Orange County Library System

Many Spanish-speaking people in Orlando did not have bank accounts. Prey to payday lenders and costly currency exchanges, “They understood the money system in their own country, but not in the U.S.,” says librarian Paolo Melillo. “There was little trust. People had been scammed, even from people in their church.” To address the problem, the library developed a series of workshops, deliverable live and online. In the process, it tapped into a broader Latino community to form powerful alliances that gave the library entrée to the news media and business leaders.

Forming a peer-to-peer network

The library sought out spokespersons. Beginning with Spanish-speaking MBA students from Rollins College and librarians were introduced to other Hispanic business leaders. This network yielded an entire network of Spanish-speaking leaders from media, business, and civic life who got behind the effort.

“Alcance mas con su dinero” or “Get more for your money”

The project was attractively branded right from the start. “We did a massive marketing effort,” explains Melillo. Bus signage, radio spots, and news coverage in papers and on television created interest. Posters were welcomed in venues beyond library branches. All the collaterals and media drove users to the project’s Spanish website. Once there, people could download video testimonials from successful businesspeople and community leaders urging participation.

The experiment worked. “People started looking at saving as 25 cents a day. They came to understand compounded interest. We laid out the math about check-cashing facilities, and people woke up.” “We created an interactive e-guide in English and Spanish because we wanted to get the course content online to make it sustainable.

Proof positive

UPDATE: Building on the success of this program the library reached out to another audience, wage earners in the region’s hospitality industry. In addition to a renewed partnership with Rollins College, they developed a new partnership with the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association to promote workshops to member employers.

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Workshops were delivered, in Spanish and English, at library branches plus work sites at major hotels in Orlando and also on the web.

The employer workshops were promoted by the hotels’ human resource departments and library staff was onsite to discuss the library’s financial literacy resources and services. The results are impressive. 97% of participants reported greater confidence in their ability to save money and 91% reported that they would establish or adjust their savings plans. 77% of participants described the library as a very good source of information about investing.

Lessons learned:

• Be flexible with partners. “We originally had a project design. When we took it to Rollins College, they redesigned it and made it more successful.”

• Brand the program early. A professionally designed logo and slogan made it easy to get people on board and get their attention. And it worked. “82% of workshop participants indicated a willingness to recommend the library to others as a source of investment information.

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.