Smart investing@your library®

Margaret Monsour, Project director, Smart investing@ your library®


The Financial Industry Regulatory Agency (FINRA) Investor Education Foundation is partnering with the American Library Association and RUSA to bring Smart investing@ your library® to communities across the country. This grant program supports public libraries in their efforts to ensure that library customers have access to quality, unbiased resources and programming related to personal finances and investing. The program was established five years ago, and since that time has provided nearly $6 million in grants, as well as educational materials, to public libraries and library networks.

Ongoing support is provided for grantees, who attend an initial training seminar that features social media and social marketing, outcome-based evaluation techniques, and an introduction to the financial education resources created by the FINRA Foundation. Components also include communications guidance, individual coaching and consultation, guidance on building local partnerships, and site visits.

See the press release on the RUSA website for most recent list of grantees.

There are three overall goals of the Smart investing your library®:

●     Build capacity of public libraries and make available reliable, unbiased investor education and protection resources and services through public libraries in the United States.

●     Create and expand community awareness of the investor education resources and services available through public libraries

●     Achieve sustained use of such resources and services by library patrons in various demographic categories.

The New York Times, in a 2010 article, observed, “Most Americans aren’t fluent in the language of money. Yet we’re expected to make big financial decisions as early as our teens — Should I take on thousands of dollars of student debt? Should I buy a car? — even though most of us received no formal instruction on financial matters until it was too late. While no course in personal finance could have prevented many Americans from getting caught up in the housing bubble, it’s clear that most of us need some help, preferably starting when we’re still in school.”[1]

Librarians are taking a leadership role by providing the help with knowledge and expertise to make the connection between people and financial information. Because people of all ages need to know how to make good financial decisions, a wide variety of financial education program models are emerging as public libraries across the country identify audiences who want and need to know how to manage their money.

Partnerships Pay Off

All projects in Smart investing@your library involve partnerships, typically multiple partnerships at any one project site. And usually once the project gets going, new partnership opportunities may appear or an area of activity may develop where a new partner would be beneficial. Program highlights from Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Public Library and Orange County (Florida) Library System illustrate the role that partnerships play and the impact each library’s financial education programs have in their communities.

Milwaukee Public Library’s program entitled Get Smart About Money @MPL focuses on engaging 6,000 11th graders in the public schools. To reach this notoriously difficult audience, project principal, Judy Pinger teamed up with multiple partners to get additional resources and expertise.

The Library started from a position of strength by collaborating with existing partner the Milwaukee Public Schools and then brought in Make a Difference-Wisconsin (MAD-WI), Money Smart Week, and the library’s own Teen Advisory Board. MAD-WI provides classroom financial education for high school students and uses trained volunteers and a curriculum based on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC’s) Money Smart program. The Teen Advisory Board kept the focus on what matters to teens and they advised Plum Productions, a film production company. The partnerships were strong and focused and the strategy worked because three authentic videos are now part of the high school curriculum.

These videos—To Your Credit, Check it Out and Bank Your Future—are posted on the Smart investing@your library® YouTube channel at

The synergy that developed among the librarians and their partners produced a truly unique teaching tool for teens that is now available to educators across the country. “Although like many other libraries, we are short-staffed, we found a way we can still make a difference,” said project principal Judy Pinger, the library’s business coordinator. ”Strong partnerships with like-minded organizations create the right energy to sustain our program model.”

The videos also have a growing presence on Facebook and Twitter. As further evidence of their value and utility, other educational organizations are interested in the videos. Victory Productions, a K-12 content developer of educational materials, has recently requested permission to use the videos in their online course. Virtual Virginia: Economics and Personal Finance for the Virginia Department of Education, is a course taken by public school students in Virginia to fulfill a new requirement for graduation.

The Orange County Library System’s program, MONEY TIP$ Make it Work: Smart investing@your library® was developed to meet the needs of central Florida’s workers in the leisure and hospitality industry. A slow-down in travel and dwindling occupancy rates created financial challenges for service industry workers and Orlando ranks 10th in the U.S. with an average consumer debt of $25,316. Job loss, cuts in hours, cuts in wages or required furloughs (Employment); housing losses, foreclosures, or plummeting housing values (Real Estate); retirement loss, 401Ks, or personal investments declining in value (Investing), those facing retirement (Retirement) or dealing with looming bankruptcy, school loans coming due, and the surging costs of food or fuel (Budgeting) left no one untouched.

Project principal, Paolo Melillo initiated a partnership with the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association (representing nearly 80% of all the hotel rooms in the region.) to develop marketing and attract the attention of the target audience. He also continued an established partnership with Rollins College’s Crummer Graduate School of Business (CGSB), a well-known business school in the area, nationally ranked by Bloomberg Business Week and Forbes.

Any effective partnership entails a values exchange, in which each partner offers something of value to the other. Together, the existing partners created a program that delivered exceptional value to members of their community. In the process they gained new partners and increased their visibility with a new audience. Here’s how they did it. Professors from the university revised workshop content from a previous FINRA grant and tailored it to the needs of local hospitality workers. They also drew from FINRA modules to revamp the content and programs for hotel staff were offered at hotels and also at branch library locations. Simultaneous children’s story time programs were offered in the library locations to alleviate the possible barrier of child care and allow working parents to attend programs. Powerpoints used to present the workshops were repurposed as booklets to take home and videos were made from the Powerpoints and uploaded to the library’s dedicated web page. Online learning was always available.

The library’s partners helped with promotion with a news feature on the city’s Channel 13, which was facilitated through a media firm working for Rollins Crummer School of Business. The Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association was also instrumental in helping promote Money Tip$. One of the Library’s branch administrators attended a meeting with CFHLA and through this Association the library garnered the interest of at least six hotels to host the program series.

In addition to print ads, online ads and bus ads, the library also pioneered the use of cinema commercials to reach their target audience. and A new partner, Walt Disney Resorts, stepped up to help and professionally produced two library commercials to promote the series in local cinemas.

And to top it off, the library’s publication Top Ten Tips to Save Money at Your Library is so popular that hotel staff are asking for more. “The Human Resources Department at the Caribe Royale asked for packets to share with staff,” said Melillo. “And attendees wanted extras to give to their friends and co-workers.”


Each round of grant recipients expands the reach, enhances the scope of resources, and helps to refine the Smart investing@your library® program. As recipients have frequently noted, the program allows for project development specific to each community. This customization results in the development of a rich array of target audiences, goals, marketing techniques, and evaluation practices to learn from and build upon.

Another round of grant invitations will be sent in April and the deadline to apply is June 6, 2012. Contact for more information.

●     Visit to learn more about the initiative and to explore resources and program ideas for use in your own library.

●     BRASS is sponsoring a panel discussion Smart investing @ your library®: Program Models That Work, 10:30 am-noon on June 23, 2012 at the ALA Conference in Anaheim.

●     For more details about grant programs and other FINRA Foundation initiatives, visit


[1] Bernard, T. S. (2010, April 9). Working financial literacy in with the three R’s. Retrieved from the New York Times website: