Singer Barrett Strong once crooned “The best things in life are free, but you can keep them for the birds and bees. Now give me money. That’s what I want.”
Once you get money, what do you do with it? In an effort to educate tweens, teens and the adults in their lives, Frederick County Public Libraries has teamed up with the American Library Association and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation to bring “Thinking Money,” a traveling nationwide exhibit to the C. Burr Artz branch, from now until March 15.
“We were one of 50 public libraries across the country that were awarded this exhibit (out of more than 130 applicants) and the only one in Maryland,” said David Payne, C. Burr Artz Library’s assistant branch administrator. “It was particularly attractive to us because I think we are building on the very good work that is done in the Frederick County area by a number of organizations on financial literacy. ... The more we looked at various studies that have been done nationally in preparation (applying for the grant to host the exhibit), the more you see really how vulnerable young people are when it comes to money, budgeting and saving because the advertising industry spends billions trying to reach that corner of the market. Obviously, at that age, you are particularly susceptible, so I think it was attractive to be able to focus on that particular area and build on this work that is being done in the community by many organizations.”
Arriving in six bins and two large wooden chests from a Massachusetts library, the exhibit took FCPL staff about two and a half hours to assemble. Once stepping though the main entrance area, folks will find two displays with the remaining six panels in the library’s rotunda along with two iPads set up to take visitors on interactive adventure-themed scenarios like the Needs or Wants Showdown, Saving for an Emergency, Money Mind Tricks and Beware Financial Fraud with the six main comic-book-like characters.
“Financial literacy is a vital life skill,” Payne said. “When you look at national studies on young people and their spending habits, they indicate that the need to encourage this age group to save money and spend money wisely has never been more acute. It’s never been greater. When you consider the inability to perform basic financial and mathematical tasks can potentially result in so many missed opportunities in life — home ownership, educational opportunities and helping to break the cycle of poverty. The significance of cultivating financial literacy — this vital life skill to young people — has never been greater.”
The day the exhibit opened, Feb. 3, teen librarian Liz Bowen took a visitor for a tour including navigating two play mats that lead participants to good and bad credit scores and a managing your money game which asks participants how they will spend or save their $2,000 paycheck. The main panels feature financial themes, while the side panels showcase facts and statistics. One main panel discusses what paying interest on purchases means while the side panel states a person may pay an estimated $279,000 in interest on the items they buy over their lifetime.
“[The exhibit is] trying to deliver [finance] in a way that different age groups will understand and not be overwhelming,” Bowen said. “You think think the word ‘finances’ and it is overwhelming. ... It gives you these bite-size bits of information geared toward that 10 to 14 age group and their parents.”
Bowen has been asked why the exhibit targets 10- to 14-year-olds instead of high school or college age students.
“By high school, these are skills that should already be in place,” she said. “You are getting your first jobs at 14 and 16, so learning about credit cards, debit cards before you get into [financial] trouble, before you rack up your credit card, before you make these mistakes is teaching you skills [they may take] into high school, into college that are going to help you for a lifetime.”
Part of the requirement to receive the exhibit was to create at least four complimentary programs. FCPL quadrupled that with 16 planned at C. Burr Artz as well as other branches including Walkersville and Thurmont. “When people come to the exhibit, they are learning these skills, and then they are going to apply them at these programs and learn additional skills,” Bowen said.
Some of the C. Burr Artz programs include Checkbooks and Debit Cards 101 on Feb. 28 and Spotting Fraud on March 9 for those in sixth grade and up and Decorating Coin Banks on March 16 targeting elementary school children.
The exhibit is quite timely given that many are getting their annual tax returns ready for filing. “It was luck for us to get it around tax season, so that’s bonus for us,” Bowen said.