The Lit City Study, Pt II

In the comments field to yesterday’s Lit City post, Bud Parr raises some significant objections. There’s four main sortcomings he sees in the study:

1. The study regarded quantity of bookstores over quality, i.e., a boutique gift-bookstore counted for as much as a Tattered Cover or a Elliot Bay or a City Lights.
2. Readings and other literary events were not considered at all in the study.
3. It appears that universities (and possibly their libraries) were not counted, and/or not weighted for in the study.
4. Socio-economics. Bigger cities are going to take a huge hit for having significant populations of impoverished people who simply do not have the means or time to pursue literature.

These are all good points, and I do agree with Bud that it’s somewhat strange to see New York  City at the 49th most literate city in the nation. The study would have done better to consider quality of institution in addtion to quantity. For instance, isn’t one Elliot Bay worth at least ten boutique travel bookstores?

Also, to a certain degree, comparing a city like Louisville, KY to NYC is apples to oranges and the study would have been better if it had taken this into account in some way. NYC and Louisville may share certain characteristics, but they are also immensely different places. It does seem somewhat facile to simply calculate library-citizen ratios and think that is the final word on which population is best-served by its city’s libraries. Wouldn’t some of NYC’s libraries be  bigger and able to serve patrons is different ways than Louisville’s? Wouldn’t New Yorkers and Lousivillians be acclimated to utilizing their library differently based on the different ways their cities work?

In Bud’s comment he says the study asked "how well does your city cultivate bookish behavior?" I’m not sure that’s what the study is measuring. It seems more centered around calculating certain variables on a per capita basis. From my reading of the study, it seems that it is far more interested in figuring out how much of each institution there is per unit of population than how those insitutions promote bookish behavior.

This is all to say that the study should be taken with a grain of salt. Its title (America’s Most Literate Cities) certainly does not help, as it sounds grandiose and final and implies that it is the word on literate cities. I think the study tells us a good deal and provides much useful information. However, what that information tells us about which city is "most literate" (or even what "most literate" means) is up to debate.

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