City Librarian's Report for June 2023

June 7, 2023 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the June 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

Asian Heritage Month

Asian Heritage 2023 at TPL
 TPL's Asian Heritage series guests included Hasheel, Aanchal Malhotra, Wenxin Zhao, and Joy San.

This year, we presented over 75 programs during Asian Heritage Month in May, including author talks, an art and photo exhibit at City Hall branch, several sushi-making workshops with Chef Sang Kim, craft and henna art workshops, musical performances and film screenings. TPL proudly celebrates the broad diversity of Asian heritage and culture year-round with programs, collections and reading lists for all ages. Our collections include our Chinese Canadian Archive, a community-built archive that includes photos, paintings, diaries, calligraphy and many more fascinating items that reflect and celebrate the Chinese Canadian community in our city. Visit our Asian Heritage series page to learn more about upcoming programs and events and to access our reading lists. TPL’s Asian Heritage series is generously supported by TD Bank Group.

North York Central Library opens two new event spaces 

A view of the new North York Central event space
A view of the new North York Central event space

We recently opened two exceptional new premium venues at North York Central Library. Following a multi-year renovation, the beautiful Concourse Event space and Boardroom Suite are now accepting public reservations. These aim to provide welcoming spaces for our communities to gather and engage, and both public and private programming will take place here throughout the year.

North York Central Library is well connected to public transit anchoring the north face of a civic square, and is a welcoming hub featuring contemporary design. The concourse event space has south-facing views of the cityscape and has a 5000 sq. ft. open-concept complex comprised of a large main area surrounded by three smaller collaboration rooms and a flexible reception area.

Our Boardroom Suite is a cool, urban and tastefully appointed meeting space with an executive-style meeting room with fixed board table. The executive lounge is situated adjacent to the boardroom meeting area which overlooks the central atrium of the library and has a south-facing view of the cityscape.

Gardening Day at Jane/Sheppard branch

gardening program
One of the many popular gardening programs presented by Toronto Master Gardeners

On May 26, over 100 Torontonians attended the Gardening Day event at Jane/Sheppard Branch. OMNI News covered the event also highlighted the Jane/Sheppard community.

A presenter from Toronto Master Gardeners led the Urban Vegetable Gardening program, as part of the Our Fragile Planet program series, supported by TD Friends of the Environment. Seeds and plants were provided to almost 50 attendees, with many more visiting their booth throughout the day.

Local community groups Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women and Climate Action Fund Initiative distributed a variety of seedlings, soil, garbage bags, recycling bags, and compost bags. Staff also promoted Birding Kits available for loan from Downsview branch and digital innovation staff set up a 3D printed "pots and planters" demo.

Building pathways for workforce development

TPL participates in the ninth annual Toronto Newcomer Day

Newcomers registering for library membership at information fair
Toronto Newcomer Day visitors lining up to register for library membership at TPL’s booth.

On May 25, the ninth annual Toronto Newcomer Day celebration took place at Nathan Phillips Square. The event welcomes newcomers to Toronto, connects them to a wide range of services and recognizes their contributions to the city. TPL continues to contribute to planning for the day, as well as participate in the celebration. More than 175 newcomers engaged with library staff enthusiastically and learned about relevant and useful TPL programs and services at the information fair. Additionally, over 130 new library memberships were registered. At the City Hall branch, presenter Klive Walker took attendees on a musical journey, relaying how Caribbean-Canadians influenced Toronto’s music scene. This special TPL program gathered a crowd of over 55 attendees.

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Impact of Technology Services in Ontario Public Libraries

Library Impact Ontario Team
TPL's City Librarian is joined by leaders of library associations OLA and FOPL and the Library Impact Ontario team in TPL's Policy, Planning and Performance management division

On June 1, TPL hosted an event for the public release of the Bridge 2021/2022 report titled “Impact of Technology Services in Ontario Public Libraries” at Toronto Reference Library. This event was an exciting opportunity to network and highlight our collective impact in advocating for Ontario public libraries. TPL is especially thankful to all Ontario public libraries that have participated in this important initiative. We would not have been able to achieve the success we have without their dedication, commitment and support. Attendees included libraries from Norfolk, Brampton, Markham, Mississauga, Pickering and Vaughan, along with important partner library organizations like Ontario Library Association and Federation of Ontario Public Libraries. Generous funding was provided by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport who was also in attendance.

Since its inception in 2016, Bridge has evolved from a pilot project focused on developing an effective data collection and a reporting tool, to a sustainable suite of data services and solutions – now called Library Impact Ontario. Attendees learned about data findings collected from August 2021 and December 2022. 

Following the presentation, attendees enjoyed a networking opportunity. This initiative truly brings Ontario public libraries together in a collective effort to build technological capacity, advocacy and equitable resource allocation. Together, Ontario’s public libraries are bridging the digital divide and improving the economic and social well-being for all Ontarians.

Public Libraries and Smart Cities – Ensuring Digital Inclusion and Digital Literacy for All

People sitting at tables watch a speaker on stage in the Concourse Event Space at North York Central Library.
Kim Huntley, Manager, NYCL, welcomes Federation of Canadian Municipalities delegates to TPL.

On May 25, North York Central Library and the City of Toronto hosted a study tour for 40 delegates as part of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Annual Conference. The tour featured presentations from TPL and the City’s Digital City/Connected Community staff and highlighted the vital role public libraries play in ensuring digital inclusion and providing access to digital literacy programs in welcoming spaces.

Delegates learned about strategies in place at the City and TPL for ensuring all residents have equitable access to computers and other devices, the internet and wifi connectivity at publicly accessible locations, as well as new and emerging technologies that support city building initiatives.

Following the presentations, delegates enjoyed a tour of the library’s Digital Innovation Hub, Fabrication Studio and Creation Loft, as well as other technology and learning facilities on site.

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

A new online system for reserving tpl:map passes

tpl:map logo and tagline
tpl:map | Your journey to Toronto’s arts and attractions starts here.

On June 14, we launched the new online system for reserving passes for our Museum + Arts Pass (MAP) program (now renamed “tpl:map”.) This popular tpl:map program allows customers to experience Toronto’s arts and culture using their library card, with the opportunity to visit museums and attractions including Aga Khan Museum, Bata Shoe Museum, Ontario Science Centre, Toronto Zoo and more. The new platform offers increased access and convenience such as reserving your pass and visit date online, downloading or printing your own pass and the ability to cancel your reservation. New attractions will be added in the coming months. The MAP program is made possible this year thanks to the generous support of The Bennett Family Foundation.

In preparation for this launch, six recent staff training sessions and two Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions were offered. These sessions welcomed staff from across the system to drop in and ask questions about the transformation project and our new tpl:map system launching on June 14. More than 150 staff in divisions across TPL joined tpl:map team members for the interactive hour-long sessions, which included details of the new service and passes, gave staff a real-time system demonstration of the new platform and explained staff’s important role in supporting our customers.

Read Indigenous 2023 

Read Indigenous
Read Indigenous helps to raise awareness of Indigenous content in our collections and helps to amplify Indigenous voices.

June marks the launch of 2023 Read Indigenous – a yearly list of must-read titles featuring Indigenous creators. The list was curated with input from the Indigenous Advisory Council and includes materials for all ages. Customers may pick up cards that feature the 2023 list at any TPL branch and view current and past lists on the Read Indigenous website. Read Indigenous is one of TPL’s Strategies for Indigenous Initiatives and part of TPL’s response to the TRC Calls to Action

TPL at the Forest of Reading Festival

Forest of Reading Festival
TPL staff Kate, Jennifer and Alex at the Forest of Reading Festival.

The TPL booth was a popular attraction at this year’s Forest of Reading Festival. Children’s and Youth Services staff engaged with over 1,000 kids at the festival on May 16th and 17th. The annual Forest of Reading Festival, hosted by the Ontario Library Association, is Canada’s largest literary event for young readers. The Festival includes award ceremonies for The Forest of Reading, author and illustrator workshops and book signings, activities, games and crafts.

TPL staff promoted TPL programs and services, including Summer Wonder, TD Summer Reading Club, Digital Innovation Hubs, Young Voices and the List. Attendees were especially wowed by TPL’s 3D printer, and Sphero robots. Both kids and teens returned to the booth throughout the day hoping to score one of the coveted 3D printed turtles hot off the press. There was a lot of chatter about favourite authors, books and their local library branches. It was truly inspiring to see so many young people share their love of reading!

TPL at The Word on the Street festival

TPL's bookmobile Big Blue at the 2023 Word on the Street festival
People lined up to explore TPL's bookmobile Big Blue at the 2023 Word on the Street festival

On May 27 and 28, TPL participated in The Word on the Street festival at Queen's Park. The event was a great success, with over 2,000 customers visiting our vehicle and booth. Many people browsed our bookmobile Big Blue's collection and borrowed items. Staff issued and renewed more than 300 TPL cards and our prize wheel and prizes were very popular among festival attendees. Over 60 customers participated in Family Time programs offered throughout the day. Festival attendees expressed a lot of support, enthusiasm and gratitude for Toronto Public Library staff and services.

On the main stage on Saturday, May 27, TPL presented two programs from our On Civil Society series that explore apologies – the good, the bad and the overly polite. Over 100 people attended each panel discussion. 

Thank you to the Bookmobile team who worked the event, including Jean, Howard, Nazila, Elizabeth, Shadia, Arnold, and Kyle. Lana, Nina, and Shadia did a fantastic job organizing the event, and Howard and Nazila delivered excellent programs.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

United In Diversity: Commemorating International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

On May 17, TPL Pride Alliance hosted an afternoon of conversation and informal networking for staff to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and this year’s theme of “Together Always: United in Diversity.”

Since 2004, this internationally-recognized day draws attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex people, and all of those with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or expressions, and sex characteristics.

At the event, nearly 50 staff heard an inspiring keynote from Latoya Nugent, Senior Project Officer at Rainbow Railroad, about the global non-profit organization’s important to help people facing persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristic. Staff also got to connect through table discussions focused on the upcoming Pride Month in June.

TPL Pride Alliance is an employee resource group consisting of 2SLGBTQ+ staff and allies. Their May 17 event was supported by TPL and TPL Workers Union Local 4948

Workplace Violence Prevention and Response Program

Over the last few years, many public institutions including libraries have experienced an increase in disruptive or violent behaviour in branches by customers. While such incidents represent a small proportion of visits to our branches, they are difficult and sometimes traumatic for our staff and other customers. In response, TPL launched a major initiative in 2021 to identify and implement steps to further protect our staff and customers in light of this trend.

A new staff internal site now provides an overview of safety and security work that is underway. This includes the recent release of TPL’s new Workplace Violence Prevention and Response Program which provides a consolidated overview of TPL’s programs and procedures to prevent and respond to violence when it occurs in our facilities. All staff will be provided with training on this Program over the next couple of months, either through in-person workshops or online.