Thank you for joining us today. It is great to be in Rhode Island. And it is great to be here with Senator Reed, a true friend of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau who not only helped create the Bureau but who continues to support us in our endeavors.
Sen. Reed and the Bureau share the same goal of wanting to educate and empower consumers to help them make responsible financial decisions. So today I am glad to announce an important partnership with Rhode Island’s Office of Library and Information Services to make this state’s already trusted libraries into neighborhood centers of financial education.
This builds on a national pilot project we announced in April. At that time, we had partnered with nine libraries across the country. In just two months, that has grown to more than 50 library systems, which includes nearly 400 library branches. Adding Rhode Island to this partnership means another 48 public libraries that include 70 branch locations. That is about one million more people who will have access to free financial education materials, resources, and trained librarians.
Libraries already play an important role in communities across the United States. They are great centers of learning. They are repositories of information that give every citizen equal access to their resources. They are community spaces and welcoming places of safety. As Lady Bird Johnson described it, “Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.” And she did not mean the financial kind.
Like many of you, I have loved libraries all my life. I can still recall the excitement I felt going into the library as a young boy and discovering books I had never heard of before: Tom Swift and his marvelous scientific inventions; Homer Price and his runaway doughnut machine; and eventually classics like “Ivanhoe” and “The Three Musketeers.” I also remember the thrill I had in third grade when doing well in class meant that we were allowed to go down to the school library and read anything we wanted for the class period. Was I a nerd? It sure sounds like it, doesn’t it? But the odd combination of peacefulness and adventure that I found in the library has always been a special sanctuary for me. Now I am pleased to see that my children love the library too, though my wife actually loves it most of all.
So we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Benjamin Franklin, whose fertile mind first conceived the idea of a subscription library. But libraries have changed enormously over the years, with some of the greatest changes occurring just since I first started visiting them. They are no longer just about books and other paper-and-ink materials. They are digital and video and audio. They are about trusted resources for career development. They serve families, offer free Internet, and provide skill-building programs and community referrals. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, in 2010 our libraries served nearly 298 million Americans.
Another study tells us that 25 percent of people logging on to library computers are doing so for commercial needs or to manage their finances; so we already know that people are going to their libraries for help with managing their financial lives. But librarians are not trained for financial literacy, and they may not feel comfortable dealing with these issues.
The Bureau’s Community Financial Education Project that Rhode Island is joining today will provide solutions. This project is a partnership with multiple federal agencies. This includes the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Federal Trade Commission, and the USDA’s Cooperative Extension System. And it includes other national organizations like the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and the American Library Association.
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. We want to help them build an online community for local financial education librarians. And we want to be able to provide helpful trainings for library staff and managers. These were the things librarians told us they wanted and needed. Indeed, from the very beginning, this project listened to public librarians from across the United States. They told us about their desires and needs, limitations and constraints, and together we developed strategies and resources that any library could customize and use. You could say this project was built by librarians for librarians.
We envision a United States where libraries are one of the most trusted sources that people turn to in order to find information about how to take out a responsible mortgage. Or they may go to their library to get tips on how to manage their credit card debt. We want consumers to feel comfortable walking into a library and asking where they can find basic information about budgeting, savings, investments, and credit.
And we want librarians to feel comfortable pointing them in the right direction, as they already do for so many Americans on so many topics every day. Our partnership will put them in a position to provide people with unbiased, easy-to-understand help. Maybe librarians will point consumers to some portion of the FDIC’s renowned MoneySmart curriculum. Or maybe they will point to FINRA’s advice for avoiding investment fraud. Or maybe they will point to our website with our “Ask CFPB” resource, which provides more than 1,000 expert answers to commonly asked questions about consumer finance.
If the library patron is a student on her way to college, maybe the librarian can point her to other parts of our website for help. Our “Paying for College” set of tools is designed to help families consider their options and assess the costs and risks in terms that are easy to understand. These tools show students their monthly debt payment at graduation. They help students weigh the burden posed by their projected debt load, based on the nationwide average starting salary of a new graduate. They help students and families – who may be facing this intimidating challenge for the first time in their lives – to ask the right questions and make more informed decisions.
By working in coordination with all those who are dedicated to achieving the goal of greater financial literacy in this country, we can bolster financial capability across the United States. We are glad to join with the good people of Rhode Island to start here. Thank you.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit www.consumerfinance.gov.