Thank you for joining us. Let me first thank my good friend Patrick Losinski for the kind introduction. Today we are here to highlight the partnerships that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (known as the CFPB for short) is building with libraries around the country to promote accessible financial education information for consumers. We are linking arms with library systems literally from coast to coast – from Brooklyn to San Francisco – and as part of this initiative, the Columbus Metropolitan Library system stands out as a splendid example of the hopes we have for libraries nationwide. It now has grown to serve over 870,000 residents at 22 branches throughout Franklin County, and represents an important resource for people all over central Ohio – my family of four included.
Like many of you here today, libraries have played an important role in my life. I have been exploring and reading in the Columbus Metropolitan Library since I was just a wee lad. Many fond childhood memories of mine involve hours spent exploring the library stacks, discovering new books with each visit: Tom Swift and his marvelous scientific inventions; Homer Price and his runaway doughnut machine; and as I got older, revered classics like The Three Musketeers and Ivanhoe. The combination of peacefulness and adventure that I have always found in the library has brought me great joy throughout my life. Today, I am glad to see the same joy reflected in my children, though I would have to say that my wife loves the library more than anyone else I know.
About a year and a half ago, the Columbus Metropolitan Library system was one of nine public libraries from across the country that joined our national pilot project aimed at turning libraries into neighborhood centers for financial education. From those nine original libraries, our partnerships have expanded across the country. Today more than 360 library systems in 48 states, with more than 1,700 branches, have signed up to provide their communities with the best resources available on financial education. And new libraries are joining us all the time.
Libraries already play an important role in our society. Since their inception, they have served as vital communal centers of learning. In 1790, the town of Franklin, Massachusetts established the first public library in the United States based on a gift of 116 books from its namesake, Benjamin Franklin. When members at a town meeting voted to lend these books to all town residents free of charge, they unknowingly created an institution that has become integral to the fabric of towns and cities across America. Libraries stand as a place where people of all ages can come to drink from the fountain of knowledge. A place where nothing more than a card with your name on it puts the whole wide world of information right at your fingertips.
Yet Patrick has described to me the immense speed at which libraries are evolving. The ways people now access information are dramatically different from the days when those first books inhabited the library shelves of colonial America. Yes, the books are still there, waiting to be explored by eager patrons. But today the books are joined by audio, video, and digital resources, which inform, educate, and entertain people in new and exciting ways. According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, nearly 300 million Americans used our libraries in 2010 – almost a one-to-one relationship with the entire population of this country.
Another interesting statistic shows that one out of four people who sign on to a library computer does so to take care of commercial needs or financial matters. This is telling, for it makes clear that many people already are going to the library for help in managing the ways and means of their financial lives. But most local librarians do not moonlight as financial advisors, and they may not feel entirely comfortable trying to assist people with their financial issues.
With that in mind, the CFPB is aiming to provide librarians with resources and tools about financial education to help them serve their patrons more effectively. From the beginning, we have reached out to librarians and listened as they told us about their aspirations and challenges in this area. We have heard about their limitations and constraints, and together we have worked to develop strategies and resources that any library can customize and use. As a result, we are helping libraries identify and connect with local partners in their own communities that can provide information and expertise. We are also helping to build online communities for librarians to learn and share more about financial education. And we are providing training for library staff and managers. These are all specific things that librarians have told us they want and need. Indeed, you could say this is a project born straight from the library stacks.
Our goal at the Consumer Bureau is to help the library become the go-to place for people to learn more about how to deal with their financial affairs. Whether it is researching how to take out a responsible mortgage, searching for tips on how to manage credit card debt, or learning how best to save money during tax season, we want consumers to have confidence that they can walk into their local library and find the information they are looking for.
We are encouraged about our library partnerships and we are making great progress, but we also know our work is far from over. We must make sure that our existing partners have everything they need to be successful. At the same time, Patrick and his colleagues around the country are going to be helping us sign up even more libraries in even more communities. People in every corner of America need this kind of help, and they will be better off if they can go to a neutral and trusted source like the local library to get it. We all deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing that we can exert more control over our financial lives. 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.