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


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.

Its Appendix A is an annotated resource list (as of 2014, but all the links seem to still be valid). Appendix B is a chart of financial education core competencies which spells out core concepts, knowledge needed, and the action or behavior required. The chart was developed by the U.S. Treasury Department and originally published by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Appendix C is a very useful glossary of financial terms.

Speaking of the U.S. Treasury Department, the Secretary of the Treasury chairs the congressionally chartered Federal Financial Literacy and Education Commission, with the Director of the CFPB as vice-chair. The Commission’s website ( features five money management topics that it calls the MyMoney Five: Earn, Borrow, Save & Invest, Spend, and Protect. Under each topic tab is a brief explanation of the topic, suggested actions you can take, and hints and tips. Use these for self-education or as springboards to creating personal finance programs at the library.


University libraries have also jumped onto the financial literacy bandwagon, creating LibGuides galore. Many of these showcase books in their libraries’ collections and link to financial sites maintained by their universities to help students deal with debt and understand their personal finance options. Federal government sites, such as the CFPB and MyMoney, are popular links as well. Few link to the Money Smart Week page at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which I find a tad surprising.

It’s not just the government that promotes financial information literacy, which most LibGuides notice. The American Association of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) maintains an excellent website it calls 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy ( Choose from 10 life stages (tween/teen, student, employed, in the military, small business owner, a couple, a parent, a homeowner, in crisis, and retired) for information tailored to that group. Under each, there is a recent news item, popular tools, “Ask the Money Doctor,” and suggestions for further research on financial topics specific to each life stage.

The 360 Degrees site also has articles on popular financial topics, such as retirement, saving for vacation, and surviving an audit, and calculators for retirement, college, taxes, and inflation. For people 25–34 years of age, the AICPA created the Feed the Pig site ( to encourage savings, debt reduction, and overall money management.

The National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE;, which is a private nonprofit organization unaffiliated with the federal government, does research on financial education, creates workshop kits for teachers of financial courses, and offers CashCourse (, a free course providing online personal finance tools that are used at more than 800 schools in the U.S. NEFE also has an evaluation toolkit at its website. Its Smart About Money program has free online classes, starting with Money Basics.

Financial literacy is not limited to websites, textual data, and calculators. Smart Money Week National has an active Facebook page with more than 38,000 Likes, and its Twitter handle is @SmartMoneyWeekNational. Some local organizations with Smart Money Week programs also have a Facebook presence, but unfortunately, not all of those have recent posts. In fact, most don’t. A simple search in the Facebook search box for financial literacy surfaces posts where people have mentioned the phrase.

Infographics convey sometimes abstruse financial concepts better than words. You can search the image databases of Google or Bing using either “financial literacy” or “financial information literacy” as phrase searches. Pinterest is another avenue for infographics. The ALA Money Smart Week suggests several Pinterest sites, but most are rather old. The exception is the Pinterest put together by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago ( You needn’t be limited to what the ALA recommends, however, since it’s just as easy to search on Pinterest with “financial literacy” (“financial information literacy” retrieved no pins) to find infographics on topics such as Frugal Habits of the Super Rich, Budgeting Your Way Out of Living Paycheck to Paycheck, Why Financial Literacy Matters, and Financial Fitness.


Indianapolis Star and USA Today columnist Pete the Planner (AKA Peter Dunn) claimed, in September 2015, that financial behavior, not financial literacy, is a problem (; note both articles have the same text but different headlines). He dismissed the notion of financial literacy, preferring “financial wellness,” which encourages people to make healthy financial decisions. He made some good points, but I found his rejection of financial literacy a bit naïve, particularly knowing that his local public library was a recipient of a grant to support a financial information literacy program that it called Money: From A to Z. Investing is one component of that program.

It’s possible that Pete actually thinks literacy and behavior are equivalent, because in February 2017, Indiana University’s Office of Financial Literacy announced a partnership with him to help students develop “a comprehensive yet practical financial wellness platform” ( The university is calling it MoneySmartsU ( index.shtml) and is developing 21 modules in video format along with calculators, interactive exercises, and a resource list (

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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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