Money on Our Minds: How to Help Patrons Make Financial Choices

Ken McDonnell, Office of Financial Education, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau /

If you're like most people, you want to take control of your financial life. Everywhere you look—on television, on the Internet and around the community—you're exposed to services, products and advice about your money. It's getting harder and harder to know where to turn for unbiased and objective help. An uninformed choice can mean small money problems turn into larger ones. The right decisions can lead to greater financial well-being.

Your library patrons face these same challenges and aspirations. Across all public libraries, there are 170.6 million registered borrowers. On average, there were four million in-person visits per day in fiscal year 2013. Even while library budgets, operating revenue, service hours and staffing are generally growing smaller, attendance at library programs is increasing.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recognizes that libraries are a powerful and trusted community resource for unbiased financial education tools and resources. Collaborating with the CFPB can help make it easier for libraries to help consumers with their important money decisions.

CFPB Listens to Libraries

The CFPB is a government agency with a mission to protect and empower consumers in the financial marketplace. The CFPB works to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for consumers by providing people with the information they need to make smart financial decisions, and works to protect them from unfair, deceptive and abusive practices.

In 2013, the CFPB opened a dialogue with library systems across the country. The goal is to work with libraries on a shared financial education infrastructure to reach people where they live and work. Libraries have been upfront in describing what they are seeking from the CFPB:

  • Clear, unbiased, noncommercial financial information and resources
  • Program ideas and outreach materials that are engaging, flexible and customizable
  • Training for staff members who work with patrons

From this feedback, the CFPB developed the Community Financial Education Library Program. As of September 2016, libraries in more than 950 communities have signed up to share with their patrons a variety of resources and programs from the CFPB and its national partners.

What Libraries Can Expect from the CFPB

The CFPB works to create relevant, unbiased and engaging programs that libraries can implement, using their own resources and strengths. Webinars provide training and facts on a wide range of topics, including:

  • Debt collection
  • Credit reports and scores
  • Buying a home
  • Avoiding fraud and scams
  • Saving for future goals
  • Planning for retirement

The webinars and publications help librarians answer pressing questions and guide patrons to helpful resources.

Librarians also can use this two-way connection to request support for events and programs in their own communities. For example, a library in Charleston, WV, hosts a group of English as a Second Language (ESL) students who meet one night a week. For one of the meetings, the instructor was looking for a speaker to talk about banking to the students, who came from Syria, Afghanistan, the Czech Republic, Cameroon and countries in South America. Through the library's connection to the CFPB, a speaker from an FDIC regional office joined the class and answered the students' questions.

Libraries that participate in the Community Financial Education Library Initiative are also encouraged to order and distribute free publications from the CFPB, and its national partners. Between October 2015 and September 2016, nearly four million such publications were delivered to libraries at no cost.

How to Get Involved

Get to know the CFPB's resources and programs for libraries at consumerfinance.gov/library-resources. There you can:

  • Watch recorded webinars to increase your own financial knowledge
  • Browse a wide-ranging inventory of printed materials for reference use and program development
  • See topics and tips for programs you can deliver, along with outreach materials to support them
  • Download a Community Partnership Guidebook for tips on connecting with local organizations

To participate in this initiative and receive invitations to future webinars and training events, send an e-mail to FinancialEducation@cfpb.gov and you'll be added to the list.

WebJunction Webinar

View the recording for the February 14 free WebJunction webinar to learn more about resources for libraries from the CFPB and hear from two Oregon librarians, Meg Spencer, of the Siuslaw Public Library District and Thea Hart, of the Springfield Public Library, who are providing financial literacy services and connecting with local partners to host programs, informing and empowering consumers in their communities.

Enroll in the webinar Libraries Help Patrons Become Financially Empowered Consumers today.

WebJunction Webinar with CFPB

Join Ken McDonnell on February 14 for the free WebJunction webinar Libraries Help Patrons Become Financially Empowered Consumers. During the webinar, learn more about resources for libraries from the CFPB and hear from two Oregon librarians, Meg Spencer, of the Siuslaw Public Library District and Thea Hart, of the Springfield Public Library, who are providing financial literacy services and connecting with local partners to host programs, informing and empowering consumers in their communities.

Enroll today!

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