Bil Browning

America's Most Literate Cities

Filed By Bil Browning | January 14, 2011 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: America's Most LIterate Cities, Central Connecticut State University, Indianapolis, Washington D.C.

I love to read; it goes hand in hand with my love of writing. One of the things I most disliked about Indiana was how little a large portion of the populace was concerned with cracking open a book or a newspaper.

who thinks i have a book problem? (274/365)When America's first Tea Party mayor, Greg Ballard, decided that the best option to balance the Indianapolis budget, he quickly started slashing the parks budget and anything that remotely smelled of art. Included in his hit list were the city libraries. You know, because when you don't have a population with very good job skills, you don't want them to get an education and be able to better themselves; the Tea Party likes their followers a little on the obtuse side, if you know what I mean....

So it wasn't a big shock to me to see that out of the top 75 cities in America, Indianapolis ranks #34 in terms of how literate it is. The new findings from Central Connecticut State University highlights America's Most Literate Cities of 2010 doesn't just ask "How many people in the city can read?" It shows you how many people do read by looking at the number of bookstores, educational attainment, internet resources, library resources, newspaper circulation, and periodical publications.

Thankfully, Washington DC is the most literate city. I've moved up in the world of letters! Stockton, California ranked last. The top 25 cities are listed after the jump.

  1. Washington, DC
  2. Seattle, WA
  3. Minneapolis, MN
  4. Atlanta, GA
  5. Pittsburgh, PA
  6. San Francisco, CA
  7. St. Paul, MN
  8. Denver, CO
  9. Portland, OR
  10. St. Louis, MO
  11. Cincinnati, OH
  12. Boston, MA
  13. Raleigh, NC
  14. Cleveland, OH
  15. New Orleans, LA
  16. Columbus, OH
  17. Kansas City, MO
  18. Baltimore, MD
  19. Tampa, FL
  20. Lincoln, NE
  21. Austin, TX
  22. Nashville-Davidson, TN
  23. Lexington-Fayette, KY
  24. Tulsa, OK
  25. Colorado Springs, CO

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A few years ago, I started reading less because books are so gosh darn expensive, so I turned to online media because it was free. To ammend this, a few months ago I bought an e-reader because books at the time were a fraction of the cost of the bookstore listed price. I had my device paid off after purchasing ten books, which would have cost me almost double in the bookstore. I actually found myself reading more books with my e-reader than I ever have before. Maybe if these devices become more affordable, we could see an increase in literacy...

If an e-reader gets you to read, that's great. But there are many low-cost ways to obtain printed books. Public libraries are the obvious example... everything is free. Shopping online can get you thousands of titles for $1 or less. Wander into a neighborhood thrift shop or flea market and you'll have many books available for a quarter. Used-book sales sponsored by libraries typically are dirt cheap.

What you describe in Indy is what happens when you adopt the idea that governments should be run like businesses -- if it's not making a profit, then it's assumed to be worthless. That's why these "conservatives"* always reflexively cut things like education, libraries, research and development and other programs that actually benefit the overall economic health of the country and are against projects like improvements to public transportation and the arts.

The Republicans in Congress want to do the same thing, but on a grander scale, and even cut funding to programs like the National Institutes of Health. Not only will that do virtually nothing to erase the deficit, but it'll destroy programs that a lot of private companies use to develop new products and the like.

These people either have no idea how to wisely balance a budget or they're intentionally trying to turn this country into a Third World banana republic -- pick one of the two.

That being said, I'm surprised not to see New York on the list because you can't ride the subway at rush hour without seeing at least half the passengers with their noses in books, magazines and newspapers (and we have six major dailies in this city!).

* I put "conservatives" in quotes because a conservative, by definition, supports bedrock societal institutions like education and giving people the means to attain upward mobility, as opposed to tearing them up just to save a few extra bucks that can be handed off to rich people in the form of tax cuts or with the intention of destroying the social order. See: Andrew Carnegie.

A really evil part of me is happy to see Denver so far ahead of Colorado Springs, and an even eviller part of me is shocked to see Colorado Springs making the top 25, even if it's at the very bottom.

It's kind of surprising that Boulder appears nowhere on this list; it's usually on every Most Educated City, Best Read City, etc. list. Also interesting that Iowa City - home of the famed Iowa Writer's Workshop - also appears nowhere on that list. Maybe they just didn't look at those cities?

Iowa City, Bloomington, Lafayette, South Bend...the godo college towns may be too small for this ranking.

Rankings are sometimes rank.

Bil--the Indy bashing is getting real old. Here's a news flash--you, nor I--are/were the most-literate persons in Indy. But there are plenty of literate folks. It's all about the company you keep.

I'm so glad you're now surrounded by fewer idiots. How's that cost-of-living goin for ya?

Indiana chews people up and spits them out. Then it demands that they show sufficient respect for the state after they've left.

It's called Hoosier hospitality!

Well, Alex, what is even worse is when Indiana chews people up and then doesn't spit them out. Do you feel chewed up and spit out? I doubt that it spit you out as much as you decided to leave (although I don't know the details of your personal situation).

At least you found an escape route -- many people can't. And the irony is that most of them are the descendants of people of color who moved north decades ago to cities such as Indy and NW Indiana for a better life. Overt racism is largely under control, but the institutional racism is virtually crippling.

Alex, I should have said: I don't know the details of your personal situation, but in any event I don't necessarily blame you.

Cheers, Alex.

Ha! No shit! The cost of living difference is amazing.

If you look back through the Indiana site though, you'll see that I criticized Ballard's "close the libraries" idea back when he first brought it up. That's not just "Indy bashing" - that's "Ballard bashing."

PS - If you look at the entire list they show you previous years' rankings. Indy ranked much higher under Peterson than it does under Ballard. ;)

Rick Sutton | January 14, 2011 5:47 PM

I'm a relatively new commenter, so I'll rely on your memory. It's your blog.

We're leaving in the not-too-distant future, too. But I hope I don't spend so much time bashing my former home, after I leave it.

Closing libraries is a dumb idea. "Hey, the folks are starting to REAAD too much...let's shut it down." But it's the only major metro library in the country that gets no income tax distribution. It loves almost strictly on property taxes--and you know how that china doll gets treated around here. Pitiful.

The library situation in Indy is not totally bleak -- I know because I use the library WI-FI a lot when I'm in town.

They have cut the library hours, but at least they have staggered the hour cuts among the branch libraries so that there is always a library open on any day. They even have a few open on Sunday afternoon. Moreover, they have put up signs explaining that on a day when a library branch is closed, which nearest branch is open that day. So the closings affect capacity but not so much availability. If they have to cut, this is a fairly intelligent way to do it.

Oh god, I just looked at the full list and Detroit is at number 56. I'm so ashamed for my native city.
My only solace is to try to rationalize the placing by the fact that our public schools are abysmally bad, with something like a less than 25% graduation rate, and the city is too poor to afford library funding. "We're only illiterate and uneducated because we're poor!"
Though I shudder to think how my college town might have done on this list if it had been looking at smaller-scale towns. Even with a university (with the second-cheapest tuition in the state) right in the middle of the town, most people are stupendously ignorant around here.

"Evaluated using 'bookstores, educational attainment, internet resources, library resources, newspaper circulation"

While I don't doubt what you're saying about Indiana, I want to know this study's methodology... nothing like studies which don't really explain how they arrived at their conclusions. When you talk about bookstores, do you mean independent bookstores or Borders and Barnes & Noble in a mall? Reading what? Reading right wing websites and Star Magazine? They say they're rating 'internet resources'? Does that mean libraries or Internet cafes with Internet access? What the hell does it mean? Some communities have more higher rates of Internet access at home and at work. Periodical publication?' Is that Hustler and car magazines or The Economist and Atlantic? (yes, that is cultural snobbery). Is required reading for classes included or are we talking about voluntary reading? Newspaper circulation... you've got to be kidding. 95% of all US newspapers are a joke (and extremely conservative and simplistic... yes, that's my own 'independent study').

Guess which study isn't worth reading.

Oh dear, Seattle, my city, is second on the list. Some folks around here are going to be testy about that. We're used to bragging about being America's most literate city. Now it seems we're just the most coffee-drenched.

Gutting public libraries makes no bloody sense. Public libraries are an *unbelievably* cost-effective way of increasing literacy, which directly translates to a wide variety of social *and* economic benefits. Public libraries are a total win-win for everyone.

Bil moved up in the world of letters, and I moved down one place from 5th to 6th place, Pittsburgh to San Francisco.

My problem with reading on the train (MUNI metro) is that half the time I pass my stop in the Castro, and have to switch trains to return to Castro. I did that yesterday.

I am blessed beyond belief for a reader. No lie, I literally live above the newest branch of the SF Public Library, Mission Bay Branch at 4th & Berry Sts. I live in a senior community in the same building. The SF system, like many, allows you order what you want on-line. They send you an email when it arrives at your branch, and keep it on hold for pickup.

So far, here in SF, we have managed to support the mom & pop bookstores well enough to keep most, not all, of them open. A huge Borders, a block from me catty-corner to AT&T Ballpark, closed just before the Giants won the World Series. So, large chain book stores do not always make it either.

I will say in support of PIttsburgh's high score, a week never passed that I and most of my friends did not pass time at the Mt. Washington Branch of Carnegie Library. It was a part of our childhood for sure. Every little neighborhood in Pittsburgh had a Carnegie Library it seemed. That was pre-internet.