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Toronto Public Library book returns stored in 12 trailers since cyberattack

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The Toronto Public Library has been storing returned books in 12 offsite trailers ever since a cyberattack brought the institution to its knees on Oct. 28.

The books will stay in storage until they can be electronically checked back into libraries and returned to circulation, a phased restoration process the institution aims to begin later this month, Toronto Public Library (TPL) Communications Manager, Ana-Maria Critchley, told CTV News Toronto.

For the time being, staff have been entering details on new registrations and check-outs into a spreadsheet that is being uploaded to library software, Critchley said.

“This has been a major undertaking and just last week, we successfully completed the new member registration and checkout backlog of approximately 845,000 items,” she said.

It’s been two and a half months since TPL’s website, public computers and printers went dark and hackers stole the private data of current and former employees, including social insurance numbers and government-issued identification.

“The library remains a crime scene as the investigation continues,” TPL’s City Librarian Vickery Bowles wrote in a year-end message on Dec. 20.

The Toronto Public Library has been storing returned books in 12 offsite trailers ever since a cyberattack brought the institution to its knees on Oct. 28. (Courtesy of Toronto Public Library)

As a regular at the library, Ivan Kraljevic has witnessed the crime scene unfold as books vanish from the shelves of his branch in Etobicoke.

“The problem is when you return a book, what they do is they can't match it up anymore. If I take a book out today, they can take my library card number and the barcode of the book and take a note of that, but when the book comes back they have no way of going back to that initial record and reversing it and putting the book back on the shelf,” he explained.

He asked a librarian where the books go when they get returned and learned they put them in boxes in the backroom.

“The most basic function of a library, which is the circulation of books, has ground to a halt,” he said.

A sign outside of a Toronto Public Library branch reads, "No computers. No Printing. No Copying." (Joshua Freeman /CP24).

Without books on shelves, a library is just a place to sit, Kraljevic commented. “It’s like a coffee shop without the coffee,” he said.

In her end of year note, Bowles addressed the major loss of the library’s fundamental functions – particularly for vulnerable Torontonians who rely on the public library to access technology.

“We’ve also heard from students who rely on our computers for school work, from job seekers who rely on us to print their resume, and from people who use library computers to stay connected to family and friends back home,” she said.

“It is heartbreaking to hear these stories.” 

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