How have the roles of our public library changed from providing just books on shelves to media in many forms and multiple community services? And, most recently, how has our library responded to a devastating cyberattack? An enthusiastic and thoughtful presentation by Moe Hosseini-Ara at a Tartu College Academy forum late in January provided some answers to these questions. Moe is the Director of Branch Operations and Customer Experience at the Toronto Public Library (TPL). As such, he is responsible for over 100 branches in the biggest, busiest public library in North America, one that 2/3 of Torontonians access every year.
Moe talked about fundamental questions for the TPL: who we are, what we do, and why we matter. He provided some remarkable statistics. On a typical day at the TPL, in rough numbers:
- 100,000 people visit the library, half in person and half online
- computer technology is accessed 25,000 times
- 130 programs serve 3,000 participants
- 90,000 items are borrowed
- a Digital Innovation Hub is used 125 times for 3-D printing
- 10 musical instruments and 10 sewing machines are used!
The TPL provides infrastructure that makes library branches hubs for the community, and has tried to create branches sensitive to community opinion and needs. During COVID, library staff stepped up and made a number of branches “pop-up” food bank depots. But, on a regular basis, library staff offer help that may not otherwise be available. Far from being just about access to books and media, for many people the library is the only place where they can access the Internet or find a computer and printer to produce a resume for a job. And the library is committed to providing cultural experiences in areas not normally served by discussion groups and activities.
Moe presented much detail and many slide graphics from various TPL strategic plans and studies. The TPL hopes to become even more relevant to help a wide range of people grow and thrive. Many issues remain as challenges to the system: safety and security in public spaces, improved access to technology, response to trends especially in America towards book banning and stifling of free speech, and, of course, the response to the October 28 cyberattack.
The cyberattack was described as part of a worldwide issue where, despite all reasonable precautions, the question was not if, but when an attack would occur. Indeed, the British Library was hit even more seriously the same day, by another so-called threat actor. At the TPL, staff HR files were compromised but no library client data was threatened. The TPL decided not to pay the ransom and has had to essentially reboot the system. Meanwhile, however, the library has carried on. Since the attack, 1,700 TPL staff have manually checked out over 1,000,000 items. Remarkably, the library has added 17,000 new members during this time.
Moe’s presentation provided material for a lively question period in a number of areas:
- the acquisition process tries to provide books and materials tailored to individual communities
- author lectures continue at the Reference library
- books can be donated to the TPL (Central Reference and North York Central). They do not join the regular collection but rather are sold through an organisation that last year earned the TPL $120,000
- the TPL is working on having longer Sunday hours, but is constrained by budget limits
- the library currently has two Bookmobiles with 28 stops in areas in the city lacking branches
- the library’s $200 million budget is 95% provided by the city
In all, Moe’s obvious passion for his job and belief in the importance of the TPL to our city made his presentation interesting and informative.
by Don Plumb