Thursday, 13 November 2014

Financial literacy for library users courtesy of Tesco & Visa.

Just when you thought things couldn't get any crazier in libraryland along comes this proposal from Darren Jones, a Labour parliamentary candidate in Bristol. (yes i did say Labour!)
Darren has written to the big supermarket chains asking if they would invest in IT equipment and training for the libraries in his area, see;

What a wonderful idea, what could possibly be wrong with this? I hear you say.

Well luckily my old mate Ian Clark has done the hard work for me and has written this beauty of a response;
"There is no place for commercial interests in our public library system. It compromises libraries and it makes them no better than profit generators for corporations who are already sucking up vast sums of money from the taxpayer with little return. The very last thing we should be doing is allowing them to turn libraries effectively into their satellites, acting as another driver for profit"

Ah! but alas we've been outdone by our compatriots on the other side of the pond with library cards doubling as debit cards. We as library workers can kill two birds with one stone by getting our library patrons/users into debt then teaching them about financial literacy.

SyrsiDynix the company behind the idea tries it's hardest to alleviate any professional and ethical fears by claiming that it's performing a social role by providing access to debit cards for 'unbanked' patrons but all i can say about the following statement from their website is YEP!

"Some librarians may find the concept of offering a prepaid card as a revenue stream unusual or possibly in opposition to the non-profit tradition of public libraries, acknowledged Eric Keith, VP of global marketing, communications, and strategic alliances for SirsiDynix."

But hold the front page I've just had a innovative idea, why don't Bristol Libraries introduce these cards so that their users can purchase goods from Tesco using their Tesco funded PC's and then staff who have attended Tesco funded training could then teach them about financial literacy, where's my 'Movers & Shakers' award?


  1. Alan,

    Thank you for your opinion and concern about our I Love My Library Card program. You bring up valid points of concern. We understand your viewpoint. We aim to create products and services that bring value to libraries and their patrons.

    If this were a credit card, we would completely agree with you about adding to the potential debt of a patron. However, this is a prepaid debit card for people who often have difficulty obtaining bank services. One of the benefits of the ILMLC is that you can only spend the money on the card—it has no provision for credit.

    Thank you for quoting the Library Journal article about the ILMLC program. As Eric continued to say: “There is a real need for these services among many demographics that are heavy library users.”

    Many people are at a significant disadvantage without the ability to qualify for a debit card, which is crucial for existence in our increasingly digital economy. Quite often, we find that many people don’t have the circumstances to qualify for a credit card and are forced to rely on cash-only methods of payment. Due to this, they may even have to wait in lines every month to pay for basic things like utilities.

    Prepaid debit cards give people the ability to deposit cash, or even their paycheck, directly onto their card, enabling them to pay for things electronically. Often these communities rely on public libraries for their services as well, creating a significant demographic overlap which we think libraries will find useful. Also, we’re striving to offer a low-cost alternative to the high-fee checking accounts they may have to choose. The ILMLC card fees are the same or lower than 8 of 10 largest consumer banks’ checking account fees in the US.

    Not all libraries or library users have to use the ILMLC—the decision to do so is completely up to them. By opting to use the ILMLC, library users are given the unique opportunity to support their local libraries throughout their daily lives. A portion of each transaction goes straight back to the library. So, this program benefits the library, too.

    For more information please see our recent post of ILMLC FAQs.

    Thanks again for your post!

    1. Zachary Stewart-Glazer15 November 2014 at 02:37

      Robert, with all due respect, I really think you should take a second look at this idea and consider scrapping it if you can. I think it would do a lot for your image if librarians saw that your company values their profession enough that you would refrain from debasing it in this way.

      I can see where you're coming from. The evidence does seem to show that prepaid debit cards can put people on the path to better financial security. Your card's fees are competitive, and offer FDIC insurance. That's great! Maybe they would be a great deal for a lot of people, and even help them rise out of poverty.

      But why not sell them in the marketplace like all the other cards of this kind? Why use libraries to market your product? Why degrade librarians by asking them to become your salespeople? And all to sell a product that at first glance comes across as extremely shady. It's not like this is about selling book bags. You're asking libraries to tacitly put their stamp of approval on a financial instrument that is frequently associated with predatory lenders.

      Even though SirsiDynix is obviously not a predatory lender, prepaid debit cards still profit their issuers because they charge numerous small fees for many common transactions, as you know. Because of the sad fact that most people do not read the fine print of agreements they sign, and because your cards will appear to be issued by the library, patrons are even less likely to read the fine print, choosing instead to trust their librarians like they've always done. So when they get hit with fees of which they were not previously aware, it's going to seem like the library is exploiting them.

      Of course, this is a completely voluntary program. No one is forcing any libraries to participate. But the fact that you would market this idea makes you look bad. It looks like you're trying to capitalize on the desperation of libraries and the poor in order to make a few extra bucks.

      I can't imagine that you want to be perceived that way, and I hope you'll find another method for helping the disenfranchised members of society while treating everyone with dignity.

      Thank you,

      Zachary Stewart-Glazer

  2. Robert

    Leaving aside the question of whether it's great PR for SirsiDynix to form an alliance with the very institutions that caused the financial collapse that has indirectly led to the wholesale closure of so many libraries I have a technical question you may be able to answer? (Couldn't find it in the FAQ)

    What personal data is now stored on the card and in the ILS? I ask in the light of EU mandate M436 which requires libraries to display information about data being stored in library systems that use RFID (NFC included) on cards and items. Do you store both account and library patron numbers on the cards or in the database and if so is the data encrypted or locked on the cards and securely stored in the ILS?

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