Monday, May 30, 2011

CITL Spreads to A New City

Guess what? CITL has now expanded to Barrie, Ontario! Yes, I know it's only a small city near Toronto but it shows that the program is starting to capture interest in places other than Toronto. Here are the details for the program in Barrie:

Barrie Public Library
60 Worsely Street
Barrie, ON
L4M 1L6

Open from 1-3pm every Saturday.

I'd like to thank Michael Zaghi for taking this intiative and putting all his efforts into getting the program started in Barrie. We've only communicated through email so I've really never met him before. However, one day, I hope to pay a visit to Barrie and meet Michael as well as all the chess enthusiasts there. :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

CITL's First Location for SENIORS

Chess in the Library is always a program open to all ages, however, it is most often necessary to set a target age range so that the library can promote it in a specific department. As a result, our program has always been targeting children and teens, with a side note saying "everyone is welcome to join".

It was our 18th location that broke this record - the DEER PARK branch! :)

The librarians approached us and specifically requested to startup a chess program for seniors only. Since we've never done this before, my team and I faced a few challenges in deciding how the program should run. Certainly, we can't treat seniors the same way as teens, now can we? So after a meeting with your Vice-President Michael and the librarian in charge of the program, we agreed upon a few modifications such as shortening the program time to 1.5h, focusing more on the teaching sessions, etc.

Last Saturday was our very first session and thanks to our Executive Director Kevin Wu and former volunteer Xiaohan Du, the program went really well. For a detailed report on that, check out Kevin's latest blog post here.

So to all seniors and adults out there who would like to enjoy some chess on a fresh Saturday morning, come down to the Deer Park Library for some chess! If you have no clue on how to play the game at all, no worries! We'll teach you all the basic rules and principles!

For more details on the location, scroll down on our list of locations at

Friday, May 13, 2011

2011 CITL Volunteer of the Year Nominees

The Chess in the Library (CITL) organization would like to honour and recognize the best volunteers at our program for their continuous hard work throughout the past year. Without each and every volunteer, our organization would not have been as widely recognized as it is today. Thus, the executive team decided to create an Annual CITL Volunteer of the Year Award, which consists of 3 separate recognitions: Most Dedicated, Most Innovative and Best Instructor.

Only CITL locations that were open for more than 6 months and have non-staff members running the program were invited to participate in this event. All the librarians in charge of our participating locations were asked to nominate one non-executive volunteer who has contributed the most to the CITL program at their library during the past year.

We came down to a total of 7 nominees, of which one wishes to remain anonymous. Those to came to the CITL Party sometime ago got to vote for the 3 winners out of the 7 nominees. Results will be announced at the opening ceremony of the 2nd Annual CITL Festival on June 25, 2011 (more details on the festival will be posted soon~).

Below is the list of nominees along with a detailed "reason for nomination" written by library staff involved in the program.

Gal Gross
North York Central Library

"Gal's enthusiasm and dedication, have kept this club going here, especially after Elsa left. His approachability and friendliness make people in the club feel comfortable and this is one reason that I think people come every week. His knowledge and gentle approach encourages those that are beginners to think outside the box, challenge themselves and their opponents, but most of all to have fun."

- Tom Maragos, North York Central Library Society and Recreation Dept.

Jesse Feng
Brookbanks Library

"Brookbanks would like to nominate Jesse Feng for his exceptional dedication, punctuality, concern for the smooth running of the programme and clarity of communication with the branch. Jesse is even tempered and has grown in leadership together with CITL. We appreciate his organisational skills too and his willingness to be openminded to any changes that the branch needs to ask of him and the progrmmae!"

- Denise Drabkin, Brookbanks Branch Head

Mary Xu
Bridlewood Library

"Mary is a very responsible, patient, and hardworking volunteer. She came to Bridlewood since the beginning of the club and was never absent. She is very friendly with the kids and takes care of them in every aspect. Bridlewood is a very busy branch and we have a big group of kids participating in the program. Mary is doing an excellent job at Bridlewood and we are really proud of her."

- Leo Wong, Bridlewood Branch Head & Angela Wong, Bridlewood Senior Libary Assistant

Stefan Whittaker-Lee
Bloor/Gladstone Library

"Stefan has been wonderful at keeping the program running when our local teen volunteers have not always been reliable. It's nice to have someone responsible that you can depend upon!"

-Alice Moore, Bloor/Gladstone Children's Librarian & Raymond Lam, Bloor/Gladstone Librarian

Yolanda Zhang
Fairview Library

"Yolanda consistently attends the program and does her most to help the program succeed. She is very knowledgeable about chess. The kids in the program find her very approachable. She is always ready to help out participants who need her assistance. We are very lucky at Fairview to have her as a volunteer."

-Paula Costa-Kuswanto, Fairview Youth Services Librarian

Yuan Dai
Pleasant View

"Yuan was there almost every week except for exceptional circumstances when he couldn't make it, since the re-starting of the branch. He always pays attention to the children and often teaches children who are less able at playing."

-Karen Knott, Pleasant View Branch Head

And finally...we have a nominee who wishes to remain anoymous:

Anonymous Volunteer
Humberwood Library

"xxx is dedicated, committed and goes above and beyond the role required of a volunteer. He shares his passion and knowledge of the game by pioneering learning strategies for beginners such as the Whole Brain Chess method. He also coaches and donates resources which enable the program to grow immeasurably. His love of the game and dedication to the Chess in the Library program has resulted in increased numbers and enthusiastic players. Humberwood is thrilled to have him."

- Vivien Canning, Humberwood Branch Head & Eunice Rodrigues, Chess Coordinator

Congratulations to all the nominees! You all deserved it! However, if you were not nominated this year, it doesn't mean that you weren't a great volunteer. In fact, many librarians expressed to us how difficult it was to make this decision! On behalf of the executive team, I'd like to thank everyone for all their time and effort put into this program in the past year. Perhaps you haven't really thought about this before, but what you're doing for this really program changes the lives of many children out there. We all really appreciate what you're doing every week. We really do.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Toronto Observer Features an Article on CITL

Here is the second article, published by the Toronto Observer on April 22, 2011. This article was just as good as the one published by Inside Toronto! I'd like to thank the journalist, Alex, as well as the paper for helping us spread the word about Chess in the Library to all those in our local communities.

Here is a link of the article:

Scarborough chess star expands game's dominion

Alex Kozovski
Published 22 April 2011

Yuanling Yuan (second from right) gives the chance for kids like Julia (middle) to showcase their chess talents through Chess in the Library. (Courtesy Chess in the Library)

Yuanling Yuan is quickly becoming the star of Toronto’s chess scene.

The 17-year-old chess prodigy is Canada’s top female chess player, was the youngest Woman International Master ever and is now spreading the game of chess throughout the city and beyond.

Chess in the Library, a program run by student-volunteers, was founded by Yuan in hopes of spreading the game across the GTA.

At least to start.

Yuan has had a specific goal in mind since starting the club in June 2009.

“The goal is to expand the program to every province in Canada,” said Yuan, a student at Victoria Park Collegiate Institute.

Already in 17 Toronto libraries, Chess in the Library has expanded to libraries in Calgary, Alta., and Victoria, B.C.

The program is designed to promote chess through casual games for the beginner and Chess Federation of Canada-rated games for the experienced.

“It’s a really fun and unique program,” said Andrew Loughlin, who learned about the program last year. “Not many people play chess, but for the people that do, this is perfect: free games, good practice and people actually willing to play.”

Thanks to the Saturday chess sessions, players not only battle one another, they also get to know each other.

“These kids see each other every week,” Yuan said. “The fact that they see each other often makes them … almost one big family.

“It’s become something more than just chess.”

Though Yuan has great designs on the future of Chess in the Library, it’s a different story when it comes to her own future in the game.

“I don’t want to become one of the top players in the world and play chess for the rest of my life,” she said. “It’s not like that.”

Yuan still practices at least an hour a day, she said, but doesn’t play as much chess as she used to. Instead, she’s been focused on advocating the game to anyone who enjoys flexing their intellectual muscle.

“It’s fascinating to me because of the complexity [of the game], and I’m someone who loves to use logic and deduction,” Yuan said. “I like using my brain, and just figuring out solutions to the problems and challenges.”

The second-annual Chess in the Library Festival, hosted by North York Central Library, is set for the last weekend of June. Yuan said she’s optimistic it will help chess gain even more steam in the GTA.

Inside Toronto Captures CITL's Diversity

I know,I know, it's been a while since I last blogged... :(

So much has happened recently that it's going to take me a few posts to cover everything in the next few days. To start off, I'm proud to announce that in the past month, a cover story on the Chess in the Library program was featured in 2 local newspapers. The first one, made possible by Inside Toronto was published on March 27th, 2011.

In order to speak to a diverse group of people attending our program, the journalist, Michael, decided to visit the Brookbanks, Bloor/Gladstone and Humberwood branches - 3 libraries that form a snapshot of our city.
He and his fellow photographer spent a tremendous amount of effort on the interview process as they took a of the city in a single day.

From left to right: Photograper Daniela, me and Journalist Michael :)

The piece turned to be amazing! Michael did a fantastic job of capturing the views and perspectives of all the different kinds of people involved in the program, whether they are members of the executive, TPL staff team, volunteer team or even simply the chess club itself. Check out the article! Here is a link of the article:

Checkmate: Chess is much more than just board game

Chess in the Library sees success in Toronto's branches

Checkmate: Chess is much more than just board game. Left to right, Stefan, Claudio Garcia-Espejo and Niraq, show focus, fun and fearlessness at the Bloor/Gladstone Library chapter of Chess in the Library. Courtesy/Daniela Muller-Shapiro

Mar 27, 2011

If your notion of chess involves a scene with two elderly gentlemen slowly exchanging strange-looking objects on a checkered board under a blanket of deafening silence, then it's time you adopt a more modern understanding.

Enter Brookbanks Public Library in North York, the birthplace of Chess in the Library - a weekly program created by Canada's youngest female International Master, Yuanling Yuan, 17. The library is where young chess players gather to play and learn.

Already two years in, Yuan's idea has been a tremendous success. Chess in the Library now spans across 12 Toronto libraries, and has more than 40 volunteers. The program also operates in three libraries in Ottawa, and one library in Victoria, BC and Calgary, Alta.

One rainy Saturday morning the hysterical howls of children emanate from an undisclosed quarter fill the library.

"Stop throwing the pieces," echoes down a corridor.

Though many players are at the age where they can count their age on one hand - in some cases two - and their knowledge of the game is basic at best, in this program lurks an undeniable sense of enrichment.

Vivek Chachcha, 16, who volunteers at Brookbanks, is particularly grateful for having a chance to assist in the program's weekly operations. A self-described novice, Vivek recently started playing chess last summer because it was the only game on his computer and has been playing ever since.

A friend he made at the club has seen great improvements in his skill, he said.

"I remember when Vlad Bardalez came in, who was an average chess player, and over several months of playing and growing, he's beating me now," said Vivek. "When you see something like that you feel good."

Bardalez, 14, quickly became a familiar face around Brookbanks. His efforts have earned him a certain sense of notoriety from his peers, something given only to those who have demonstrated their dedication in the wake of adversity.

"I played in the past and then quit. I wasn't very good," Bardalez said. "But my weekends were open so I came in and tried it again, and kept coming back. Earlier this morning I beat someone who I've never beaten before; it's nice to get that checkmate."

The 'checkmate' is simply the tip of the iceberg.

In essence, Chess in the Library is designed to boost social and intellectual development. Chess demands the expansion of math and literacy skills and the emotional capacity to learn how to win and lose. But more importantly, these skills help prepare participants for the challenges which lie ahead as they transition through elementary school to middle school, to high school and beyond - something not offered by today's digital mediums.

Although video games do offer entertainment, there's limited emphasis on engaging one's intellectual faculties.

"Instead of just hitting buttons, you have to decide how you want to play and consider the consequences of your actions," said Kevin Wu, 15, executive director of the program. "Chess is a parallel to life - cause and effect."

Wu started playing when he was seven years old after his parents bought him a book on chess. Since then, he's been completely absorbed by the game. Following in Yuan's shoes, he's now a Candidate Master.

"Concentration is important, especially when you're in a half-hour game - multitasking is the new thing, but in chess you're focused on one thing and one thing only," added Vivek.

Chess is as challenging as it is revealing. Each player has their own style based on their unique personality. As they become more accustomed to the conventions of the game, their style of playing becomes more complex.

"When you play someone you have to adapt to their style," said Bardalez.

He notes that younger, more inexperienced players tend to be reckless and aggressive. It's just in their nature. But the longer they play and more mature they become, they tend to abandon those tendencies and think things through.

Feedback from parents has been exceptionally positive.

"They're very excited because their kids are around that age where they tend to stop coming to the library and reading books; their curiosity is changing directions," said Denise Drabkin, branch head of Brookbanks District Branch library. "This shows them the library is a relevant place for them."

Amber Daugherty, 21, who moved here from Listowel, Ontario, volunteers at Humberwood Library in Etobicoke, where they recently held a chess tournament over the March Break. She sees this program as an opportunity to connect with other members of the community.

"I live close to Humberwood, so I decided to go check it out - I love chess," says Daugherty. "I immediately adored all the kids who attended, and loved that it allowed me to get to know some people I wouldn't have otherwise gotten to know in the area."

Nonetheless, the program faces challenges relating to sustainability. The operation has grown considerably, including a board of elected executives, a website, and numerous chess-related blogs, and a budget, which Yuan notes, can use some donations.

"My long-term goal was to spread this program across Canada with a program in every province," says Yuan. "So far it's working, but we need people to help run it."

Gloria Jacobs, branch head of Bloor/Gladstone District Branch library, whose library recently included the Chess in the Library into its public programming, acknowledges the need for more assistance.

"We're not as developed as Brookbanks or other branches," says Jacobs. "We're going to need more time to attract and grow our audience, but as with anything, it takes time and effort."

The most dedicated players will eventually become volunteers to help mentor the next wave of players.

"We need their help to sustain the program and help it grow," says Drabkin. "They build their public speaking skills and their leadership skills. In the end, everybody wins."

For more information, visit