Talking Financial Literacy

June 29, 2010

In the "Money Smart Week: Promoting Financial Literacy in Your Library" program, Bobbie Rudnick of Naperville (Ill.) Public Library and Lori Burgess of Fond du Lac (Wis.) Public Library talked about their libraries' financial programming.

Money Smart Week is a series of classes and activities designed to to help consumers better manage their money that was started by the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago in 2001. Naperville joined the program in 2008 when it received a grant in the first round of ALA's Smart Investing @ your library project.

In 2009, the first year Naperville held Money Smart Week events, 3 programs drew 273 people. Rudnick said that the programs covered topics like financial strategies for the unemployed that were especially resonant during the height of the financial crisis. Attendance dropped at library programs a bit in 2010, but the efforts expanded at the county level so there were other, non-library programs.

"Public libraries have a strong tradition of promoting economic development and financial well-being in the communities they serve," Rudnick declared. The Fed helped immensely in creating library programs, she added, by providing publicity, materials, program support, and partnering opportunities.

Fond du Lac started hosting Money Smart Week programs in 2007. "Who doesn't deal with money? Everybody deals with money every day," Burgess said.

The library works with a planning team of 8-10 people, including the library, credit counselors, schools, banks, and credit unions. That approach lets the library benefit from high-quality presenters available through extension offices, as well as the marketing relationships that banks have with media to promote programs.

Burgess invited librarians interested in this approach to access Fond du Lac's partner kit.

Both addressed the concerns about using financial representatives who sell specific securities or portfolios. Naperville refuses them outright, which is one of the terms of the Smart Investing @ your library grant. Fond du Lac does invite some financial representatives for their non-Smart Investing-funded projects, but they are strictly prohibited from selling during the program or contacting attendees afterward. Burgess noted that the city is relatively small and everyone invited to present is known by at least one of the program's planning team, and the maintenance of personal relationships has proven a satisfactory motivation for them to obey the rules.

So far, Money Smart Week has been limited to the region served by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. For the 10th anniversary in 2011, however, the Fed plans to expand the program nationwide.