Toronto Public Library staff says they’re working hard to restore computer services by early- to mid-February and accommodate its affected patrons in the meantime, particularly senior citizens.
“We’re expecting public computers to return early in February,” said media request representative, Ana-Maria Critchley, in an email to the Toronto Observer.
“Once public computers are back online, we’re focusing on printing services,” she said. “We do not yet have an anticipated return date for printing, although we’ll also be exploring interim solutions.”
Working towards full restoration
TPL was the target of a cyberattack on their servers last October, which exposed confidential employee and customer information, and disrupted access to library services, including computers, printers, and checkout services across the city.
While the investigation is still ongoing, TPL said it will take time to find out exactly what was stolen and who will be affected. As a result, TPL had to restrict access to its website, as well as public computers and printers at their physical branches.
Toronto’s East York libraries are doing what they can to transition smoothly back to what they once were.
“It’s been a long haul, but were doing our best,” said Alyson Golin, an employee at the S. Walter Stewart Branch on Memorial Park Avenue.
On recent visits to East York’s branches, a Toronto Observer reporter noted several blank computer screens with notes indicating that internet access and catalogue computers are not available at this time, as well as signs on library printers indicating their unavailability.
Large sections of library shelves are also missing books that cannot be checked in until TPL systems resume normal operations.
Golin mentioned the books were contained inside boxes in the library’s back room, where they will be safely stored until TPL systems become operational again.
Seniors most affected by cyber attack: staff
Golin said the computers serve as an essential asset for “filling in the gaps for senior citizens with basic digital skills.” Because of this, Golin said the number of patrons at the branch are not as high as they were before the cyberattack.
Senior citizens make up 33 per cent of all library book borrowers in the country, according to 2021 statistics from BookNetCanada.ca.
An employee at another East York branch, who did not want their name used, said many seniors also came to the library to take advantage of the Wi-Fi services, which have continued to operate normally.
Ilana is a senior who has been checking out books and using the computers at the S. Walter Stewart Branch for several years.
She said the lack of the essential services for seniors has impacted the atmosphere of the library, as younger patrons continue to attend while older patrons’ attendance is reduced.
“It’s not a quiet place anymore,” said Ilana, who did not want her last name used. “More youth are coming to talk loudly and play videogames. It’s not like a library anymore.”
Navigating around the issue
The organization’s media relations team said in a statement to the Observer that “Libraries remain busy as we restore our services after the cybersecurity incident.”
This is not the first time the library has been forced to shift their business strategy. During the Covid-19 pandemic when libraries were forced to close to the public, many continued to operate, offering curb-side deliveries of books, DVDs, and CDs.
Despite the lack of computer access, Golin said TPL continues to offer specialized programs to continue its engagement with the community.
Libraries across the city continue to serve the community by hosting school and author visits, providing volunteer opportunities, recreation programs and special clubs; even pop-up art exhibits.
“Work is underway to restore these services as soon as possible. We will be updating the public with more information on the restoration timelines as more information becomes available.” TPL’s answer line staff told the Toronto Observer.
Service to the TPL website was partially restored recently, CP24 reported.
Although TPL assures that cardholder and donor databases were not affected, their website mentions that “some customer, volunteer and donor data that resided on the compromised file server may have been exposed.”