America Saves Week rolls around at the end of February each year in the U.S., prompting even closer attention than usual to our personal finances and a search for resources that promote greater financial literacy. The local library has long been a useful resource as patrons seek straightforward, unbiased information about personal finances. Business-reference librarians bring a great deal of expertise to the public when it comes to connecting library users to quality information resources pertaining to personal finance. And they are achieving a higher level of competency and confidence about financial resources through collaboration with partner agencies. Now with the help of extension educators from Rutgers, librarians in New Jersey and New York City are taking the next step to improve their financial literacy skills and knowledge, to better serve the growing number of library users in need of guidance on this increasingly complex and critical topic.
In the study Public Libraries as Financial Literacy Supporters by the University of Wisconsin Center for Financial Security, it was found that few public librarians receive financial literacy training and many suffer from the same lack of financial literacy as the general public. Less than 10% of librarians surveyed had any financial literacy training and only 5% had library school training related to financial information.
Increasingly, financial educators are collaborating with librarians across the country to deliver financial education programs. Partner organizations value public libraries' credibility, their safe controlled atmosphere as well as their free Internet access and collections.
Libraries are receiving funding from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (FINRA) Investor Education Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Studies (IMLS) to build the capacity of librarians to respond to patrons' financial questions and/or to educate the general public about investing and other personal finance topics. Rutgers Cooperative Extension has contracted to work with two library systems to train librarians to guide library patrons to the information they need for sound financial decisions. Dr. Barbara O'Neill, extension specialist in financial resource management at Rutgers Cooperative Extension, has been developing financial education programs that encompass a range of audiences and needs for residents of New Jersey for three decades. She is being assisted by Carole Glade, a financial educator, to develop and conduct the trainings.
The trainings are being conducted by the Burlington County Library System (BCLS) in New Jersey and the New York Public Library (NYPL). The trainings are independent from one another, have separate funding sources, and will have their own unique components.
The BCLS received a Smart Investing@your library® investor education grant from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and American Library Association. Included are a series of six 2-hour classes for adult library patrons: Money Management; Preparing to Invest; Getting Started as an Investor; What You Absolutely Need to Know About Investing; Selecting and Monitoring Your Investments; and Investing for Long-Term Financial Goals. Each of the six classes is being taught in five locations, including a military base, for a total of 30 two-hour classes. The BCLS grant also included two 6-hour training sessions for library staff to introduce them to basic financial and investment concepts and online investor education resources.
The NYPL received an IMLS grant to create a corps of frontline staff equipped with the skills and confidence to meet the growing need among their patrons to access timely, accurate, and trustworthy information about personal finance topics. Approximately 250 NYPL staff are attending a series of 42 classes in three New York City boroughs (Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island). The classes consist of three "core" modules (Banking; Retirement; and Credit and Debt I) and eight electives (Credit and Debt II; Income Tax; Investing I; Investing II; Paying for College; Identity Theft; Living on the Financial Edge; and Insurance). The Money Matters curriculum is aimed at providing librarians with a solid understanding of financial concepts, language, and resources in conjunction with specific reference service skills. A major goal of the project is to create training materials that other public libraries across the country will adapt to their reference interactions with their patrons.
With both the BCLS and NYPL grants, the class topics were chosen by the libraries in consultation with extension personnel. In addition, the presentation of subject matter content is reinforced with small group discussion and hands-on learning activities in the two programs.
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