Richland County Public Library Has Financial Literacy Dancing to a New Beat

By Jessica Royer Ocken

When the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, South Carolina, received a grant from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation to create Growing Savers: Smart Money @ RCPL, they knew they wanted to focus their efforts on educating children and families—and that meant they’d better find a way to make finances fun. So they commissioned a catchy theme song rather than just scheduling seminars. And they partnered with both professionals and patrons to create performances that show smart money choices in action.

“Four score and seven years ago, Lunch Money wrote this song!” announced a miniature Abe Lincoln and his pint-sized piggy bank counterpart when local children’s indie-rock band Lunch Money debuted “Shake My Piggy Bank,” the library’s new song about saving money:

“…I go to the library
where I get all my books for free.
Then I shake, shake my piggy bank.
I don’t break, break my piggy bank…”

Listen Now to Shake Your Piggy Bank! By Lunch Money
Lunch Money is Molly Ledford (guitar, lead vocals), J.P. Stephens (bass, vocals) and Jay Barry (drums).

Not only does the tune get the toes tapping, it makes an excellent point: The library is a source for free, fun learning experiences that’s open to everyone. That makes it a great spot to learn financial literacy.

When the Growing Savers team at RCPL began brainstorming, “someone brought up SchoolHouse Rock,” recalls Heather McCue, children’s room librarian and member of the team. Using catchy tunes destined to lodge in the memory was the perfect model to generate excitement for RCPL’s innovative financial information services. “We want to make it fun for kids,” says McCue. “Not that saving isn’t hard, just like learning to read can be hard, but we want to make that fun too!”

Instilling wise money habits in the young is the place to begin. “The research bears out starting with kids,” says McCue, who cites the rising cost of college and the lack of personal financial literacy in high school curriculum as examples of the need. It’s much better to master smart saving and careful spending when you’re managing an allowance, rather than waiting until credit cards, college loans, and even a mortgage are in the balance.

By weaving financial lessons into ongoing library events for children and teens and partnering with other organizations in the community—including the NiA Company, a multicultural theater group, and Richland County First Steps program for at-risk parents—Growing Savers’ success is like money in the bank!

Program offerings include:

  • For the youngest future financiers, Saturday story times may include books with money-managing lessons like Bunny Money or Benny’s Pennies, and the library has acquired a collection of toy cash registers and oversized plastic coins to help make money a less abstract concept, as well as let preschoolers practice discerning between wants and needs and making wise spending choices. Monthly “family learning nights” feature financial activities geared toward elementary school-aged children, as well as tips for parents about how to discuss money with their kids.

  • For teens and their parents, RCPL has stocked their website with videos that demonstrate smart approaches to money, and “Shake My Piggybank” is available for download by anyone who finds it inspiring. Teen clubs at the library have also created Japanese anime-style comics about saving and spending, as well as writing and performing a reader’s theater piece about money—activities that allow them to share their newfound financial knowledge with others.

RCPL’s tagline is “access freely,” notes McCue, so she hopes the community will continue to see it as a source for no-cost financial information, along with everything else it has to offer children and families, for a long time to come. The Growing Savers team is certainly pleased with the feedback they’ve received so far. “We know we’re on the right path and doing what the community needs because opportunities have fallen in our lap and partnerships have sprung up naturally,” she says. “Lots of people are very hungry for this information.”

Grant-funded programming is made possible by Smart investing@your library®, a partnership between the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of the American Library Association, and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. The initiative supports public libraries across the country in their efforts to meet the growing need for unbiased financial and investor education at the grassroots level by providing grants for programs like Growing Savers: Smart Money.

Growing Savers will continue through May of 2013, but the librarians pioneering the new service hope to take financial literacy offerings into the future. McCue is already planning a library card drive and reading challenge for local schools. “A library card is like a first credit card,” she says. “If you bring books back on time, there’s no penalty.” Children who already have a library card can help their schools by reading selected money-smart books, and at the end of the contest, the school with the most new cards and most books read will win a performance from Lunch Money.

“Without a doubt, the library is the best deal in town,” McCue adds. And thanks to service innovations like Smart investing@your library®, “it’s also a great way to teach your children about money.”