By Jennifer Bellini, Duluth Public Library

My name is Jessica and I am bad with money. That’s the reason I went to the session, Developing Financially Capable Adults and Youth at the Library. I also went because as a member of the Adult Services work group at the Duluth Public Library I want to provide accurate and helpful personal finance information to our patrons, and because of my checkered financial past I may understand some of our patrons’ informational needs regarding money. Despite the fact that my own financial wellbeing is tied to my library job, before this workshop I never really considered the role of the public library in personal finance education. How fortuitous that MLA offered this session in which presenters Lori Hendrickson and Becky Hagen Jokela from the U of M Extension gave a comprehensive overview of financial literacy resources for patrons of all ages and at all types of libraries.

At the start of the session presenters Lori and Becky invited participants to share what kinds of financial education programs their libraries offer, or what finance-related reference questions their patrons ask. Most of our patrons ask about taxes, specifically, “Do you have tax forms?” Patrons looking for tax forms might want to browse a strategically located display with the theme “What to do with your tax return.” We could include some books suggested by U of M Extension, like All Your Worth by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, or Standard and Poor’s Guide to Understanding Personal Finance. If these books sound a little dry, Lori and Becky pointed us to the American Library Association’s Guidelines for Financial Literacy Education in Libraries1 as well as other sources we can use to evaluate the authority and bias of more popular personal finance books.

Books about personal finance aren’t just for adults. Lori and Becky brought several children’s books to share, including some of my old favorites like A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams, and Chicken Sunday, by Patricia Polacco. To aid in collection development and programming, Lori created a chart that lists personal finance concepts explored in popular children’s books2. I learned that in addition to having beautiful illustrations, the book Chicken Sunday includes themes of barter and altruism. I’m not a children’s librarian but I was impressed by one program idea offered by Becky and Lori: a Money As You Grow book club that pairs children’s books like the ones on Lori’s chart with parent discussion guides to introduce concepts like goal setting, decision making, planning, and saving and encourage families to talk about the concepts together4.

Those more interested in adult programs can bring the U of M Extension to their library to offer workshops about the rights of renters, comparing health insurance options, planning for retirement, passing on personal possessions in your will, and other topics for patrons of all ages.  Becky and Lori also discussed opportunities to partner with community organizations that teach financial literacy, such as Lutheran Social Services. I was enthused to learn about the variety and volume of financial literacy resources available through the government and nonprofits. Librarians that are bad with money like me don’t have to create programs or even pamphlets because we can request all kinds of free financial education materials from the U of M Extension and the United States Government Publishing Office4.

Most of the workshops I attended at this year’s MLA conference gave me something I could use at work, be it a resource or inspiration for a project or program. This workshop was possibly the only conference workshop I have ever attended that gave me practical advice for my personal life. I did not change overnight (still pretty bad with money!), but I did complete a budget spreadsheet suggested by Lori and Becky and found that I could put a bit more money in my “buy a house someday” fund. Several weeks after the workshop I remain eager to share financial literacy resources with patrons through collection development, displays, and adult programs.

  1. American Library Association’s Financial Literacy Education in Libraries Guidelines and Best Practices for Service, 2016.
  2. Teaching Personal Finance Through Children’s Literature, 2011:
  3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Money As You Grow book club.
  4. Order free financial education materials from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: