Angela Copeland – Toronto Public Library
In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Angela Copeland and her colleagues at the Toronto Public Library knew that, while they couldn’t change the situation everyone was in, they could offer a tried-and-true comfort: books.
Copeland, the library’s director of digital strategy and CIO, accelerated the organization’s plan to create digital access cards for audio and e-books, as well as other digital media.
“It was an opportunity for people to access resources during COVID, which is a time when they needed it most,” she says.
With the digital access cards, the library—which has 100 branches—set a record of 8 million digital downloads of e-books and audiobooks in 2020, which was a 32 percent increase over 2019. She says it’s rewarding providing this service, especially because increasing equitable access to libraries has been a goal of hers.
“I think the biggest challenge is that the IT infrastructure has been built to support a brick-and-mortar experience,” she says. “We have to do a complete overhaul to reimagine the user experience in a digital space.”
Now that the digital access cards are in use, Copeland wants to invest in a customer experience platform for communicating with the library and accessing collections and other services.
“I want it to simulate a branch experience in a digital realm,” she says. “I want to create a more interactive space based on the customers’ needs and preferences.”
She wants the digital library to allow people to browse through and access e-books, videos, music, information databases, programs and exhibits, all in one space. It would allow for communication with library staff and other members, and connections with community resources and experts. Copeland says the timeline for the project is dependent on funding, but she hopes it can begin
Copeland and her team also lead an annual evaluation for the province of Ontario on digital access and literacy so they can help libraries expand the reach of technology services to their communities. She says many people, including vulnerable populations, rely on the library for computers, printers and Wi-Fi, as well as for improving digital literacy and skills.
“Based on the services we provide, we want to provide the best channels for our customers to read, learn, create and connect,” she says. “Part of my role is to dig deeper and research what those technical solutions are and how we should approach implementing them.”
This is where improving data and analytics comes into play, Copeland says. She’s updated the library’s data warehouse and will be using data capture to determine community needs based on services people often use or request, which will inform where the library will invest and add services.
“We want to capture data to support customers in whatever they need, but being supportive means strongly believing in privacy and equitable access,” she says.
Copeland also wants to leverage data to make the libraries more inclusive and welcoming. She’s starting by making sure records and digital systems have employees’ preferred names and can accommodate pronouns. Previously, because human resources legally needs to have employees’ legal names on file, transgender and nonbinary employees were being misgendered in the system or referred to by a name they no longer used.
Copeland has also been deploying more accessible technology, including automated closed captioning for staff and customers who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a learning disability or difficulty with auditory processing.
“I like the potential for social impact I have in this position,” she says. “Libraries are in a position to make positive changes that benefit communities as well as individuals and it’s rewarding to be part of that.”
Full circle career
Throughout her career, Copeland has sought to help people in some way.
She spent the first 10 years at an IT healthcare consulting firm in which she was contracted to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Her experience then led her to lead IT departments at a few other healthcare organizations, including Cancer Care Ontario, where she led the implementation of the data and analytics strategy.
Copeland worked there until 2019 when she was hired by the library. Although the position may seem like a detour from her previous roles, she says “empowering individuals through knowledge” has always been important to her. In addition to earning her master’s in education while working full-time, she spent six years as an instructor at Ryerson University in Toronto teaching a course on health information systems management.
“It’s almost like I’ve come full circle to be part of an amazing organization committed to providing equitable access to information, learning and technology so that Torontonians can thrive in the digital world,” Copeland says. “I’m excited about the challenge in this position to leverage modern technology to recreate TPL’s vibrant presence and impact in a digital space.”
View this feature in the Fall II 2021 Edition here.
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