Sunday, December 30, 2007

The most literate American cities

From a study of reading habits in American cities (pop. 250,000 or more):

The release of the 2007 America’s Most Literate Cities survey coincides with renewed widespread interest in reading and literacy. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently published a “disturbing story” indicating that, at all levels, Americans are reading less and reading less well, and that this behavior correlates with declining measures of the health of our society. . . .

One of the most disturbing trends is that while Americans are becoming more and more educated in terms of their time spent in school and their education level accomplished, they are decreasing in terms of literate behaviors. This is particularly obvious in our lack of support of bookstores and the constantly diminishing circulation of newspapers. Forty-three of the 59 cities studied have a higher percentage of high school graduates than they did five years ago, and 46 of the cities have a higher percentage of college graduates, so clearly the trend across the country is for people to stay in school longer and achieve a higher grade level of accomplishment. Nevertheless, every city in the study declined in Sunday newspaper circulation save one — St. Paul, Minnesota — and only four — Cleveland, Indianapolis, Louisville, and St. Paul — had consistent increases in weekday circulation. So while Americans are becoming more and more “educated,” they are reading newspapers less.

We are also supporting local bookstores far less often. Not a single city in our survey has more independent bookstores now than five years ago. Fifty-seven out of 60 cities reported fewer retail booksellers in 2007 than in 2003; in several, the number of booksellers per capita dropped by half of what was reported in 2003. At the macro level, the market does seem to reflect the “alarming” story that the NEA reports.

America's Most Literate Cities 2007 (Central Connecticut State University)

Related reading
NEA Announces New Reading Study (NEA press release)
To Read or Not to Read (NEA report, .pdf download)

comments: 5

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Michael - I found your article interesting, especially as I work in the periodicals section of the largest public library in the 5th US
largest city.
I've watched the NY Times grow thinner every year and can count the hard-core readers of it on the fingers of one hand. A lot of "old guys" copying the crossword mostly.
of course it is available online but how many read it randomly or actually browse?
Whatever happened to people sitting at a table, or together sitting at a table, and reading/chatting about the news?
Anyway - enjoy your blog and heartily concur that John Paul George and Ringo is the most mellifluent order...


Michael Leddy said...

I think a lot of people are looking at the Times online, but they're sampling -- not turning the pages and finding something unexpected.

In my house, we sit at the kitchen table and talk about the news every day. But it's an endangered way of life.

I like your blog, Tom. We seem to share many musical interests. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Michael -
I'm glad such species as yours still thrive somewhere!

Eustace Bright said...

I don't doubt the overall conclusion, that the habit of reading is down in America, but I question the value of the study. Reading habits have changed drastically because of the ubiquity of local chain bookstores and fast connections to the internet. Measuring how many people still go to independent bookstores and read the paper on physical pages doesn't actually measure literacy, but a particular literary preference. To know whether people's reading and writing and discussion habits are actually down, the author of the newspaper article quoted in your post would need to study the quality and quantity of blogging and forum discussions (and other distance news "relationships"), online paper reading (do online readers really read more narrowly and superficially, or do printed-newspaper readers also tend to glance at only the sections of the paper they like?), and whether people read less books now that chain bookstores are crowding out independent booksellers (perhaps the opposite has happened: these places are common currency in the hipness-meter, and even the last-minute-gift market :D).

Michael Leddy said...

You're right to question those details, Eustace. The website shows other factors in these rankings: the number of bookstores of any kind, online book orders, online newspaper traffic, and so on.

Amazing, by the way, to see your son in progress!