A Warm Welcome to the 41st edition of TIFA
I am delighted to welcome you to the 41st Edition of the Toronto International Festival of Authors, my first as Director. Creating a literary festival is always special, always different, with each journey of creation a response to the world. This year has been a year like no other, challenging us all. The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt, leading to immense trauma and loss, and a new way of life that we are cautiously working our way through. The wave of protests in response to George Floyd’s death brought racism and discrimination into stark focus, demanding that the time for change is now, that we all must work better and harder to create real social and cultural change.
The literary and publishing communities have had to adapt and respond as our traditional spaces for live events and activities have been lost, and we have discovered new digital spaces. And we as readers have turned to books even more to give us solace and strength, inspiration and understanding, entertainment, and escapism. Authors are who we turn to to find meaning, about where we are and where we go next; they enable us to feel rooted in our sense of place while showing us the rest of the world.
The power of reading and the need for connection and community has inspired the creation of this year’s Festival. We have brought together an incredible 11 days of Canadian and international authors for this year’s programme. You will find many of your favourites, and you will discover exciting new voices from Toronto, Canada and around the world – all of which will be presented to you through our Festival website.
You can watch authors in conversation, discussing the issues of the day, presenting performances, sharing their favourite books or leading a writing masterclass. Like any literary event, you will be able to ask questions and buy a book. Plus we have created a special programme of digital content and commissions with podcasts, walking tours, maps and animations for you to experience and enjoy.
We are excited to be able to offer our digital programme for free so you can experience the wealth of stories in the Festival safely! If you are able, we hope you can support and donate to the Festival to help us to keep bringing the best stories to our audiences, live and online.
My thanks go to my TIFA team who have responded brilliantly to create and deliver this year’s Festival, to the fantastic support of the Festival Board and to Harbourfront Centre colleagues; to the publishers and partners who have helped inspire our programme; and to all our friends and supporters who have made me feel very welcome and believed in what we are doing. And finally, to the authors and to you dear readers, long may we continue to share in the celebration of books and stories as we bring our new world into focus.
“Build an organization that is growth-minded, values-based and innovative using the six steps to ‘responsible impact’”, says Michael ‘Piecez’ Prosserman author of Building Unity: Leading a Non-Profit from Spark to Succession. An instructor at the University of Toronto, and having travelled the world winning over twenty-six B-Boy battles, Prosserman, a professional B-Boy (breakdancer) at 16 soon found new opportunities grow from his passion for Hip Hop. His team grew UNITY: an international mental health charity focused on helping over a quarter of a million young people around the world. (more…)
As the co-founding editor of Gap Riot Press, what sparked your interest in entering the world of small press publishing? Why is it important and what did you hope to achieve when you set out on this endeavour?
Gap Riot started, as the best things always do, in conversation. In the early months of 2017, Dani Spinosa and I were discussing how too often, writers of formal or experimental poetry in Canada (including ourselves) had to go through a white man to publish a chapbook. So, we wanted to change that up a little and provide a space for writers to publish experimental, formal, political, feminist, and/or genre-blurring poetry that wasn’t governed by a dude. We sought out to break down cliques and barriers in the poetic community, and open more spaces for people to practice the poetry we love, with the hopes of bringing a community together in collective action in this work.
So, after months and months of batting the idea of starting a press around, we got one massive push from the late, great, incomparable, and dearly missed poet extraordinaire Priscila Uppal, who wanted a run of chapbooks made for the poems in her SummerWorks play, What Linda Said. We did those and then three more chapbooks by the most incredible first season we could have asked for: Adeena Karasick, Margaret Christakos, and Canisia Lubrin. And with the support of all these beautiful and fierce wimmin, we grew and grew into the unstoppable Gap Riot Press.
We’re always learning, and always challenging ourselves and others. Gap Riot was born out of the need for shouty, unapologetic, collective amplification. And, as white wimmin, we’re trying to do that in a way that decenters ourselves; for us, this work is about uplifting other voices and giving space to folks to try stuff on and play.
What exciting projects can we expect next from Gap Riot Press?
We just released our fifth season of chapbooks in the early summer featuring the luminous Terese Mason Pierre, Ashley Hynd, Zoey Morris, and Franco Cortese. We have some really awesome titles already lined up for our fall season, which will be out sometime in October or November. And, we’re thinking about the idea of an experimental poetry anthology, which will be fun!
We’re also looking to lean more into the creative, hands-on aspect of creating. But, we generally try to do something different each season, whether it’s a plantable excerpt of poetry, a wax-sealed ribbon, etc. Time doesn’t always allow us to add the most hands-on touch to our work that some small presses like The Blasted Tree and Puddles of Sky Press do, but we’d love to do more of that to make each publication that much more special, and really lean into that hand-to-object care we so love about small press publishing.
What has been the biggest surprise or learning experience you’ve encountered while running Gap Riot Press?
That the learning never stops! This is an ongoing project. We’re lucky in that Dani and I are best friends, and basically the same person, so we work really well together without much structure or headaches. But it’s tough work, especially with both of us working full-time, demanding jobs, and sometimes there’s a struggle to find balance and stay sane. Also, the small things: we learned this past season that our new website shop had a bit of a learning curve to it and so we weren’t charging the right amount of shipping, for example. We’re always learning, in big ways and small.
What is your process for selected authors?
We don’t have a formal selection process per se; our mantra lately is “burn it down, but make it fashion”—we seek to publish work that ignites, dismantles, unsettles, and does it with style. We get a lot of submissions, so we select work that moves us the most, that is necessary, urgent, responsive, and beautiful all the same.
You joined us last year for Small Press, Big Ideas: Roundtable to discuss the strengths and challenges of the small press scene. Since then, have you noticed any major shifts, growth and or new challenges? How would you describe these strengths and challenges in today’s pandemic world?
When it comes to small press, there is always growth! That’s been one of the most amazing things for me to experience while putting together the small press map of Canada for this year’s festival, is seeing how much the community continues to grow year after year with new people, new ideas, new modes of production. It’s awesome and inspiring to see.
In terms of the pandemic, we’ve seen a spectrum of effects across the small presses we’ve been in contact with—some are experiencing a lot of growth and success, others have reported incredible loss. One of the biggest drawbacks has been the absence of small press markets across the country, which a lot of presses rely on for sales and exposure. Fortunately, for us, it’s been mostly smooth sailing. People have been mostly staying home, and wanting to read books, so our most recent season was incredibly successful. We sell most of our work online these days anyway, and promote through social media. We also had an online launch for our fifth season, which worked out beautifully because one of our authors is American, so we could include them in the launch. While we miss in-person launches and readings and markets so much, we’re also trying to think about the upsides and possibilities of the virtual world, creative-wise and accessibility-wise, now that we’re in it for the foreseeable future.
Why do you feel it’s important to focus on Canadian poets?
Is it that important?! I’m somewhat kidding—it is, and I get why you’re asking this question, but historically, small press began with pretty small communities and geographic locations, which is great. But one of the awesome things to happen over the last decade, in particular, is the rise of a global community of small presses. Folks like Petra Schulze-Wollgast (psw) in Germany, and Joakim Norling in Sweden, to name just a few, are helping to grow and sustain this global community with their small presses. So, while we have such a rich history of small press in Canada, and while we of course like to support Canadian writers and publish mostly Canadian writers, we also like to connect and tap into that larger community of writers across the globe.
Any other independent publishers you admire, want to work with?
There is such a wealth of inspiring presses that it’s hard to limit those we admire to only a few. Honestly, if you run a small press, we automatically admire you because we know dang well that this is hard, exhausting, beautiful, sustaining work that you/we are doing only because we love it and can’t imagine not doing it.
To name a few, though: internationally, we’ve been blown away by the works coming out of Petra Shulze-Wollgast (psw), Timglaset, and Penteract Press, among others. On home soil, we take a lot of influence from bill bissett and his work with Blew Ointment Press; he fought relentlessly for the right to create and sustain communities through uncensored publishing and we owe a lot of our work today to his efforts. We’re also continually astounded at the ingenious creativity of The Blasted Tree, the gorgeous works of Baseline Press, and of course the indefatigable Rob Mclennan and his above/ground press, who has been a tireless mentor, connector, and community-builder for small presses and poets across Canada and beyond.
What are your hopes for the future in regards to Gap Riot Press and the publishing community at large?
MORE WIMMIN RUNNING THINGS. We love how many wimmin and women and womyn and femmes and nbs and queer friends are starting their own presses and publishing some really beautiful, urgent, and necessary voices and works. We need more of that. We can never have enough of that! And in terms of Gap Riot, we hope to just continue breaking, dismantling, burning down and building up to make more room for others to come in, play, experiment, fail, try again and grow.
You can reach Gap Riot Press online at gapriotpress.com, where you’ll find their shop, archives of work, and their online Season Five Launch Party. You can also connect on Twitter @gapriotpress.
Kate Siklosi lives, writes, and thinks in Toronto. Her criticism has been featured in various journals and magazines including Canadian Literature, JAST, The Walrus, and The Puritan. She has published five chapbooks of poetry, and her work has also been featured in various magazines and small press publications across North America, Europe, and the UK. She is the co-founding editor of Gap Riot Press, a feminist experimental poetry small press.
Tuesday, September 8th, 2020 marks the 53rd anniversary of International Literacy Day. Created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) back in 1967, the day is meant to spread awareness about the importance of literacy worldwide. As students and teachers prepare to go back to school this fall, they are stepping into a whole new world of trying to learn during a global pandemic. This year, UNESCO is using International Literacy Day to highlight educators and the role they play in advancing literacy among youth and adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to UNESCO, the push to a more virtual society during the pandemic has only made the divide between the disadvantaged and the rest of the world deepen, hampering efforts in increasing literacy rates among the world’s less fortunate. In celebration of International Literacy Day, the Toronto International Festival of Authors spoke to two teachers about their experience teaching in the Spring of 2020 and preparing to enter the classroom in September 2020, and their efforts trying to advance literacy in the classrooms.
Every four years, hundreds of thousands of people come together from around the world to cheer for their countries as they compete at the Summer Olympics. Like many events, this year’s iconic international sporting competition was also affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and consequently postponed until 2021 (July 23–August 8). In the 124-year history of the Olympic Games, this is the fourth time that they have been postponed; once prior in World War I and twice during World War II.
Although we will have to wait another 12 months to watch The Games of the XXXII Olympiad unfold in Tokyo, we can still share in the highs and lows of the Olympic Games through the stories written in books. We created this reading list that explores the ultimate tests of athletic ability, dedication, strength and unity since the Olympics’ inception:
by Chris Cleave
Gold is the story of Kate and Zoe, world-class athletes who have been friends and rivals since their first day of elite training. In the ultimate test of a mothers’ love, Kate’s eight-year-old daughter is battling a recurrence of childhood leukemia just as she is about to compete for her last chance at an Olympic gold medal. How can she do what is right for her daughter without abandoning all of her dreams?
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
by Daniel James Brown
The #1 New York Times bestselling story about American Olympic triumph in Nazi Germany and the inspiration behind PBS documentary The Boys of ‘36. Out of the depths of the Great Depression comes an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times. The Boys in the Boat is the dramatic tale of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics.
For the Glory
by Duncan Hamilton
Many people will remember Eric Liddell as the Olympic gold medalist from the Academy Award-winning film Chariots of Fire. Famously, Liddell would not run on Sunday because of his strict observance of the Christian sabbath and so he did not compete in his signature event, the 100 meters, at the 1924 Paris Olympics. For the Glory is a story of athletic heroism and faith in the darkest of circumstances.
Just Don’t Fall: A Hilariously True Story of Childhood, Cancer, Amputation, Romantic Yearning, Truth and Olympic Greatness
by Josh Sundquist
Just Don’t Fall is the astounding story of Paralympian Josh Sundquist and his heroic struggle through numerous hospitalizations to become an award-winning skier (Italy 2006) and renowned motivational speaker. When he was just 9-years-old, Sundquist was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a virulent cancer strain that eventually claimed his left leg.
The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory
by Julie Checkoway
The New York Times bestselling inspirational story of impoverished Japanese-American children in Maui who transformed themselves into world-class swimmers in the 1930s. The malnourished children, who trained in irrigation ditches, outraced Olympic athletes twice their size, made headlines and broke world records. With the dawning of a world war and the cancellation of the Games, they would still go on to become the 20th century’s most celebrated heroes.
by Mark Schultz
A New York Times bestseller and riveting true story of Olympic wrestling gold medalist brothers, Mark Schultz and Dave Schultz, and their fatal relationship with the eccentric John du Pont. On January 26, 1996, Shultz was shot three times at Foxcatcher Farms estate in Pennsylvania. After a tense standoff, du Pont became the wealthiest convicted murderer of all time. Shultz’s memoir is now an Oscar-nominated motion picture.
Fire on the Track: Betty Robinson and the Triumph of the Early Olympic Women
by Roseanne Montillo
Fire on the Track is the inspiring true story of the women who broke barriers and finish-line ribbons in pursuit of Olympic gold at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, Montillo traces the fascinating story of American high-school student Betty Robinson, who became an Olympic track and field trailblazer, and the fastest woman in the world.
This year marks the Centennial of late sci-fi fantasy legend Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012). Over his 70-year writing career, Bradbury sparked imagination in the minds of his readers, transporting them to worlds like no other.
Bradbury grew up in the golden age of science fiction, getting his first taste for the genre when he was eight-years-old. In what was to be his final written piece, Take Me Home, Bradbury said that the creative beast within him first grew when he discovered space opera character Buck Rogers in 1928.
Admittedly, he went a “trifle mad that autumn”, Bradbury proclaims, “It’s the only way to describe the intensity with which I devoured the stories[…] You rarely have such fevers later in life that fill your entire day with emotion.” Years later, this would be the same effect that Bradbury would have on his readers.
It seems only fitting that it was a carnival magician named Mr. Electrico that opened Bradbury’s eyes to immortality and inspired him to start writing when he was twelve-years-old. From that moment on, he didn’t stop. Bradbury went on to become the mastermind behind The Martian Chronicles (1950), Farenheight 451 (1953), Dandelion Wine (1957) and Something Wicked Comes This Way (1962).
“Without Ray Bradbury, there would be no Stephen King.” – Stephen King
For renowned Canadian author Margaret Atwood, Bradbury’s stories “really sunk in.” Martian Chronicles is her favourite Bradbury novel. In an article written for The Guardian, Atwood said that Bradbury’s enthusiasm for his many devoted readers and his fellow writers never waned.
“I was greatly looking forward to meeting a writer who had been so much a part of my own early reading, especially the delicious, clandestine reading done avidly in lieu of homework, and the compulsive reading done at night with a flashlight when I ought to have been sleeping,” she wrote. Atwood explains that, “Stories read with such enthusiasm at such a young age are not so much read as inhaled […] They sink all the way in and all the way down, and they stay with you.”
His contribution to American fiction in the 20th Century has made him one of the most well-known writers of our time. In 2007, Bradbury received a Pulitzer citation for his “distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy.” (Pulitzer)
“In an age of writing classes, he was self-taught; in an age of spin, his was an authentic voice, straight from the heartland; in an age of groomed images, he was a natural.” – Margaret Atwood
In A Man Who Won’t Forget Ray Bradbury, accomplished fantasy writer Neil Gaiman said that Bradbury made him dream, taught him what words could accomplish and never let him down as a reader, even as an adult. “He left the world a better place, and left better places in it: the red sands and canals of Mars, the midwestern Halloweens and small towns and dark carnivals. And he kept writing,” Gaiman recalls.
“He was a genre on his own, and on his own terms.” – Neil Gaiman
Beyond books, Bradbury scripted television programs and screenplays, including John Huston’s 1956 film version of Moby Dick. Bradbury is also the inspiration behind Elton John’s song, The Rocketman.
“If he hadn’t existed, science fiction would have been a well-kept secret in literature instead of a widely consumed phenomenon” – Robert J. Sawyer
And for that, we say thank you.
You can celebrate Ray Bradbury’s Centennial at events across the world at raybradbury.com/centennial
In honour of Canada Day on the first of July, we’re paying tribute to our national roots by highlighting a number of authors who are making waves in Canadian literature. These writers come from across the country and from all walks of life, have different beliefs and backgrounds, and offer us unique perspectives of the world. Their work demonstrates the vast talent and diverse experiences taking place between our coasts. Here are ten noteworthy authors the watch.
Christa Couture is an award-winning Cree and Scandinavian performing and recording artist, a writer and storyteller. Couture was raised in the Canadian prairies and lost her left leg to bone cancer when she was 13 years old. Throughout her career she has become known as an expert in loss, sharing her personal journey through her words and music. The weekday afternoon host on Toronto’s 106.5 ELMNT FM is releasing her debut non-fiction book and memoir, How to Lose Everything, this September.
Michelle Good is poet, author and lawyer who is a descendent of the Battle River Cree and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Her award-winning poetry has appeared in several publications, including Best of the Best Canadian Poetry. She obtained her law degree at the age of 43, after three decades working with Indigenous communities and organizations. While practising law, she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. This year, Good has unveiled her first novel, Five Little Indians, which won the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction. She is currently working on her second novel.
James Gregor is currently working on his second work of fiction after the success of hi debut novel, Going Dutch. The book, based on his personal online dating experience and exploration of sexuality, was a finalist for the 2020 Amazon Canada First Novel Award and the Atlantic Book Awards’ Margaret and John Savage First Book Award. Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Gregor holds an MFA in Fiction from Columbia, has been a writer in residence at the Villa Lena Foundation in Tuscany, and a bookseller at Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris.
Catherine Hernandez is a theatre practitioner, award-wining author and the artistic director of B Current Performing Arts. Her highly acclaimed debut novel, Scarborough, is set to be adapted into a screenplay, received the Jim Wong-Chu Award for the unpublished manuscript and was longlisted for Canada Reads. Hernandez describes herself as brown queer femme and radical mother. In 2019, she released her second children’s book, I Promise, and in 2020, her highly anticipated novel, Crosshairs.
Shafi (Frizz Kid) is an accomplished writer and illustrator who combines poetry with art. The self-proclaimed “Indo-Persian feminist” is a National Magazine Award – nominated journalist and a recipient of the Women Who Inspire Award from the Canadian Council for Muslim Women. Her debut book of poetry and illustrations, It Begins with the Body, was one of CBC’s Best Books of Poetry in 2018. In 2020, Shafi is back with the forthcoming book Broke and Kind of Dirty: Affirmations for the Real World, available in September. If you can’t wait, Shafi has shared over 175 affirmations on her Instagram page (@frizzkidart).
John Elizabeth Stintzi
John Elizabeth Stintzi is a non-binary writer and award-winning poet who grew up on a cattle farm in northwestern Ontario. They teach critical and creative writing at the Kansas City Art Institute and have written two poetry chapbooks. In 2019, Stinzi was awarded the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers from the Writers’ Trust of Canada for poem, Selections, in Junebat – their full-length poetry book debut. They are also a recipient of the The Malahat Review’s Long Poem Prize. 2020 has been a big year for Stintzi, with the release of Junebat and their debut novel, Vanishing Monuments.
Souvankham Thammavongsa is the author of four poetry books, and the short story collection How to Pronounce Knife. Her stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Granta, and other places. She was born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, and grew up in Toronto. The New York Times said of her, “A talented new voice emerges.”
Dr. Cheryl Thompson is a public speaker, freelance writer and assistant professor at Ryerson University in the school of Creative Industries, who grew up in Scarborough, Ontario. Her research spans five fields, including: visual culture, media, adverting and consumer culture and Black Canadian studies. Thompson’s first book, Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture, was published in 2019. It’s one of the first transnational feminist studies of Canada’s Black beauty culture. Her second book, Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty, will be available in August.
Canadian First Nations two-spirit novelist, poet and editor Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation in Manitoba. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate, a lecturer and Killam scholar at the University of Calgary, where he studies Indigenous literatures and cultures with a focus on gender and sexuality. His debut novel, Johnny Appleseed (2018), won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction and the Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction, and was longslisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. He is currently working on a third manuscript titled Making Love with the Land, to be published with Knopf Canada.
Evan Winter is an epic fantasy author and cinematographer who self-published his debut African-inspired novel, The Rage of Dragons, in 2017. After being re-released this year by Orbit Books, the novel became a #1 Amazon Bestseller and made the Canada Reads longlist. It is the first book in a four-book deal series, called The Burning. Book two, The Fires of Vengeance, is expected in November this year. Winter was born in England and grew up in Africa near the historical territory of his Xhosa ancestors. When his son was born, he realised that it was rare to see Africa represented in his genre, so he started writing. He now calls Canada home.
Quietly in the background, as the world went into lockdown, the COVID-19 pandemic saw library activity increase around the world. People began to seek refuge in reading and rediscover the books at their local libraries. As a result, libraries have been forced to adapt quickly to radically increased readership, the demand for digital content and the enforcement of social distancing measures.
In the past three months, more books have been checked-out than ever before. New York Public Library saw an 864% increase in digital library card sign ups and a 200% increase in new e-reading users and unique views of free educational resources. In the USA, Arlington Public Library is working with local children and artists to produce quaranzines. Meanwhile, in Sweden, Helsingborg libraries have introduced a new user-friendly chat function on their websites.
In Canada, at the largest public library system in North America, the Toronto Public Library (TPL) has seen similar results and innovation. We asked TPL how readers’ needs and behaviors have changed as a result of COVID-19 and how the TPL has responded.
How has the pandemic affected the TPL community?
There has been a tremendous amount of work happening as TPL staff continue to deliver library service to our customers, and support the City’s efforts to combat COVID-19. The library is proud to help serve our customers, our colleagues, and our communities – and contribute positively to the health and well-being of our great city.
We’ve been able to connect Torontonians to critical information and updates about COVID-19, posting credible resources to help readers navigate the overwhelming amount of information – and misinformation – about the virus. We published a self-care and mental well-being information, a reading list and resource guide as part of Mental Health week.
Within our communities, we quickly developed new partnerships and provided spaces, tools and staff to support critical relief activities. These include: repurposing library buildings as alternate service locations for city food banks, providing free books for kids in food bank food hampers, lending our tools and equipment to support COVID-19 medical efforts, wi-fi hotspot lending, and a new Internet Connectivity Kit program that provides vital connection for some of our city’s most vulnerable residents.
What service changes or new offerings has the TPL introduced in response to the pandemic?
The library has shifted the purchasing of digital content during the closure as demand has surged. We have grown our extensive collection of ebooks, audiobooks, comics and videos for the whole family, and a variety of resources that support everyone’s interests and online learning and development.
On April 15, TPL launched the Instant Digital Card, which gives non-TPL cardholders in Toronto free, temporary access to a large collection of ebooks, e-audiobooks, and e-magazines through OverDrive. To date, 16,086 new customers have registered for the Instant Digital Card.
With our branches closed and the increased use of our online resources, we next looked at moving our most popular programming online. The live and online programs are for audiences of all ages. These programs and events suit everyone’s interests, from story times and book clubs, to digital innovation and personal finance. Recently, close to 500 people joined the livestream conversation with The Eccentric Life of Edward Gorey author Mark Dery. This was the first of many more programs this team has planned.
This year, we shifted the TD Summer Reading Club (TDSRC) online. TDSRC is Canada’s largest, bilingual summer reading program, co-created and delivered by more than 2,000 public libraries across Canada – and kids of all ages and abilities rely on the program to inspire them to explore the joy of reading throughout the summer.
TPL staff have been creating blog content that promotes our collections and online resources, provides information and readers’ advisory services, offers online learning opportunities and brings online communities together. A unique, fun example is when we asked Torontonians to adapt wartime posters to speak to the new historic moment we’re currently in.
We’ve also updated our website and newsletter to better serve our customers. The homepage is updated regularly with engaging activities, reading recommendations by library staff, online program information and much more. We’ve renamed our newsletter, What’s On: Home Edition, to keep customers up to date on the latest TPL has to offer virtually.
Our vendors have worked with us to help extend access or lifted limits on popular digital content. TPL customers now have free access to Ancestry Library Edition from anywhere; until now, this popular genealogy (family research) tool was only available on computers at library branches or remotely with a paid subscription. Additionally, our customers can now access more check-outs on services such as Hoopla and Kanopy.
How have readers responded to these changes and new offerings?
Demand for online services has significantly increased as customers shift towards digital. Use of TPL online digital content (e-books, e-audiobooks, emagazines, and streaming video) has increased.
Over 21,000 people have signed up for an Instant Digital Card to access TPL’s OverDrive collection since we launched the service on April 15. Use of our streaming video services, Hoopla and Kanopy, is up 87% from pre-closure. Use of OverDrive (ebooks and audiobooks) is up 24% from pre-closure.
Will any of the changes continue post-pandemic?
Use of our e-resources was trending upwards pre-pandemic, so we predict that use and demand will continue. We also expect to continue to provide digital programming options to our customers. The online platform, whether live or on-demand, increases accessibility to our programs and extends our reach to new audiences and communities.
We also plan to continue providing food bank services at two of our branches this Summer, and are committed to continue to work with our food bank partners on food and income security programs.
What role do you see the TPL playing in Toronto’s healthy emergence from the pandemic?
The first and most important way we hope to support Toronto’s reopen, recovery and rebuild plans is to get our branch doors open and all services up and running for residents and communities as soon as it is safe to do so. We have missed seeing customers and they told us that they really missed being able to go to their local library. The pandemic has reinforced for all of us that people want and need to be connected to each other and their communities, and many people, of all ages, have told us the local library is a first and important point of connection for them.
Longer term, we are excited to be launching our new strategic plan Vital to Toronto: Building Success, Resilience and Well-Being for our City. From talking to residents and communities, and through our research, we know that the pandemic has had, and will continue to have, a huge impact on the economy and the way we live, and work. For example, the pandemic has accelerated existing trends towards e–government, online learning and education, remote work, and technology trends; including ecommerce, streaming and telehealth making the need for digital access and digital literacy even more critical. There will be a new normal.
We have also learned that the impacts of the pandemic have impacted some communities and people, especially vulnerable people, and as a result we must address the growing economic and societal inequalities in our city. Toronto must be a city where everyone has equal access to life chances and opportunities, and TPL has a critical role in supporting that vision.
So, we are going to work with our staff, partners and communities to deliver on the plan’s priorities – offering online and in branch space, advancing digital literacy and inclusion, supporting workforce development and upskilling, and helping people engage in community discussions and decision making – priorities people have told us are even more important now.
Thinking back, the pandemic has impacted all of us in ways that none of us could have imagined even six months ago – and this is true for TPL as well.
What we can tell you with certainty is that whatever the path and timing to reopening and recovery is, TPL will adapt and deliver services people have told us are important. In this way, we hope to support better opportunities and life chances for everyone.