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Getting Smart about Money: Online Financial Literacy

Magazine article Online Searcher

Getting Smart about Money: Online Financial Literacy

Article excerpt

If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's the importance of managing our money. It doesn't matter whether that money is dollars, euros, pesos, kroner, rand, yen, or renminbi--personal finance principles remain the same. What we don't seem to be able to agree on is the proper place to teach money management. Is it the responsibility of the schools? Higher education? Libraries? The workplace? Financial institutions? Parents? Community organizations? Something people should learn on their own? One thing I'm sure of: It doesn't happen by osmosis.

The library community thinks of money management in terms of financial information literacy, although librarians frequently use the phrase "financial literacy" as synonymous with "financial information literacy." I'm probably splitting hairs, but I see a subtle difference in the phrases.

Financial literacy, to me, means knowing how to manage money. That includes an understanding of basic finances (concepts of simple and compound interest, bill paying, balancing financial accounts, budgeting, saving for events such as retirement and higher education, and applying for a loan and paying it back), not spending more than you earn, and investing. Financial information literacy, again to me, means approaching advertisements for financial products, banking and investing disclosure statements, and finance articles with some skepticism and critical thinking. Most resources I've seen for financial information literacy are really about financial literacy.

Whether you call it financial literacy or financial information literacy, either term can seem stodgy and slightly condescending. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago came up with better nomenclature. Eschewing the literacy angle, the Bank created its Money Smart Week program in 2002 ( as a public awareness campaign "to help consumers better manage their personal finances." Smart idea, right? Who doesn't want to be smart about money?


In 2011, the American Library Association picked up on the Money Smart Week idea and created a version of the program tailored specifically to libraries in partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Last year, according to ALA, more than 1,000 libraries of all types, from 48 states, participated. This year the dates are April 22-29, 2017, and ALA is looking for even greater participation.

The ALA Money Smart Week site ( provides a list of financial literacy topics, promotional materials, Excel spreadsheets for actual programs that happened in libraries in 2016 (one spreadsheet for academic libraries and another for public libraries), links to additional resources, and ALA press releases. The topics include, among others:

Basic Banking Services

* Credit and Debt Management

* Estate Planning

* Healthy Habits That Save

* Housing/Mortgages/Foreclosuresm

* Identity Theft/Investment Scams/Financial Fraud

* Personal Finance 101/Budgeting

* Retirement Planning

* Small Business and Entrepreneurship

* Taxes

* Unemployment and Job Transitioning


At last year's European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL), Italian researcher Laura Ballestra found few financial information literacy programs in Italian public libraries, which she attributed to librarians not feeling themselves to be competent teaching about financial information. This feeling may not be limited to Italy. A publication, Financial Literacy Education in Libraries: Guidelines and Best Practices for Service (, is an excellent primer on financial literacy for U.S. librarians. Funded by an IMLS SPARKS! Ignition Grant to RUSA (Reference & User Services Association) and researched by a team from the Business Reference and Services Section (BRASS) of RUSA, it presents guidelines for earning, borrowing, credit, saving, investing, spending, protecting against fraud and risk, and the involvement of libraries in financial literacy education. …

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