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Getting Smart About Money: Online Financial Literacy
Volume 41, Number 2 - March/April 2017

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/Foreclosures
  • Identity Theft/Investment Scams/Financial Fraud
  • Personal Finance 101/Budgeting
  • Retirement Planning
  • Small Business and Entrepreneurship
  • Taxes
  • Unemployment and Job Transitioning

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Marydee Ojala is Editor-in-Chief of Online Searcher (the successor journal to ONLINE) and writes its business research column ("The Dollar Sign"). She contributes feature articles and news stories to Information TodayEContentComputers in LibrariesIntranetsCyberSkeptic's Guide to the InternetBusiness Information Review, and Information Today's NewsBreaks. A long-time observer of the information industry, she speaks frequently at conferences, such as WebSearch University, Internet Librarian, Online Information (London, UK), Internet Librarian International, and national library meetings outside the U.S. She has adjunct faculty status at the School of Library and Information Science at IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis). Her professional career began at BankAmerica Corporation, San Francisco, directing a worldwide program of research and information services. She established her independent information research business in 1987. Her undergraduate degree is from Brown University and her MLS was earned at the University of Pittsburgh.


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