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Libraries as Financial Literacy Hubs

Public libraries are well positioned to support the financial literacy needs of their communities.

Photo of Jennifer Peterson
20 11

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The ways in which financial issues relate to people having the power to make choices, lead healthier lives, and grow stronger communities is right in line with the mission of public libraries!

Libraries have always served the information needs of their communities, and with changing economies and technologies, we’ve seen an increase in the connections made across all 21st century literacies addressed by public library services. From basic to digital literacies, and from health to financial literacies, libraries are seen as trusted and unbiased community information hubs which, in most cases, are free to all. With more public libraries in the U.S. than McDonalds (over 17,000 branches and bookmobiles) and 320,000 public libraries world-wide, libraries are well positioned to support the financial literacy needs of their communities.

There are a number of examples demonstrating how libraries are addressing these needs. Here is a short list that shows the scope of some of these financial literacy services:

  • Money Matters, a series of workshops and e-learning modules created by the New York Public Library.

  • Project Money, created by a team of adult learners who wanted to help other learners feel more confident in handling their money. Based at Project Read at the San Francisco Public Library, they helped develop the web site, a workbook, workshops and other materials. Read more about it in this Public Libraries Online article, Project Read Gets Smart with Money.

  • Pathway to Personal Financial Skills, a resource created by WebJunction to help libraries understand the impact of the economic downturn on personal financial stability, and how they might provide resources, training and programs to help patrons get better control of their personal finances.

  • The Public Library Association lists a number of financial literacy resources for libraries and their users, including

  • Money Smart Week @ your library, a national initiative between the American Library Association and the Federal Reserve Bank (Chicago) that provides financial literacy programming for libraries to help members of their communities better manage their personal finances.

In submitting this contribution, we are drawn to a number of questions:

  • What are the best ways libraries can serve the financial literacy needs of their communities?

  • Are there best practices for libraries in providing multi-generational programming for financial literacy?

  • How can public libraries of all sizes better facilitate a community-developed solution to financial literacy needs?

We’re excited to be joining the OpenIDEO community and look forward to sharing ideas with others committed to transforming communities.

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Photo of André Fernandes

Great initiatives! It inspires to think about other public spaces, social gatherings and peer-to-peer solutions that can be used to spread financial literacy in low-income communities, where there's no public library nearby and reading is not that popular habit.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Jennifer, thanks for sharing this super rich and inspiring post.
It reminded me a post on a previous challenge on library offering services for Youth: https://openideo.com/challenge/vibrant-cities/inspiration/library-for-youth

I like your question about multi-generational workshops.

It'd be interesting also to connect with other institutions and see if they would be interested in running some events in libraries: https://openideo.com/challenge/financial-empowerment-challenge/research/shared-prosperity-the-case-of-financial-empowerment-centers-in-philadelphia

Photo of Chrystie Hill

there are very few communities (in the US) where there is not a public library nearby. and while use of some traditional library services (like answering reference questions) is going down, attendance at community programs put on by libraries is going up, up, up! if we switch our idea of a library from "reading" and "books" to "learning" and "connecting" (and this is happening in many libraries, but not all) then we have a powerful infrastructure we can use for building literacies of any kind.

Photo of Maddie Wiener

I love this idea, Chrystie! Framing libraries in a way that associates them with "learning" and "connecting with community members" could be incredibly powerful. And it's true - libraries are so much more than simply a place to read books. I would love to bring this thought to Ideas phase. Feel free to jump in!

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