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Libraries as Financial Literacy Hubs [Update: Fall and Spring Workshops Planned]

Establishing an Effective Financial Literacy Program for the Patrons of Oakland Public Library

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Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

This program will benefit the patrons of Oakland Public Library. Patrons will have the chance to learn skills and be exposed to tools that will help them with their financial goals. It could range from setting those goals to achieving existing goals. It will likely range from making a budget for setting aside $10 a week for a safety net, to building up a down payment, to getting started on a business idea, to planning out a 529 college savings plan to send kids to college.

How is your idea specifically using the power of communities to improve financial opportunities and resources?

Libraries are existing community spaces readily seen by the communities they serve as safe and trusted places to seek assistance. Libraries have a long history of providing services to their communities, from kids programs to adult literacy, and they appeal to a broad range of people. As a bonus .. libraries have the two core infrastructure elements needed to house this program: physical meeting spaces and computer access.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

A. There are a variety of analogs. We can look at and sit in on programs being taught at nearby libraries (San Francisco Public Library offers programs through and smart money @ your library, for instance); B. We can look at assessments of non-library programs offered to a similar set of constituents; C. We can teach a few small pilot courses.

What skills, input or guidance might you be seeking from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

A. Help refining the high level goals and philosophy ("To meet all library patrons at their current level of financial literacy and provide ongoing training and support") B. Help with strategy and design, for instance: Is OPL the right scope to start with? Too big or too small? What parts of the curriculum could be adopted versus need to be created (i.e., the age old build vs. buy question). C. Volunteers to teach some initial courses and gather feedback. D. Design and content expertise.

This idea emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm

The  idea we are working on is to establish an effective financial literacy program for the patrons of Oakland Public Library, and if successful, scale the approach to include additional libraries and trusted community spaces. 

2015.09Sep-25 Update - Financial Wellbeing Workshops Planned

Oakland Public Library received great news this week. Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco, the service provider the library hoped to partner with to anchor their financial literacy workshops, received an award that will allow them to run courses free of charge. With the City of Oakland being on a tight budget, and securing grant funding uncertain and a ways off, this is a fantastic development which is allowing the library to move ahead with getting nearly a dozen classes on the calendar across their various branches starting this fall and to further expand their role in the community as a trusted public resource for people seeking assistance with their financial wellbeing. One of the courses being planned: an "Identify Theft" workshop in early December - - we all remember what happened at Target during last year's shopping season!

Next up: Additional Design Thinking collaboration with the library involving ethnographic interviews and lightweight prototypes to gain insights into the needs of patrons around financial literacy and what leads to substantive outcomes.

2015.08August-05 Update - Mindblown Labs

Last week, the co-founder of Mindblown met with Oakland Public Library to discuss ways to work together. Mindblown is a game and discussion based platform aimed at young adults ( A couple of promising ideas came out of the meeting:

  • Teen services at the library has been looking for a group to partner with for teen financial literacy, and they were very excited to explore working with Mindblown.
  • On the adult side, the 2nd start program has many individuals reading at a 5th grade level, and they would like to explore Mindblown's platform.
  • Combing teens and adults, Mindblown and the library are curious to map out a course that would have parents and their kids engaged. Part of the thought here is that you can make a game for kids and reach parents.

2015.06July-01 Update - Consumer Credit Counseling Service San Francisco

Earlier this week Marco Chavarin, VP of Development at Consumer Credit Counseling Services San Francisco ( ) spent some time with me talking about CCCS services and how they might tie into the OPL Financial Literacy project. Marco has recent experience in helping to introduce Financial Literacy programming into Bay Area Libraries. While previously serving in the Treasurer’s Office, he helped secure a $100,000 FINRA* grant for San Francisco Public Library.** This grant is currently being applied towards the SFPL ‘Pennies to Plans’ curriculum managed by Yemila Alvarez, Community Engagement Manager at San Francisco Public Library.*** CCCSSF is expanding geographically in order to assist more people, and one of the areas they are seeking to work with is Oakland. He was very supportive of the opportunity to help OPL in a variety of ways with its financial literacy programming.

One question for the library to choose is around having internal staff run workshops, bring in outside experts, or a combination of both. The amount of material an instructor needs to be familiar with is deep, and and it is important to be well trained and up-to-date as advice around financial matters has potentially huge impacts on people’s lives, and the downside from providing participants with wrong information is high. All of the instructors with CCCS are certified and have completed at least 90 days of training, testing and shadowing before speaking with clients.

To further explore how CCCS could be involved, Marco provided us with a menu of the workshops they offer (uploaded to the attachments section). Workshops cover such topics as, “Basics of Personal Finance”, “Building a Better Budget”, “First Time Home Buyer”, “College Financing 101”, “Understanding Credit”, and many more.

CCCS is happy to partner with other organizations. In this regard, Marco recommended that OPL pick complimentary providers, but to avoid not using two that provide the same services.

On courser design, Marco had a high level recommendation coming out of having looked at the programming of 1,500 providers. The approach he advocated for was to design the course for impact. That is, to think through what the desired outcome the library is seeking, and then design the course to achieve this impact. In thinking about the role of 1:1 counseling and the role of 1-off workshops, his feedback was to consider setting up the Program Delivery Model to include workshops plus 1:1 followup.

We discussed what metrics would be helpful to evaluate if the program is helping people. For the workshops, one metric is to gauge people’s confidence and content knowledge before and after a class. In this context, he reminded us that it is important to think about workshops different than service delivery, and that the metrics associated with success will be different. Workshops, Financial Counseling, Coaching, Planning and Products are all different services that complement each other, so should be evaluated and designed differently.

*Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation

** SFPL Grant, from

San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco, CA

The San Francisco Public Library will integrate its programs, services and collections into the financial framework of the city by (1) making it a hub for financial education resources and activities at 28 neighborhood locations, (2) developing an online presence where residents can access high-quality, unbiased financial information, and (3) using social media to encourage the San Francisco community to take full advantage of the financial information and learning opportunities freely available to them. In partnership with the San Francisco Smart Money Network of financial education providers and the city’s Office of Financial Empowerment, the library will train its front-line staff on best-in-category financial information tools and resources suitable for use with the public. The library and its partners will also deliver a series of educational programs on general financial planning, financial recovery, saving and investing for retirement, estate planning and insurance topics.

Grant amount: $100,000

*** For example, ‘Basics of Personal Finance,

2015.05May-23 Update

On Friday I had an inspirational meeting with Jason Young, founder of MindBlown Labs ( ), which is based in downtown Oakland just blocks away from the Oakland Public Library. Their target audiences are teens and young adults.

"MindBlown Labs is an education technology company that creates highly interactive, experiential learning tools to empower young people to make better life decisions. Our first financial capability solution is Thrive 'n' Shine, a captivating mobile app/game that teaches teens and young adults about personal finance." 

Jason, on behalf of MindBlown, said they would be interested in helping out in a range of ways. He offered to help out playing a role as minimal as serving as an advisor to a larger undertaking of helping to create courses and "train the trainers" at Oakland Public Library. With specific regards to course offerings, his view is that there are three clear top priorities for young adults to understand: Budgeting, Earnings Power, Credit. His suggestion was to build a curriculum that covered these three skill areas to provide patrons with a baseline of knowledge. This would be in addition to the idea of having the courses be feeders into hyperlocal organizations relevant to each patron's specific needs, which he supported as an important role to play in order to introduce people to groups which could help them develop good habits and reach their goals, over a long period of engagement potentially spanning several years. The reasons for these three priorities are:

  • Budget
    • Budgeting is the basis for achieving nearly all finance-related goals
  • Earnings Power
    • Young adults generally do not appreciate how the level of education relates to lifetime earnings. For example, a high school graduate with no further education can expect to make $1 Million in their lifetime. A person with a higher level degree, for instance, a mediocre software engineer, can expect to make $5 Million in their lifetime. When young adults making choices about finishing high school or pursuing and advanced degree, they are not aware of the huge impact on their lifetime earnings power that they are making
  • Credit
    • Achieving most significant life goals require credit: buying a car, renting an apartment, buying a house, starting a business. Even less obvious ones involve credit: 40% of employers run credit checks.


Saundra Davis, Founder of Sage Financial Solutions ( ), spent some time with me on the phone this week. She helped set up the Financial Well-Being at South San Francisco Public Library ( ). Here are a couple of nuggets of advice and feedback from her:

  • There are lots of curriculum choices to draw from, so avoid spending time and money on recreating this.
  • The most important aspect of any financial literacy program will be that the instructors are well trained.
  • Having library staff run the programs or having outside groups come in and run the programs are both reasonable models. This is a choice that will need to be made by the library staff based on their interest and the library budget. 
    • What is the library's internal capacity, what are you trying to solve, what resources and partnerships make sense
  • Reality checks can be very painful. Instructors need to be prepared for the range of emotions that will emerge during sessions.
  • Suggested organizations to reach out to:

2015.05May-13 Updates

I met with the Mana Tominaga again, the Supervising Librarian at Oakland Public Library, and we came up with a tentative plan on how to proceed.  She was super-appreciative, enthusiastic, and supportive. Over the next few weeks the opportunity is to work on the course design & a short list of hyperlocal partners, and get ready to present the program at a library staff meeting.

  • Design 1-Hour Course:
    • First 1/2 hour: Build a budget and do a Needs Assessment
    • Second 1/2 hour: Connect people to Service Providers in the areas where they need and want followup
    • Initial Course Content: Focus on building a budget as part of the exercise 
  • Then:
    • Go through course with Oakland Public Library 2nd Start Staff
    • Pilot course at Main Branch
    • Offer course at other branches
  • Timeframes:
    • Develop Course Proposal and Short List of Local Providers, next 3-4 weeks
    • Staff meeting is 1x a month
    • Takes about 3 months lead time for a course to be put on the Library’s calendar
  • Steps to making it a permanent offering:
    • Standard non-profit grant funding elements
    • Evaluative Data that helps build a narrative: Quotes, Testimonials, Diversity & Demographics
      • How replicable is the course?
      • Is there a technology / data aspect? 
  • Partners
    • Mana encouraged the use of hyperlocal partners
    • Wants to know that the partners have capacity and that people referred to them will be accommodated and receive support.
    • Potential Partners are being tracked in this google doc

2015.05May-12 Updates

For this project, we're looking at programs at San Francisco Public Libraries to use as templates and to borrow best practices, and we're also speaking with local groups to see what collaborative opportunities might emerge. Below are the two latest updates on this outreach. Lastly, the Refinement Phase San Francisco Meetup is next week ( Thursday May 21st from 6PM to 9PM ) & I look forward to seeing lots of you there and getting in a good working session in person!

  • Pennies to Plans Program at SFPL (Yemila Alvarez| Community Engagement Manager San Francisco Public Library): “Pennies to Plans” is a series of workshops that we are offering as a result of the Smart Investing @ Your Library grant we were awarded. We’ve basically partnered with Consumer Credit Counseling Services of San Francisco to host Balance workshops at some of our branches. We’ve hired an outside evaluator to then evaluate the impact these workshops are having on the community, and to follow up with focus groups to see if what they learned at the library impacted their lives or changed their behavior after attending the program. We’re hoping to also develop an online gaming module that also teaches financial literacy concepts as a component of this project. It’s a relatively new program for us, and we’re still working out the best methods for getting the word out. I’m pretty booked this week, and will be out on leave until June 1st thereafter. Perhaps we can calendar something for the week of June 1st?
  • SparkPoint Centers ( Trevor: Two aspects of the SparkPoint site stood out to me: the recognition that change may take several years and the pairing up of clients with SparkPoint coaches. The video on your site is very moving. Christa@SparkPoint: Thanks, Trevor. I’d be happy to chat- it sounds like an exciting project. Unfortunately this week is a little rough for me. How about May 21st or 22nd?

User Scenarios:

  • Arcelia stops by the library to get some advice on filing her taxes from the tax prep program. She notices a flyer that reads, “Do you want to be more confident with your finances? Is dealing with your finances hard sometimes?” She thinks, “‘Sometimes!?’ It’s ALWAYS hard.”. The flyer indicates there is a workshop coming up on saving and budgeting and plans to go. She also sees that the course was prepared by and members of the Adult Literacy program at the library and this gives her some comfort that it will be down to earth, and not the confusing sales-pitch jargon she has experienced before. The next week she goes to the program. She and the other participants go through a series of exercises talking about their earliest memories of money, how they relate to money, and then talking about goals. Arcelia works at her own house cleaning business, and she sets the goal of saving enough money to buy a car. It seemed unrealistic before the class, but after going through it, she feels that emotionally and practically she can do it. 
  • Laurence stops by the library to check out some books on establishing a small business. He has been working with some friends moonlighting to repair computers and mobile phones. He sees a flyer for a personal finance course, and decides to check it out. Laurence is familiar with saving and making a budget, but his challenge is that he is an impulse shopper, and finds that he keeps missing his long term goals because the cash burns a hole in his pocket. At the course, he finds out that there is a weekly support group where participants talk about the emotional and practical things they learned from the workshop. He hasn’t done something like that before, but decides to give it a shot. It turns out to be exactly what he needed. He likes to meet and get to know people, and uses this ability to make connections to get the support he needs to deal with different financial matters in his life. After six months, he was able to save enough money to incorporate his business, establish a web presence, and best of all, he now periodically teaches the saving and budgeting course. The initial course and the ongoing support group helped him embrace the idea of making incremental shifts in habits.
  • Gloria is in the Adult Learners program, and when she meets with her mentor, she finds out that she could incorporate Financial Literacy into her learning. She has tried this before, but has always found it complicated. She doesn’t have any problem budgeting, but what confounds her is longer term planning and investing. Although her income exceeds her expenses, she never knows if she will enough to buy a house in a few years, send her kids to college, and eventually retire. At the next session, the mentor introduces her to a new way of understanding investing and milestones that integrates some data visualizations that really make it much easier to see out 5, 10, and 15+ years in a way that making lists and putting numbers into a spreadsheet hadn’t been able to bring to light for her. She sees that she is on track, but that after the downpayment from a house in 5 years, she is going to need to save more than she expected in order to meet her kid’s college needs. Knowing that, she starts thinking about ways to save even more money now, and making possible shifts in her career that would allow her to earn more.
  • Ken has been living around the poverty line for about six months, but recently has been making ends meet driving a taxi. One thing which he is worried about is what will happen to him if he has a crisis, because he does not have much of a support network and no savings. He spends a lot of time in the library since it is a safe and comforting place, and he likes to catch up on news and read magazines while he is there. He decides to attend a workshop at the library on saving and budgeting. He is very skeptical, since he barely earns enough money to make ends meet, but he knows he needs some sort of buffer in case he runs into a difficult patch. The mentor helps him go through his budget, and he sees that if he stopped drinking coffee, he would actually be able to save a couple of bucks every day. It doesn’t seem like much, but the instructor helps him see that saving $3-$4 every day will add up to $100 a month, and that in six months he could save $600. This puts a smile on his dial.

Why libraries?

  • Libraries are trusted community spaces: Libraries are a comprehensive network that are readily seen by the communities they serve as safe and trusted places to seek assistance, and libraries have a long history of providing services to their communities, from kids programs to adult literacy, they appeal to a broad range of people.
  • Libraries have suitable infrastructure: Libraries provide physical space for gathering and have computers for public acces. Bascially .. the two core elements needed to run an effective program. 

Why OPL?

  • The supervising librarian is open to trying new programs related to financial literacy
  • The bay area has a number of peers to collaborate with (San Francisco Public Library, Berkeley Public Library, South San Francisco Public Library)
  • I live in Oakland.

What is the guiding principle for the program?

  • To meet all library patrons at their current level of financial literacy and provide ongoing training and support.
  • I would love feedback on the mission statement.

Open Questions and Ideas

Well .. this whole thing is an idea, but the remainder are particularly ripe for brainstorming, so please jump in.


  • We start with the age old question, build or buy, or both?
    • What parts of a curriculum can be adopted from existing programs?
    • What parts of a curriculum are unique to Oakland and would need tailoring?
    • Who is going to teach the courses?
    • What is the value of a one-off session? Can a person learn anything helpful in just a few hours?
    • What program duration is needed for learning and change, and what kind of post-course support will be essential?

Support Network

  • How do we establish accountability? What approaches are there in addition to peer groups and mentors? Can there be virtual ways of providing support groups? 
  • How will we know if the program is successful?
    • Anecdotal stories
    • Recurring participation
    • Growth in class attendance
    • Badges
    • What data can be followed?

Who is the audience? How large is the audience?

  • Members of the adult learners program who choose to opt in
  • General patron base
  • Community members who have never visited the library (requires extra outreach)
  • We need to make the program multi-lingual

How is this going to be paid for?

What can OpenIDEO help with?

  • Look and Feel: Adding a fresh look to existing content and programs
  • Offer workshops on how to apply Human Centered Design principles to teachers and mentors

Existing Programs and Resources to Draw From

Additional Resources:

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Team (24)

Trevor z's profile
Jes's profile
Jennifer's profile
Jennifer Peterson

Role added on team:

"The Inspiration => Jennifer came up with the original idea!"

Hector's profile
Evan's profile
Joe's profile
Joe Silva

Role added on team:

"Human Service Delivery Expert"

Jared's profile
Jared Bybee

Role added on team:

"User Experience"

André's profile
André Fernandes

Role added on team:

"International Development & Design Thinking. Community Researcher for the Financial Empowerment Challenge."

Robert's profile
Robert Neetslah

Role added on team:

"Design Thinking"

Delilah Renee's profile
Delilah Renee Smith

Role added on team:

"Editorial writing, creative content, storytelling, Game of Thrones references."

Will's profile
Will Fung

Role added on team:

"Designing, developing, and marketing innovative and disruptive products."

Chris's profile
Chris Kang

Role added on team:

"Product Management"

Simona's profile
Simona Ioannoni

Role added on team:

"Connecting changemakers. Planning and execution. Social Media."

Ahmed's profile
Ahmed Rub

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"Startup, Strategy, Design Thinking, Humor"

Nupur's profile

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Shuai's profile
Shuai Chen

Role added on team:

"Creativity, Planning, Building Community, A Little Bit of Everything.."

Justin's profile
Justin Bean

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"Strategy, Marketing, and Sustainability"

Michael's profile
Michael Vargas

Role added on team:

"Creative Process and Discovery"

Luisa's profile
Luisa Fernanda

Role added on team:

"Human Centered Design, Impact Follow Through"

Lindsey's profile
Lindsey Boran

Role added on team:

"Human Centered Design"

Mike's profile
Mike Aaron

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Eliza's profile
Eliza Rosenbaum

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Jason's profile
Jason Rissman

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Silvie's profile
Silvie Hibdon

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"Human Centered Design"

Attachments (1)

CCCS Workshop Flyer.pdf

List of courses taught through Consumer Credit Counseling Service


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