Patrons of Toronto Public Library scrambling to find similar access elsewhere, after Cyberattack
Every night, Nell Chitty and her four-year-old son Thomas wind down for bed by reading three illustrated books. But since a ransomware attack on the Toronto Public Library compromised several library services — as well as employees’ personal data — in late October, it’s been a lot harder for Chitty to find books by her son’s favourite authors.
“He has specific requests, which our branch doesn’t have,” said Chitty, who used to check out about 12 books a month for her son. “Some of his favourite authors are $25 a pop. As a single mom, that kind of adds up quickly.”
Although some library services, such as Wi-Fi, have resumed in the nearly six weeks since the ransomware attack, the library says that those who rely on many online programs, such as holds and public computers — which patrons use to apply for jobs, communicate with loved ones, apply for housing and access government services — will have to wait until early 2024 before their access is restored.
In the meantime, patrons are scrambling to find similar access elsewhere in the community.
“Our library system in the city has become much, much more than a place where people just get books,” said John Campey, executive director of the Ralph Thornton Community Centre. “It has become an important part of really our social service network and a refuge for individuals who don’t have other places to go.”
Campey says that since the ransomware attack, his community centre has seen demand for public computers double. Prior to the attack, the community centre had four self-service computers open to the public, serving about 300 people in the month of October. In the weeks since, Campey says they’ve had to bring in two more computers to keep up with the demand — but even with them, the computer lab is typically at full occupancy throughout the day, with more people lined up waiting to use any computer that frees up.
Although there is currently no time limit at the computer lab, Campey says it’s something staff have recently considered implementing in an attempt to reduce conflicts that arise.
“This is creating a real stress, because people then get impatient,” he said. “We’ve got people who are regular users who depend on the space.”
It’s not easy to focus on studying and college assignments while living in a shelter, so for the last year when he’s needed to work, Brincon Woods heads to the library. Since October, Wood’s refuge has grown tense and charged as low-income library users are left waiting months for critical resources to be restored. On Oct. 28, when the library shut down its Wi-Fi in the wake of the cyber attack, he had no choice but to study in the shelter, a crowded and distracting environment where he and other people struggling with homelessness stay.
As a newcomer to Canada from Uganda, Woods says he’s seen the value the library provides people beyond books — it’s also a place people come to escape the cold, enjoy the typically calming environment and browse on computers or phones.
“The internet plays a big role in the life of people who come to use the library,” he said.
In an email, Ana-Maria Critchley, a spokesperson for the Toronto Public Library, said it plans to start gradually start restoring its website and public computers in January.
“This prolonged delay has been disruptive. We understand and we share that frustration,” wrote Critchley.
While she waits for the library to reopen the holds system, Chitty is trying to get a book swap program off the ground with other parents in her neighbourhood. However, when her son recently wanted “The Rock from the Sky” by Jon Klassen for story time, she ended up having to buy it when other local families didn’t have a copy.
“It’s disappointing for both the child and the parent because you want to encourage your child’s love of books and it’s always such a beautiful activity to do together. But I find if my son isn’t motivated by the books in front of him, then he doesn’t want to read at story time,” she said.
“It really just made me aware of how much depends on that service at the library.”
This article was reported by The Star