City Librarian's Report for September 2023

September 11, 2023 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the September 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

Four revitalized branches reopened across the city this summer

Three staff members outside of the branch waving
York Woods staff welcome customers back to their newly renovated branch

We reopened the York Woods branch on July 17 after a three-and-a-half-year renovation. The stunning revitalized library at Jane and Finch includes a beautiful new entrance and atrium on the main floor, expanded public space, seating and a prominent street presence. It’s a really welcoming space with exciting new features and services tailored to the local community, including a Youth Hub, a Digital Innovation Hub and a Musical Instrument Lending Library. You can read more about the new branch in our July press release.

During the summer, we also reopened Mount Pleasant branch, Armour Heights branch as well as Ethennonnhawahstihnen’ – the relocated Bayview branch which almost doubled in size and is TPL’s first collaboration with the Huron-Wendat Nation. TPL is hosting an official opening event for Ethennonnhawahstihnen’ in the fall.

Honouring Raymond Moriyama

Portrait photo of Moriyama on the left and a photo of two young men inside the library on the right.
Raymond Moriyama (left) at the opening of the Toronto Reference Library (right).

Raymond Moriyama, one of Canada’s most prominent and celebrated architects, died on September 1, 2023. His unique vision for many iconic buildings, including Toronto Reference Library, has left an indelible mark on Toronto and beyond. To mark his passing, we prominently highlighted a blog post on our homepage and social media that explores his unique vision for the Toronto Reference Library, which opened in 1977. To quote Moriyama from the September 1977 issue of American Libraries, “The intent is to create a dignified and happy place for the mind, to encourage self-help, to allow people to explore and make their own connections.” Moriyama & Teshima Architects went on to design the North York Central Library in 1987. Watch this moving Toronto Public Library Foundation video featuring Canadian author Joy Kogawa speaking about her connection to Raymond Moriyama, and to the library.

Introducing our Social Services Team

In July, we began a partnership with the Gerstein Crisis Centre, forming TPL’s new Social Services Team. Stemming from a 2019 Needs Assessment, we identified the need to make our spaces more inclusive for vulnerable customers and to support staff with additional on-site community services.

This pilot is a free public service to customers experiencing mental health challenges, addictions, financial challenges, and homelessness or precarious housing. Gerstein staff, working with TPL staff, offer low-barrier mental health and crisis supports and programs in our branches for those in need.

This one-year pilot spans four branches, primarily focusing on services at Toronto Reference Library and Lillian H. Smith with additional resources and programming available at Sanderson and Fort York. To learn more visit, the our new webpage.

Our partnership is already making a big difference and sparking incredible success stories – from customers accessing crucial medical care on-site, to homeless refugees finding shelter. Gerstein's support extends beyond the library walls, to excluded/trespassing customers as well. This collaboration is a step towards a more caring and inclusive library experience for all in Toronto.

The TPL Foundation supports this pilot with generous donations by Shawn Kimel and Kate Schatzky, and the Maytree Foundation.

Celebrating Emancipation Month with an inspiring event at NYCL

Three speakers sitting on chairs on a stage
Dr. Julius Garvey and his grandson Chase on stage with Aina-Nia Ayodele

On August 4, TPL hosted a partnered event featuring Dr. Julius Garvey, son of Marcus Garvey, in an engaging conversation at North York Central Library with Aina-Nia, a spiritual activist from Toronto. With almost 200 people in attendance, the event empowered Black youth to be proud of who they are and where they come from. It was an opportunity for people to unite, learn, and build connections. The event began with a powerful ceremony as Dr. Garvey raised the Black Liberation flag at Mel Lastman Square.

After the talk, GQ Flacco, also known as Njau Osborne, winner of the Emancipation Day speech writing contest, delivered the heartfelt piece while wearing TPL's "Poetry Saved our Lives" t-shirt. He also expressed his admiration for the library's poetry program. The event was live-streamed and a recording can be viewed through the City of Toronto Emancipation Month webpage.

This event was supported by the City of Toronto's Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, Community partners Network for Advancement of Black Communities, Global African Communities Network, and African Caribbean Food Market.

Welcoming children and families to S. Walter Stewart’s new Sensory Room

A spacious room filled with various sensory elements
Sensory Room at S. Walter Stewart branch

We are pleased to launch TPL's first Sensory Room at S. Walter Stewart branch. This child-led, interactive space provides an inclusive, accessible environment for all children and their families or caregivers.

This unique space has been created with children with sensory processing needs in mind. There are many interactive features to explore, including textured wall elements, an image projector, a fibre optic wall carpet, and an air tube that changes colours in response to a touch control pad.

Visitors can book a 60-minute session by calling 416-396-3975 or asking at the Children’s Desk at S. Walter Stewart branch.

The Sensory Room is the first of its kind at TPL and was made possible through a generous bequest gift made in memory of former elementary school librarian Jae Blue by her family and friends.

National Indigenous History Month programs

Two young adults standing in front of a mic with an audience watching them
Tribal Vision Dance at Albert Campbell branch to perform and teach about Indigenous dancing

Our branches welcomed many Indigenous presenters and performers in celebration of National Indigenous History Month in June, also known as Indigenous Peoples’ Month.

We offered many Indigenous-led programs sharing the cultures, diversity, history and heritage of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples. From learning about Haudenosaunee pow wow culture, and exploring Indigenous diplomatic practices during the early and middle encounter periods, to learning how to live in solidarity with Indigenous communities, the programs were engaging, sparking thoughtful questions and meaningful conversations in our spaces.

Beyond June, TPL offers Indigenous-led programming year-round as well. Visit the Indigenous Celebrations webpage for the latest lineup. 

Exhibit in honour of residential school Survivors

An exhibit poster hung on the wall featuring a map of Canada with markings for residential schools
The exhibit at Woodside Square branch

In June, we began hosting a new and interactive exhibit in a number of our branches to educate library visitors about the history and legacy of residential schools. The exhibit called "Residential School Survivors: Honouring the Memory," was created by the Weengushk Film Institute and the 360 Story Lab, and uses augmented reality technology to share the experiences of residential school Survivors. Visitors can learn about locations of Residential Schools in Canada and using their phone, they can listen to stories told by Survivors.

This partnership is one example of our dedication to Reconciliation by bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in culturally safe and relevant spaces, and helping to facilitate public education and awareness on Truth and Reconciliation, residential schools and treaty relationships.

So far, the exhibit has been on display at Toronto Reference Library, Fairview, Woodside Square and Richview branches. Our partnership also garnered media attention, with coverage featured on Toronto.com. The exhibit will continue to travel to different branches through the end of the year, to share this experience with more Torontonians.

Summer Wonder and TD Summer Reading Club 2023

Summer Wonder and the TD Summer Reading Club ran from June 24 to September 2. Throughout the summer, TPL offered 52 featured programs focused on STEM and the arts, as well as author and illustrator visits. We also ran 33 French language programs and 26 camps, 12 of which were led by our Pop-Up Learning Labs team.

Most impressive of all were the 74 Wonder Workshops led by talented staff across 47 branches! During these programs, kids learned about design thinking as they prototyped solutions to challenges like space travel, adapting to climate change, and supporting endangered ecosystems.

Eight cut out cardboard boxes decorated as gardens with butterflies
Barbara Frum branch hosted a Butterfly Challenge Wonder Workshop where participants learned about butterflies and their ecosystems. Each child created their own garden where butterflies could thrive.

This year also marked TPL’s third summer with the Beanstack Reading Tracking app, a tool that promotes literacy and encourages families to read all summer long. Between June 24 to September 2, 2,076 kids signed up for one of three challenges available in the app. Throughout the summer kids earned 3,128 virtual badges and logged over 4,089 books read on Beanstack!

Outreach to TDSB Summer Model Schools

During the summer, TPL supports TDSB Summer Model Schools (TDSRC) by conducting visits to participating locations. The Model Schools for Inner Cities program aims to increase access and opportunities for all students.

This year, TPL staff completed 28 visits with 2,000 student participants. Students learned about TPL resources and programs like Summer Wonder, TD Summer Reading Club, After School Clubs, and more. Students were especially interested in the Musical Instrument Lending Library and excited to try out some of TPL’s robotics equipment. They also had the opportunity to register for library cards and join the TDSRC.

Building pathways for workforce development

Learners graduate from Let’s Learn Tech courses

A group of individuals wearing name tags in program room, smiling. One person is joined virtually on a computer
Learners from the IT Essentials course celebrate during the graduation ceremony.

TPL’s Let’s Learn Tech service provides workforce development opportunities and removes employment barriers by introducing technology concepts necessary for the modern workplace. In addition to self-paced courses on Cisco’s Networking Academy platform, learners can attend online or in-person learning circle classes facilitated by TPL staff, leveraging a peer-to-peer learning model in a welcoming and supportive environment.

So far this year, 79 learners have completed Let’s Learn Tech learning circle courses. In the Level Up Tech Python Essentials course, 46 learners completed the 12-week class and are on track to obtain PCAP certification. Another 33 learners completed the 8-month IT Essentials course, where they learned to install, configure and troubleshoot computers, mobile devices and software. These graduates are on the path to obtain CompTIA A+ certification.

Congratulations to all graduates! New cohorts of IT Essentials and Level Up Tech begin this fall.

Level Up Tech Python Essentials and IT Essentials are generously funded by donations to the TPL Foundation from Bank of America and the Metcalf Foundation.

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Open Data's impact explored in panel discussion

On June 7, in the Toronto Reference Library Atrium, we hosted a panel discussion about open data and how it can shape a better Toronto. The panelists shared real-world stories that illustrated what open data can do, both its potential and shortcomings. With 34 people in attendance, the audience was very engaged and asked many insightful questions. You can watch the event on YouTube:

Panelists included Joseph Lalonde, Data & Analytics Manager at TPL; Denis Carr, Supervisor of the City of Toronto's Open Data program; and Xavier Richer Vis, Toronto-based investigative journalist. The event was moderated by Tai Hunh, Creative Director at the University Health Network’s OpenLab and a member of TPL's Innovation Council.

We also recently updated our Open Data webpage to enhance access to TPL’s extensive collection of open data sets and provide resources for visitors to learn more.

Concert showcasing AI technologies

Three musian playing keyboard, guitar and drums with colourful art on the screen behind them
Musicians performed a piece that inspired the AI-generated image on the TV screen

On June 9, we hosted a live concert at the Toronto Reference Library showcasing the power of AI technologies. The performance brought together talented musicians and software artists, who collaborated to craft musical sets combined with AI generative art to explore harmony between human performance and computer-generated imagery. As the band performed a unique blend of Indian classical and modern sounds, the screen behind them came to life with images created by AI-powered software.

The event, attended by more than 90 people, also featured a discussion moderated by Jason Cullimore, who completed our Innovator in Residence program on music theory and technologies in Fall 2022. Jason sparked a conversation about how human creativity and technological innovation can coexist and how new technological advancements can be included in our own creative process.

The event was part of TPL’s ongoing Eye on AI series and was hosted in partnership with Provocation Ideas Festival, an initiative aimed to engage communities in vibrant public discussions that focus on art, theatre, film, music, storytelling and more.

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Welcoming Little Amal to Toronto

One young man is passing a giant library card to a large wooden puppet that's being directed by another young man
Little Amal received their first TPL library card from TPL staff Sury

On June 8,  Little Amal, a 12-foot tall puppet of a Syrian refugee, made a stop at Albert Campbell Square in Scarborough as part of their North America journey. The Walk with Amal Toronto began downtown and the journey lasted for five days. The event is meant to build awareness around refugees and newcomers in our City.

In anticipation of their arrival, Scarborough Civic Centre branch hosted a literary workshop where youth recorded their unique poetry pieces for broadcast on the big day. Little Amal was also presented with their first TPL card, which they happily accepted. During the visit, Little Amal danced and interacted with community members of all ages. Many other local organizations attended the event to welcome Little Amal with live music, dance, and visual arts performances.

Supporting asylum seekers with Bookmobile outreach visits

Six individuals posing in front of the bookmobile
Team of TPL and Red Cross staff who helped make the special Bookmobile outreach visits possible

TPL is a part of the City of Toronto’s coordinated response to support asylum seekers. To support this work, the Bookmobile made special visits to two temporary lodging sites in August. More than 70 customers visited the Bookmobile, and 170 new library memberships were registered, providing everyone with access to in-branch computers and readily available online resources. Additionally, TPL staff shared relevant library services and information, such as closest TPL branches and settlement services. Many shared that they were impressed with the Bookmobile and appreciate TPL’s timely offerings.

TPL participates in the CNE

Friday CNE Team
Some of the TPL staff who helped out with event in front Big Blue. Pictured L-R: David Hon, Stephen Johnston, Roman Svab, Dane Graham, Kyle Quismundo, Jonathan Roberto, Stephanie Pang, Anita Chan, Angie Yuen and Carmen Ho.
Not pictured: Annie Fan, Arnold Rubio, Candy Yip, David Achiya, Howard Cheng, Jean Shen, Jeannette Fong-Lim, Kaye Cheng-Storie, Kristen Gould, Michelle Yoo, Michael Turner, Nina Pena, Shimar Baker & Susan Truong.

From August 28 to September 1, TPL staff teamed up to create an unforgettable experience at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). We welcomed more than 4,300 visitors, with 140 participants in our programs and 200+ new or renewed TPL cards issued.

Customers were delighted to see TPL at the CNE for the first time, with one commenting, “Seeing the library here is so convenient; getting library cards for the kids was on our to-do list.” For many, it was their first time encountering TPL's Bookmobile, Big Blue. Customers appreciated TPL's wide range of services, from local branches to online resources available with their library cards.

Special thanks to Mobile Library Services, Distribution Services, Acquisition and Cataloguing, Collections Development, and Membership & Circulations Services for making this event possible.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Successful new initiative to boost staff wellness and engagement

Graphic with text "wellness Wednesday" and various icons that represent wellness

TPL’s Learning & Development team introduced a Wellness Wednesdays initiative this summer, both in an effort to engage staff with the wide variety of content available in our learning management system and to address needs identified in the 2022 Employee Engagement Survey related to stress levels and general well-being. We recommended brief and on-demand courses over the course of eight weeks, compiling them in a playlist that staff can use to revisit any of the recommendations in the future. The series included such titles as Being Kind to Yourself and 4-Minute Workplace Workouts, and received lots of favourable feedback, like the two comments below:

“I absolutely love this new summer initiative!”

“I needed this today. Thank you.”

In total, 306 staff completed 454 courses, with participants from every TPL division, including the TPL Foundation. Given the success of this initiative, the team looks forward to exploring future engagement tactics.

Staff social and parade participation during Pride Month

A group of individuals standing on steps entering a library and holding signage.
Pride participants and Gila Munster standing at the entrance of Yorkville branch

During Pride Month in June, Pride Alliance hosted their annual staff social at Yorkville Branch on the evening of Saturday, June 17. More than 50 staff, family and friends had a fun evening connecting with each other, playing Pride Trivia and enjoying a potluck and pizza co-sponsored by TPL and TPL Workers Union Local 4948.

On Sunday, June 25, Pride Alliance, along with more than 50 staff, family and friends, plus drag performer Gila Munster, marched in the Toronto Pride Parade for the first time since 2019. Marchers held signs featuring titles of frequently banned and challenged 2SLGBTQ+ works to highlight how TPL and public libraries champion intellectual freedom.

Pride Alliance is an employee resource group that fosters diversity and inclusion for 2SLGBTQ+ staff and allies. Other key initiatives include organizing and facilitating mandatory Positive Spaces training for staff in collaboration with The 519.

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