City Librarian's Report for October 2023

October 17, 2023 | Vickery Bowles

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Below is my report for the October 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

Launch of the Feeding Young Minds Initiative

Child sitting at a table, smiling with a snack in hand. Four other children are seated in the blurred background.
Enjoying a snack at Albion branch’s After School Club.

In response to the growing food insecurity challenges in our city, the TPL Foundation established the Feeding Young Minds Initiative to ensure that kids receive the fuel they need to succeed. Launched in September, healthy snacks are now available during TPL’s After School Clubs at 30 library branches across the city. During the school year, After School Clubs provide weekly activities and learning support for kids ages 6-12. Activities vary from branch to branch, and are designed to suit the needs and interests of local participants.

We are grateful to our Lead Donor, the Moez and Marissa Kassam Foundation, for their visionary support in establishing the Feeding Young Minds Initiative, and Supporting Donors, Phil Cowperthwaite and Sue Hunter, and Adrian and Ange Rocca for their generous commitment.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation / Orange Shirt Day

Books displayed on a long table with two orange National Day for Truth and Reconciliation posters.
A book display at Toronto Reference Library for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

September 30 marked both National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day. TPL continues to play an important role in the Reconciliation process by helping to facilitate public education and awareness on Truth and Reconciliation in our physical and virtual spaces.

In September, TPL hosted programs, exhibits, and book displays that furthered learning on topics such as colonialism, the legacy of residential schools, Indigenous justice, and suggestions for walking a path toward Reconciliation. Our National Day for Truth and Reconciliation blog features links to several resources, including the Reading for Reconciliation booklist, available year-round and refreshed annually.

Within the organization, TPL focused on building staff capacity through training opportunities, learning resources and reflection. Staff were encouraged to wear orange on and around September 30 to honour children who never returned home, Survivors, their families and communities.

Foodie Festival returns to Albion branch

A large crowd gathers outside of Albion branch, waiting for food. A North York Harvest Food Bank van is parked beside a row of canopy tents.
The Rexdale community gathering for the Foodie Festival at Albion branch.

On August 25, our Albion branch hosted the Foodie Festival, in partnership with Rexdale Community Health Centre. It was a unique, free and delicious community event.

Over 3,000 participants came out to enjoy more than 5,000 free food samples and watch dance, spoken word, drumming and DJ performances. Many agencies provided information and activities, including local beekeepers, Black Creek Community Farm and North York Harvest Food Bank. Inside the branch, Albion’s Teen Council hosted a book sale and staff offered 3D printing demonstrations. The festival brings attention to food security issues in Rexdale, providing residents with knowledge and connections to local food and health services.

This seventh annual Foodie Fest — and first post-pandemic — was a huge success thanks to the hard work of library staff and community partners, including lead supporters Adrian and Ange Rocca. We look forward to an even bigger event in 2024!

Broadening Toronto's digital access and inclusion

Filmmaker hosts residency about post production

Tobias Williams stands in front of a television screen that displays a program being used for filmmaking post production.
Innovator in Residence, Tobias Williams, at Agincourt branch.

Over the summer, Agincourt branch hosted a 10-week Innovator in Residence program focused on filmmaking post production. Tobias Williams, an experimental animator and educator, conducted 30 programs and classes.

Classes included introductions to Adobe After Effects and Blender, where participants learned compositing, visual effects, motion graphics and character animation. Tobias led a series of lectures and a panel discussion on a wide range of topics including composition, cinematic lighting, the language of film, and the current state of the film industry in Canada. Customers also had the opportunity to schedule one-on-one appointments with Tobias to discuss questions related to filmmaking post-production.

The Agincourt community welcomed Tobias enthusiastically with over 200 customers participating in the Innovator in Residence program.

Expanding Play & Learn STEM Kits service across the city

Child plays with Snap Circuits at Albion branch.
Playing with Snap Circuits at Albion branch.

Over the last year, TPL expanded its Play & Learn STEM Kits service from 25 to 97 branches across the city, providing children and families with access to more consistent digital literacy and STEM programming in their neighbourhood.

More customers can now engage in hands-on learning using the latest and most popular STEM equipment, including Dash & Dot robots, Sphero BOLTs and Snap Circuits. Whether they’re participating in a library program or a school visit, children have been enjoying coding with the new Play & Learn STEM Kits and are eager to create and solve robotics challenges with each other.

Providing the vital ingredients for a democratic society

Launch of the intellectual freedom series

Three posters used in TPL's intellectual freedom campaign.
Examples of posters that appeared throughout the city as part of TPL’s intellectual freedom campaign.

This fall, TPL launched a new, year-long programing series that asks: What’s at stake when intellectual freedom is threatened? The series features critical conversations with events, civil forums and installations, inviting Torontonians to challenge their perspectives, engage with new ideas, and join the conversation.

The series started on September 11 with a library-sector event featuring Tracie D. Hall, Executive Director of the American Library Association, in conversation with Vickery Bowles. That same evening, Hall took to the Appel Salon stage with writer Omar El Akkad to discuss what’s at stake when libraries are caught in culture wars. To raise awareness of the series, and the topic of intellectual freedom in general, TPL kicked off a city-wide campaign that same day with subway station posters, street posters and social media across our channels. The series was featured on CityNews and

TPL at the TIFF Next Wave Block Party on Festival Street

Four library staff standing behind a TPL information booth.
TPL staff Nicole, Tessie, Vanessa and Teresa at the TIFF Next Wave Block Party.

On September 9, TPL participated at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Next Wave Block Party on Festival Street. The TPL booth “premiere” was a huge success as staff engaged with over 400 visitors and issued or renewed more than 30 library cards.

The international appeal of TIFF allowed staff to engage with many younger adult newcomers, with one commenting, “I arrived just two months ago and didn’t know about all these resources at the library!” Visitors were especially interested in our Spin to Win library trivia wheel and were excited to make TIFF film-related buttons.

Thank you to Youth Services staff, including members of the Young Voices Magazine Work Group, who worked the event.

TPL at Deputy Mayor Morley’s Fall Fest

Library staff at a park, standing behind a table of TPL flyers and information.
Stephanie De Concilys, Branch Head at Long Branch, at the Fall Fest.

On October 2, staff from Long Branch and Runnymede branch participated in Deputy Mayor Morley’s Fall Fest at Fairfield Park. Deputy Mayor Morley, also a Toronto Public Library Board member, brought many residents and community organizations together for this event on a wonderfully sunny afternoon to enjoy family-friendly activities and a barbecue. Library staff connected with familiar faces and made new friends.

Building connections with Library Settlement Partnerships

During the month of October, TPL celebrated Library Settlement Partnerships (LSP) Week which featured a number of in-person events and programs. Since 2007, TPL has been helping newcomers with their settlement needs through LSP by working with seven local settlement agencies. Every October, partners collaborate to host the annual LSP Week celebration. This year marks LSP’s 16th anniversary and the theme, “Build Connections,” empowers everyone to rebuild personal and social connections following the pandemic.

At this time, all 15 LSP branches offer one-on-one referral support and group sessions. In 2022, LSP served more than 32,200 newcomers and delivered over 740 programs. This service is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

CUI Releases OVERDUE: The Case for Canada’s Public Libraries

A graphic with large text that says "OVERDUE" along with the subheading "The Case for Canada's Public Libraries" and body text "Why investment in public libraries is essential to Canada's post-pandemic recovery, competitiveness, and resilience."

The Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) and Canadian Urban Libraries Council / Conseil des Bibliothèques Urbaines du Canada (CULC/CBUC) announced the release of OVERDUE: The Case for Canada’s Public Libraries on October 4. The report details the significance of public libraries for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery, competitiveness, and resilience and calls for renewed and diversified investment from all levels of government.

OVERDUE is the product of three years of CUI’s engagement with Canada’s urban public libraries through the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings show that by providing critical supports – access to knowledge, culture, health, reconciliation, belonging, and our democracy – Canada’s public libraries are quietly fulfilling the core mandates of every order of government. CUI’s research sheds light on the crucial role Canada’s public libraries play in enabling governments to meet their obligations and strengthen the common good.

2023 Toronto Book Awards

The left image shows Georgiana Uhlyarik holding the 2023 Toronto Book Award alongside TPL City Librarian Vickery Bowles. The image on the right shows the book cover of “Moving the Museum: Indigenous + Canadian Art at the AGO.”
Georgiana Uhlyarik holding the 2023 Toronto Book Award alongside TPL City Librarian Vickery Bowles and the book cover of “Moving the Museum: Indigenous + Canadian Art at the AGO.”

The winners of the 49th annual Toronto Book Awards were announced at a special prize ceremony on October 10 in the Concourse Event Space at North York Central Library. Presented in partnership with the City of Toronto and hosted by The Social’s Jessica Allen, Toronto Book Award finalists Sophie Jai, Georgiana Uhlyarik, and Sheila Murray, and other notable Torontonians were in attendance to celebrate the City and its literary accomplishments.

Wanda Nanibush and Georgiana Uhlyarik were awarded the 2023 Toronto Book Award for their book “Moving the Museum: Indigenous + Canadian Art at the AGO,” published by Goose Lane Editions. “Moving the Museum” was chosen from shortlisted finalists that also included “Finding Edward” by Sheila Murray, “Wild Fires” by Sophie Jai, “Clara at the Door with a Revolver” by Carolyn Whitzman and “Nomenclature” by Dionne Brand.

This year's shortlisted titles reflect the creativity and diversity of Toronto's literary community, and these stories inspired by the City will leave a lasting impact on readers. The library congratulates the 2023 winners and nominated authors.

Investing in staff and an innovative service culture

Staff boost digital literacy skills at the 2023 User Education Conference

Library staff seated together at large round tables, discussing ideas with one another.
Conference participants working together in the Concourse Event Space to design a new tech class.

On September 19, staff from several TPL divisions gathered for the 2023 User Education Conference. Keynote speaker Julie Dirksen, author of Design for How People Learn, kicked off the day with an interactive discussion on the science of attention and learning engagement. Her presentation featured practical advice for developing digital literacy classes using effective teaching principles.

Attendees participated in hands-on, staff-led workshops on Python, Audacity, Acrobat DC, Inkscape, Excel, scanning and photo editing with Adobe Photoshop, and video editing. This helped enhance skills for providing relevant and innovative digital literacy programs. In 2022, TPL hosted 1,261 digital literacy programs for 8,628 learners. Based on survey responses, digital literacy programs had a customer satisfaction rate of 96% and continue to be in high demand.

Anniversary of the “Today I Learned” group

Graphic with "Today I Learned" text.

In September 2022, TPL's Today I Learned (TIL) group launched on Yammer (an internal social network), as a step forward in TPL's evolution to a learning culture. TIL is a place for staff to share something they have learned recently, about any topic — work-related or not. In its first year, the group grew to 214 members with representation from all TPL divisions.

When the group launched, five TIL administrators each committed to post once a week to populate the initial content stream. The group soon took on a life of its own as many staff began to participate. To date, 43 people have contributed 215 different posts! There are posts on a broad range of topics, from technology to zoology, from history to pop culture, and so much more. This initiative has been a wonderful way to encourage staff to share and celebrate all things learning.

2SLGBTQ+ Services Exchange

Community activist and staff standing together inside a library. Staff on the right is holding up a personal pronoun pin.
Rainbow senior and community activist, leZlie lee kam and a TPL staff member at the 2SLGBTQ+ Services Exchange.

On September 20, we hosted our first 2SLGBTQ+ Services Exchange for staff and service partners. Staff heard inspiring presentations from Friends of Ruby, Toronto Aces and Aros, leZlie lee kam, Drag King Camilo el Salsero, and the City’s Indigenous Affairs Office. The purpose of the training day was to highlight the rich diversity of 2SLGBTQ+ communities in Toronto, and create opportunities for our service partners and staff to connect.

This training opportunity highlights our commitment to building staff skills to support the development and delivery of informed library services to 2SLGBTQ+ Torontonians. It also aligns with our strategic priorities and our focus on equity. We look forward to collaborating with more 2SLGBTQ+ organizations on future trainings and system-wide partnerships.