Newton Free Library

Located in a leafy suburb of Boston, the Newton Free Library has a robust following. The patron base is well educated and uses the library for self-improvement. Special interest clubs are especially popular. When it came to upgrading financial information services, librarians noticed a gap: women were an underserved population with regard to retirement planning. So librarians started a retirement planning club for women. Today, it’s a network of more than 200 women eager to improve their financial outlooks with information.

Success beyond words

Librarians wanted to empower people by encouraging member volunteers to run programs. In fact they do and when they can’t find an unbiased local expert, they research topics and make presentations themselves. They’ve learned to track their pensions, calculate social security benefits, and manage debt. Women ranging from ages 22 to 80 attend live events or participate virtually.

Continuing to Innovate

UPDATE: The completion of the retirement club for women opened the door to another collaborative effort. Literacy volunteers joined with librarians and financial literacy experts to introduce financial education into the library’s English-as-a second-language program.

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They integrated themes and resources into the library’s ESL discussion groups with an emphasis on “learning how to work with your money in the U.S.” Participants worked on the basics that included gaining a financial vocabulary, learning how to establish good credit and acquiring a better understanding of banking and associated fees and charges. The number of tutors in the ESL program increased 26% during the course of the grant and the number of English language learners grew by 25%. A valuable outcome is a comprehensive financial literacy guide suitable for use with English language learners.

Lessons learned

• Don’t create barriers to entry. “People are already anxious about money.” When the retirement club first went virtual, it was a dud. The culprit was an onerous log-in process. “We dropped the barrier of the log-in and we marketed it the same way, and it spiked from 8 to over 300.”

• The ESL program “certainly benefited from all the publicity of the financial literacy program and from resources on the website and the diverse materials we were able to acquire for the literacy collection.” New tutors were especially open to incorporating personal finance topics into their sessions and the conversation groups gave ESL students confidence about managing money.

• The Retirement Planning Club continues with solid support from the women who manage it. Sage advice from the program leaders guide the club. “Let the members decide. “Let them tell you their needs and wants. Don’t get in the way with too many of your own values and ideas.”

Grants awarded in 2007; 2010


Looking to take your library’s financial literacy efforts to the next level? Connect with ALA’s Financial Literacy Interest Group.