WASHINGTON The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced a partnership with libraries and other federal regulators on Monday to provide librarians with unbiased financial literacy education materials.
The partnership, called the Community Financial Education Project, is partly meant to educate librarians so that they can in turn point consumers in the right direction when seeking financial help.
A number of librarians spoke at a CFPB event in Chicago saying they are overwhelmed with financial education materials while at the same time, face limited resources to properly provide the right information needed. CFPB Director Richard Cordray said he hoped the pilot program would address these concerns to ultimately turn libraries into a "hub" for financial education.
"We already know that many people are going to their libraries to find out important information about personal finances. But librarians are not necessarily skilled when it comes to financial literacy," said Cordray. "In order to fill that role, our libraries need help in identifying unbiased and accurate materials. They need help in identifying reliable community partners who can help them establish, host, and present programs. And libraries need resources to help them advertise financial education programs, both to regular patrons inside the library, and to citizens who may not yet be coming to the library."
CFPB officials said at the event that the program in its early stages and is expected to take on many forms and include other entities.
So far, the program includes federal agencies such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago as well as national organizations like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's Investor Education Foundation and the American Library Association. Cordray said the CFPB will provide training for library staff and managers both online and through in-person visits. The agency is also looking at developing some of its own financial education content or through partners in addition to scouting out what's already available.
"Our goal is to provide librarians with a collection of financial education resources and tools. We want to help libraries identify and connect with local partners in their communities," Cordray said. "We want to help them build an online community for local financial education librarians."
He said that the program was developed in response to hearing about the needs of libraries. So far, nine public libraries that have agreed to join the pilot program, including from Brooklyn, San Francisco, Orlando and Columbus, Ohio.
CFPB officials indicated at the hearing that they intend for the program to also expand to libraries at universities and other organizations.
"We've already talked to a couple associations working on campus colleges," said Dan Rutherford, the CFPB's senior content specialist, during a panel discussion. "We very much want to greet them with open arms."
Rutherford said the agency is looking at building out a year-long calendar of financial education topics that could include training on student loans, for example, to make available at libraries.
Funding, however, does appear to be a concern among librarians at the event. CFPB officials acknowledged that libraries have faced declining budgets over the years. When asked whether the agency would provide financial assistance to libraries, Rutherford said they would instead help connect libraries to other parties who might do so.
"The CFPB is not grant making body so we can't provide funding," Rutherford said. However, the program can help in "finding experts to come in and who can sponsor this."
The FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the American Library Association already have a grant program for libraries that Cordray pointed to in his remarks.
"We envision a United States where libraries are one of the trusted sources that people turn to in order to find information about how to take out a responsible mortgage... We want consumers to feel comfortable walking into a library and asking their librarian where they can find basic information about budgeting, savings, investments, and credit," Cordray said. "So today's pilot project is just the beginning, and we foresee rapid expansion to any and all libraries interested in joining with us to strengthen the financial foundation for all Americans."