual spring cleanup campaign for schools, businesses and residents to tidy Toronto’s parks, beaches, ravines, laneways and other public spaces.

Building pathways for workforce development

Young Voices Magazine

Practice Room, by Patrick Shen (art featured in Young Voices 2022)
Practice Room, by Patrick Shen (art featured in Young Voices 2022)

TPL's Young Voices magazine enables teens to connect with adult experts in the arts and with their peers. Each year, we invite Toronto youth to submit their art, photography, comics, poetry, stories and essays. Our Youth Services staff recently refreshed the Young Voices webpage and created a video featuring past teen contributors to encourage others to submit their work.

This year, thanks to a generous donation from the Friends of Toronto Public Library, South Chapter, we are excited to publish Young Voices in colour for the first time. We received 480 submissions for the magazine, and our Young Voices selection teams, made up of teen volunteers and professional writers and artists, will decide which pieces to publish. One of those professional writers, Lillian Allen, has been assisting with Young Voices since 2016, and we are thrilled that she has just been appointed as the Poet Laureate for the City of Toronto.

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Neighbourhood Tech Kits Expand to 43 Branches

Program participants at Main Street
Program participants at Main Street

By the end of February, 43 branches received a Neighbourhood Tech Kit bringing the total to 56 branches, and significantly increasing TPL’s ability to deliver digital literacy programming to communities across the city. A kit consists of a set of Windows laptops that staff can use to develop and deliver programs that meet their communities’ needs and interests, on topics such as using productivity and creativity software, the Internet and social media, and improving digital privacy.

The kits were launched at 13 pilot locations between 2019 and 2020. In 2022, we expanded this to 45 additional branches. The renovated Ethennonnhawahstihnen' and Mount Pleasant branches will open with neighbourhood tech kits. Customer and staff feedback has been positive, with many staff expressing enthusiasm to be able to offer digital literacy programs for the first time.

Some notable examples of recent programs supported by the kits include Creating Animated Videos Using Animaker and Minecraft Coding, which attracted a lot of interest from the community. Steeles Branch staff said: “We are super thankful for having the kits! The program quickly filled up with a waiting list as soon as it was posted in the branch.”

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Biblio Bash raises over $1M for Toronto Public Library

Biblio Bash Gala in the atrium of Toronto Reference Library
Biblio Bash Gala in the atrium of Toronto Reference Library

The Toronto Public Library Foundation smashed fundraising records, reaching an unprecedented $1,025,400 in support of TPL. Toronto’s library lovers joined business leaders, philanthropists and city builders at Biblio Bash, presented by Tricon Residential. Attended by 41 authors and over 450 guests, the sold-out black tie gala was dedicated to raising funds for TPL’s Leading to Reading Program.

Each of the dinner tables welcomed a notable author, including Ann-Marie Macdonald, John Irving, Vincent Lam, Rawi Hage, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Cadence Weapon (Rollie Pemberton) and Roz Weston. Hosted by Global News National anchor Farah Nasser, the evening kicked off with a powerful spoken word performance by TPL poetry mentors Shelly Grace Campbell and Desiree Mckenzie. The TPL Foundation rallied the room to donate with a heartwarming new video featuring families and volunteers who have benefitted from the Leading to Reading program. Visit for more information and photos.

Legacy Portrait Project

Legacy Portrait Project
The Legacy Portrait Project by The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center was hosted on April 17 – 27 at Forest Hill Branch

Forest Hill Branch hosted The Legacy Portrait Project to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center put this exhibit together with photographer Justine Apple. The digital project features Holocaust survivors with their grandchildren, capturing “a moment in time, a glimpse into the individual triumph of each survivor”. The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center filmed each survivor with their grandchildren for a 20 minute short film.

Coffee and Conversation program resumes

Jane/Dundas Branch head, Eunice Rodrigues, program participants and Alexander Stephen, Four villages community health centre, Community health worker
L to R: Eunice Rodrigues (branch head, Jane/Dundas), program participants,Alexander Stephen (Four villages community health centre)

This spring, TPL relaunched Coffee & Conversation at six branches (Lillian H. Smith, Parliament, Jane/Dundas, Sanderson, Fort York, and Toronto Reference Library). The program offers a relaxed atmosphere where people can interact while enjoying coffee and snacks.

The program is open to all including vulnerable populations such as people experiencing homelessness. Everyone is welcome to participate which presents a great opportunity to learn, share, and connect with other library customers.

On April 25, the Jane/Dundas branch delivered its first session with success, with approximately ten customers participating during the two hour session. Branch staff also asked questions about services and referrals. Participants spoke to community experts, discovered local resources, and engaged in friendly conversation. A staff member from the Four Villages Community Health Centre was on-site to support with information and resources. TPL staff also assisted with inquiries related to library programs and services.

One eRead Canada

One Eread Canada Canada Website 1180x616
.In the book, a young unnamed poet daydreams of escaping to the fictional Star Wars planet of Tatouine.

In April, TPL participated in One eRead/Un livrel Canada along with over a thousand other public libraries from across Canada. An initiative of The Canadian Urban Libraries Council, One eRead Canada is a digital bilingual book club that connects readers to each other and promotes digital collections available from libraries.

The novel Tatouine (English title) / Ce qu’on respire sur Tatouine (French title) by Jean-Christophe Réhel was available digitally as an ebook and audiobook during the month without waitlists or holds. TPL customers borrowed the book over 3,200 times in April.

Banned Books – Censorship and the Erasure of History and Experience

Matt Abbott (Manager, Collection Development) presented at the Giller Power Panel about Intellectual Freedom and the Toronto Public Library Book Sanctuary Collection on the evening of April 25.  Matt was joined by Peter Midgley, Arlene Perly Rae, Raziel Reid, and David Robertson in the session titled Banned Books – Censorship and the Erasure of History and Experience.

Supporting Canadian authors & the publishing industry

As the world’s busiest urban public library system, TPL plays a crucial role in supporting Canadian authors and the publishing industry. Our collections, programs and services regularly introduce Canadians to new titles and authors, both within our 100 branches and through our online platforms, creating a ripple effect that extends far beyond the library. We recognize the importance of telling this story and have created a dedicated page titled  Supporting Canadian authors & the publishing industry, accessible from the footer on the homepage in the “About Us” section.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Hearing Conservation Program for staff

Working with Nic Manson (Manager, Workplace Health, Safety and Wellness), the Managers in Distribution Services are working with Journey to Zero Safety Solutions to implement a Hearing Conservation Program for staff in the Distribution Services Department who work with the central material sorter and the Acquisitions Unpacking Areas at the Library’s Distribution hub.

A noise assessment was conducted in December of 2022 and implementation of a Hearing Conservation Program is one of the recommendations from this assessment. This includes implementation of standardized hearing protection, staff training on causes and prevention of noise induced hearing loss, identifying best practices to reduce noise generation from tasks and on site hearing testing. The attention to hearing wellness has been reviewed and discussed in multiple staff meetings and has been well received by staff. Further enhancements to the program continue to rollout including ongoing testing and training.

National Day of Mourning Speaking Event

The 12th annual event organized by TPL and the Toronto Public Library Workers Union took place virtually on April 26. The event drew over 125 attendees, quite possibly our largest turn out yet. Psychotherapist Charnel Ewen Lewis, the Founder of Ontario Mental Health Therapy, spoke on the effects of workplace violence on mental and physical health, and offered strategies on how to cope with such stressors. The talk also introduced ideas on how to maintain boundaries, and how to relax yourself during incidents that create a fight/flight response.

Safety and security in the news

Global News aired a 20-minute segment on security issues facing public libraries across Canada on April 22. The news piece offers insights from staff and senior leaders at TPL and Edmonton Public Library as well as a professor at the University of Toronto, providing valuable perspectives on this critical issue.

Safety and security is one of the most pressing issues facing TPL and public libraries across North America, and news articles like this one raise awareness of the challenge and how public libraries are working to respond. At TPL, we have worked with staff, the Board, the Union, the City of Toronto and community partners to develop a multi-year action plan, and we will continue to share regular updates on our progress.

Democracy in Action program at North York Central Library

On May 2, staff got a chance to hear keynote speaker Tommi Laitio, the inaugural Bloomberg Public Innovation Fellow at Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation at Johns Hopkins University speak at our Democracy in Action event at North York Central Library. Tommi has a decade of senior leadership experience from the City of Helsinki in Finland, and spoke about libraries and the critical role we play in supporting democratic values and freedoms. As part of the program, Pam Ryan, Director of Service Development and Innovation, also shared the Urban Libraries Council’s Declaration of Democracy, of which TPL is a signatory. To close off the afternoon, there were lightning talks on TPL initiatives related to democracy and intellectual freedom including our Book Sanctuary, On Civil Society programming, and Know Your Vote TO. Staff learned about the City Librarian's Innovation Challenge and participated in a short group activity to end the day.