How Lit is YOUR City?

In what is destined to become the New Year’s Weekend topic of conversation, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater presents the 2004 edition of their study, America’s Most Literate Cities. (thanks to GalleyCat for the link)

Some of the ranks come off as a little funny (for instance, is Los Angeles really the 68th most literate city in the country?), but there’s lots of interesting information here. It ranks the top periodical publishers by the number of magazines with circulation over 2,500 and the number of journals over 500 published in a city. I don’t see the actual data (i.e. how many puslishers), but its still interesting to know that apparently there’s a lot of publishing going on in Washington, D.C., Boston, Atlanta, and San Francisco.

Also, it’s interesting to see which cities have the most-used libraries and the lowest library-citizen ratios.

The item that people may find the most interesting of all, though, is the all-powerful bookstores section. It ranks cities based on retail and used/rare bookstores (SF is on top, followed by Cincinnati and Seattle), although it would be interesting to know what’s the breakdown between new and used/rare.

Overall, it’s a pretty worthwhile study, but I wish UWW would put up their raw data. There’s a methodology .pdf which shows how they acquired the data so I suppose if you really wanted to know you could take some time and crunch out your own results, but it would be nice if the info was browsable. Also, it would have been nice to see some comparisons between the 2003 and 2004 studies on the website.

Apparently, however, the 2003 study is long gone. The links in web pages referencing the ’03 study are now either dead or go to the ’04 study. However, I was able to locate the top ten from ’03, so we can make some comparisons based on that. (’04 rank in parentheses)

1. Minneapolis (1)
2. Seattle (2)
3. Denver (7)
4. Atlanta (15)
5. San Francisco (10)
6. Pittsburgh (3)
7. Washington, D.C. (6)
8. Louisville, KY (17)
9. Portland, OR (9)
10. Cincinnati (5)

And as a bonus, here’s the results of a new internet user survey.

The average Internet user in the United States spends three hours a day online, with much of that time devoted to work and more than half of it to communications, according to a survey conducted by a group of political scientists.

The survey found that use of the Internet has displaced television watching and a range of other activities. . . . According to the study, an hour of time spent using the Internet reduces face-to-face contact with friends, co-workers and family by 23.5 minutes, lowers the amount of time spent watching television by 10 minutes and shortens sleep by 8.5 minutes.

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America’s Most Literate Cities

From the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, which doesn’t mean they can get around including its own Mother city of Madison in the mix (Iowa City’s somewhat lower population just doesn’t make the cut), this survey of the most literate

This is interesting, but the results (at the risk of sounding snobbish) reveal the study’s flaws.
How well does your city cultivate bookish behavior, says the study. Sure. My guess is the study is skewed so that Madison would be at the top. (no offense Madisonians, but NYC is the most bookish city in the country) In numbers, sometimes, there’s no accounting for quality.
NYC is 49? We have some of the top universities, bookstores that any city in this country or the world would be envious of (Gotham, strand, etc.) We have booksellers lining the streets, literally! I’m sure those don’t get counted in the study, but those little touristy bookstores with absolutely nothing worth reading probably abound in some of those cities.
Newspapers here are primarily distributed at kiosks and bodegas rather than subscription, but it’s hard to tell exactly what they count. But correct me if I’m wrong, NYC is the center of the publishing world.
Too bad they didn’t count readings or literary events. Every major author speaks here. We have one of the major Bloomsday celebrations in the world. You can go to a reading here on any given day of the week. Literature (and art) permeates the culture here. Indeed, it can be quite intimidating. Incidentally, my site’s stat counter shows that NYC is the largest source of hits on my lit blog and I imagine that it’s that way for many.
The problem of course, is socio-economic. What we have here in a magnitude that other cities don’t have is an enormous amount of poor people and that, sadly, is a prohibitive situation where being literate is not the top concern. Being literate is a luxury that the rest of us enjoy.
Oh, Scott, I’m just venting. I could go on, but there’s no point. Thanks for posting this.
p.s. Interestingly, I once met someone who moved to Boulder CO for the very reason that they had so many bookstores relative to the population.

Hey Bud,
There’s no doubt that some of the factors the study used are skewed toward cities with smaller populations. I wondered myself is something like libraries per 10,000 population was really that much more significant than per, say 100,000 (I mean, is 10,000 the useful limit of a good library? seems a little low).
It’s also true that a city like New York is going to be penalized heavily for socio-economic factors.
I think the study is interesting for the information it does reveal, but there’s definitely much information it doesn’t.

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