Financial Education Through Libraries: Opportunities for Successful Partnerships
Libraries aren't just repositories of books and magazine articles that can help consumers do a better job managing their money. They also can be partners for financial educators in reaching local residents at branch libraries and through the Internet. The FDIC is pleased that a growing number of public libraries are actively involved in our Money Smart financial education program, including teaching classes, circulating educational materials, providing space for local banks and non-profit organizations to conduct their own sessions, and making the curriculum available for learning on computers.
One example is the Lodi Public Library in California's Central Valley, which this year is hosting a series of 10 workshops on various financial literacy topics taught by trained volunteers who primarily follow the FDIC's Money Smart curriculum. Stephanie Allen, Literary Services Coordinator with the library's programs for adults, said successes from the classes include one regular attendee who began paying extra on her mortgage to reduce interest expenses and who, for the first time, has taken over managing the financial aspects of her small business. Another participant announced to her classmates that she now understands the terms and conditions of her credit card and, as a result, realized she was paying unnecessary fees. "After attending the class," Allen said, "she elected to pay the credit card in full and close the account."
The public library in Chelsea, MA, hasn't hosted classes on its own, but it is taking other approaches to make the material widely available. According to Luis Prado, Director of Health and Human Services for the city of Chelsea, the public library there has added a link from its Web site to the Money Smart computer-based instruction (CBI) curriculum for online learning. The Chelsea library and the Roanoke Public Library in Virginia also have copies of the FDIC's instructional CDs in English and other languages that visitors can borrow. Tommy Waters, Assistant Director of the Roanoke library, added that enough people have been "asking about" the curriculum that the staff has recruited partners from local financial institutions to begin conducting Money Smart classes there.
Potential Benefits for Financial Educators
FDIC staff point to several reasons why banks, non-profit organizations and other financial educators should consider teaming up with local libraries to offer classes or workshops. Depending on the circumstances, these benefits may include:
The use of meeting rooms and other space. Libraries often allow outside organizations providing educational services to use space free of charge or rent it for a reasonable fee.
Familiar locations and easy access for different target audiences. "Libraries are generally already conveniently located in neighborhoods of all income levels," said Luke W. Reynolds, an FDIC Community Affairs Specialist.
Library employees or volunteers who may be willing to teach sessions or otherwise help. We know, for example, of Money Smart classes being taught in Spanish by staffers or volunteers at public libraries in Riverside County, CA, approximately 50 miles south of Los Angeles, and in Roanoke. In an novel twist, staff at the Dallas Public Library in Texas have not only taught Money Smart classes to consumers, but for the last four years they have also conducted annual "train the trainer" sessions jointly with the FDIC for library staff and other aspiring educators. "In partnership with community volunteers, Dallas library staff are continuing to hold these classes," said FDIC Community Affairs Officer Eloy Villafranca. "This library's commitment to financial education is an excellent role model for others."
Opportunities for free or low-cost publicity -- for the educational sessions as well as for the organizations offering them. Libraries may be willing to post advertisements in branches, in newsletters or on Web sites. Local newspapers and other media also may be willing to provide advance publicity or follow up with a story after the event. Waters noted that his Roanoke library was able to advertise a Money Smart class free on the city's public access television station and get announcements of the upcoming classes in local newspapers and radio stations. FDIC officials added that this kind of publicity, as well as the impressions left by the educational events being promoted, may benefit both financial institutions and libraries.
Lasting positive impressions with library staff members who deal with the public. "Consumers and organizations often turn to librarians when they need help navigating through all the information that is out there," said the FDIC's Reynolds. "We find that the librarians who know about our Money Smart curriculum are likely to direct people to the FDIC as a resource in many different areas," including publications for consumers on the agency's www.fdic.gov Web site. As another example, the library staff in Chelsea has "encouraged local community services organizations, including housing agencies, to develop their own educational programs using the FDIC curriculum," noted city official Prado.
Lessons Learned from Libraries
How can a financial educator make the most of a partnership with a library? Here are some tips and lessons learned based on discussions with FDIC staff and outside educators and librarians:
- Think about a series of one-time programs instead of one long "course." Among the reasons: Individual workshops can appeal to people who don't have time to commit to more than one event, are only interested in certain topics, or have already missed a class and fear they'll be "lost." Paulina Moreno, Outreach Coordinator for the Riverside County Library System, said of their Money Smart sessions, "Most people wanted to come in and learn what they had to learn to resolve their problem and leave. The participants didn't seem to want to come to the library once a week for 10 weeks." The FDIC's Reynolds offered another reason to favor individual sessions. "Many educators report that financial education classes frequently are best received if their title and subject matter focus on a specific need, rather than have a more generic, possibly unappealing title such as 'financial literacy' or 'financial education' class," he said. And with Money Smart's 10-module format, financial educators have ready-made segments from which to develop individual programs.
- Avoid information overload. "I pick and choose which materials to include in each workshop, because time constraints prevent us from being able to cover everything," said librarian Allen from Lodi.
- Discuss options for computer-based education. Libraries can do more than circulate paper copies of educational materials. As noted, libraries are making Money Smart available online and on CDs. The latter comes in two versions, one for use by classroom instructors, the other for students who want to learn the material on their own and at their own pace. A library also may be willing to link from its Web site to an array of consumer material from a government agency or nonprofit organization, not just educational text matching a particular program being offered through the library.
- Consider creative partnerships as ways to increase publicity and attendance. Moreno from the Riverside library suggested that libraries and financial educators "collaborate with various community groups and newspapers – organizations the community respects and responds well to so people feel at ease and less hesitant to attend."
Financial educators and librarians interested in discussing involvement in the Money Smart program or other FDIC educational efforts are encouraged to contact their regional Community Affairs Officer.
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