Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bibliotopia: Urban American Literacy

I should first note that when I say "biblio-" in the "bibliotopia," I am not referring to the Bible, but to books in general. Ask Stephen Prothero about biblical literacy in the U.S. This Bibliotopia is about where, in what cities, people read the most. USA Today has just reported on the top ten most literate cities in the U.S.

Tied at number one are Minneapolis and Seattle, which have alternated between number 1 and 2 for years, evidently:

For the past six years, the two cities have traded the first and second spots in the rankings, which analyze six key indicators of literacy (newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment and Internet resources) against population rates for cities with populations of 250,000 or more.

The study does not look at reading test scores or how often people read, but what kinds of literary resources are available and used. This is "one critical index of our nation's well-being," says study author Jack Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn.

The findings come at a time when newspaper circulations across the USA are declining, and online newspaper reading is increasing. Miller's analysis suggests that, contrary to conventional wisdom, the availability of free online news is not to blame for the decline in newspapers' print circulation — and that neither is the decline in bookstores across the country caused by the rise in online book buying.

Cities that ranked higher for having more bookstores also have a higher proportion of people buying books online, the analysis found, and cities with newspapers that have high per-capita circulation rates also have more people reading newspapers online. Likewise, cities that ranked higher for having well-used libraries also have more booksellers.

So, basically, people who like to read will read everything and acquire their books either online or in a good old fashioned bookstore. I know I do both. It is convenient to buy books online, but there is something about browsing shelves, finding a book, and purchasing it at the store. My students looked at me incredulously this year when I talked of just browsing the stacks in the library when working on research projects instead of always using online methods. Of course, it is best to use multiple methods...

"Cities that rank highly in one form of literate behavior are likely to rank highly in other forms and practices of literacy," says Miller, noting that a literate society tends to practice many forms of literacy, not just one or another. are the top ten cities:
1. Minneapolis and Seattle (tied)
3. Washington, D.C.
4. St. Paul
5. San Francisco
6. Atlanta
7. Denver
8. Boston
9. St. Louis
10. Cincinnati and Portland, Or (tied)

Minnesota has TWO cities in the top ten (in fact, in the top 4!!!). They must be readers up there...although, when it gets so cold out in the winter, there may not be much else to do. My home city (or close to it) of St. Louis made the top ten, but alas my current city of NY is nowhere to be seen on the top ten. Nonetheless, if you are in even these cities, perhaps you should not celebrate too early. When comparing the U.S. to the world, the U.S. comes in 31st!

See the USA Today release here. And the report the release is based upon is here.

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