• christinemackenzie

Toronto Libraries

First stop on the PLVN Great Public Library Tour 4 was Toronto. We visited the beautiful Toronto Reference Library where we heard about the strategies and directions from the Director, Vickery Bowles and her senior staff. We visited three of the one hundred branches - Bloor Gladstone, a library in a heritage building that has been recently renovated; Fort York; and Scarborough Civic Centre library, the latest branch to open and a stunning space.


We heard of the new Strategic Plan for Toronto Public Library which has a big focus on digital services. Digital Innovation Hubs and pop up learning labs are being provided because in the 21st century, access to technology is just as important as access to information. A restructure has recently occurred to support the new Strategic Plan and to advance the digital agenda. The Plan aligns with the City's agenda of transportation; poverty and employment; and a transitioning economy.

The strength of the library service is its 100 branch network and the community appreciate and use their local branches. During 2015 there were deep discussions about the role of libraries and a lot of conversations across the organisation. Through training the library is creating a culture of 21st century library service.

One of the flagship programs being run by TPL is the Your Health Matters project (be informed get healthy) which provides access to health information and health promotion programs. This program involves better promoting the collections and information available at the library; Toronto public health nurses provide outreach in branches to the homeless and those with mental health issues. Within this project is also the Healthiest babies possible initiative which includes peer nutrition, smoking cessation and one on one counselling in libraries by the health nurses. The Brain Health program is a cutting edge program which provides programming around perception and memory; this is supported through the library's Foundation.

Toronto is one of the world's most multicultural cities and there is a big emphasis on newcomer services and building responsive collections. With over 140 languages spoken in the city and half the population of Toronto born outside Canada, this is a big part of the library's service and there are 40 languages represented in the collection. They use Overdrive for LOTE and are looking at the new platform that has just been developed by New York Public Library to better make the collection accessible.

At all the Canadian libraries we visited we heard a lot about the Syrian families who have found refuge in Canada. 25,000 people have recently arrived and all library services we visited were providing services and programs to assist them in settling in to their new country.

Small business is another focus of TPL especially through access to digital services and training. There were over 200 small business related programs last year with over 5,000 attending. The target audience is those who are starting a business, with advice on funding, promoting and legal issues. The Norman G Hinton Learning Theatre is funded by a legacy to support small business people. The program includes an Entrepreneur in Residence, who has held 8 workshops in 4 branches on writing a business plan and offering one on one 45 minute appointments.

The other focus of TPL is emerging technologies. As well as the Digital Innovation Hubs in a number of libraries, there are six Pop up Learning Hubs which have mobile equipment and a dedicated staff member to animate. They move from branch to branch on a monthly cycle. The staff member then trains the branch staff and this is complemented by the Innovator in Residence program which is a 12 week residency with 2 - 3 programs delivered per week.

Scarborough Civic Centre Library

This is the beautiful award winning new Scarborough Civic Center Library. It is only recently that the area has seen a big growth in housing, with many condos being built. The building is stunning with its laminated timber beams featuring inside and outside the building, providing a wonderful sense of space and light. The community is mixed, with older adults and young families and a significant number of Chinese, Tamil and Gujarati speakers. The Middle childhood matters citywide program provides a focus for services to 6 - 12 year olds and is featured at this branch.

Toronto Public Library is reinventing itself to best meet the needs of its communities for digital access and inclusion as well as providing more traditional services. It is a wonderful library service.

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