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America's Most Literate Cities
July 15, 2003 11:48 PM   Subscribe

America's Most Literate Cities - A study authored by the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater looked at factors ranging from newspaper circulation to library and bookstore penetration within the 64 largest cities in the United States. His conclusion? Minneapolis is the most literate city in the country, directly followed by Seattle and Denver. San Francisco ranked fifth, Boston 13th, Chicago 45th and New York 47th.
posted by mrbula (49 comments total)

 
Unfortunately, the entire report was "coded" through ImageReady, so all the content is in images. Or this PDF.
posted by mrbula at 11:51 PM on July 15, 2003


Hmm, New Orleans, Birmingham, and Atlanta (all southern cities) rank ahead of NYC.

So much for stereotypes.
posted by justgary at 12:22 AM on July 16, 2003


In your face Phoenix!
posted by drezdn at 1:15 AM on July 16, 2003


Uhh... where's Raleigh, NC? (276,093, US Cenus 2000)

And not counting weekly newspapers/periodicals? Sketchy.

Boo. I dislike this study. Show me facts about publications made/read in each city/metro area, media penetration and saturation of political/social/news events, evidence of community response.
posted by salsamander at 1:55 AM on July 16, 2003


Doesn't surprise me, re: Seattle. Hell of a lot of intelligent people about, which explains the near non-existent crime rate and nearly-constant protests by the local hard-left (good on 'em). Bit surprised to hear San Fran ranked 5th, though but I suppose that's more Oakland's fault than Berkeley.

As for New York: consider the *massive* inner-city population: Oakland times a million.
posted by Ryvar at 2:30 AM on July 16, 2003


D.C. is #7. Notwithstanding horrifying Intern Boy from the preceding post. Now if only we could vote.
posted by onlyconnect at 2:33 AM on July 16, 2003


Ha, ha, SF isn't number one! Yet another thing to taunt all the snobby "natives" with.
posted by Potsy at 2:54 AM on July 16, 2003


I have lived in Fort Worth, Toledo, El Paso, Baltimore and the West Palm Beach area (which, for this study, I would translate as "Miami") and I gotta say that, anecdotally, this study got some things right and some things wrong. First, El Paso definitely deserves to bring up the rear in this survey. But ranking Toledo 54th? Nah, that's wrong. Toledo should be way up higher on the list.

And no one reads in Miami, so the No. 12 ranking is senseless. In fact, people in Miami can't read. That's why most Miamians are criminals. They spend their money on guns and on bars for their doors and windows.
posted by Holden at 3:35 AM on July 16, 2003


HEADS UP TO PORTLAND OREGON! YEAH!
posted by Keyser Soze at 4:14 AM on July 16, 2003


Good to see Baltimore (The City That Reads) is up there at 51st. I guess paper champions eventually reveal themselves eventually. By this report though not many people could read it in the first place.
posted by LouieLoco at 5:05 AM on July 16, 2003


New York at 47 ain't doing that hot. But at least they're ahead of Philadelphia.

We're No. 48! We're No. 48! We're No. 48!

*cries*
posted by Slithy_Tove at 5:25 AM on July 16, 2003


Hmm, New Orleans, Birmingham, and Atlanta (all southern cities) rank ahead of NYC.

So much for stereotypes.


Right. And friggin' Newark came in 1st for newspaper circulation. This study says nothing. That's why cities with high Klan enrollments and places where a toxic waste dump would be urban renewal finished ahead of a bunch of the usual suspects.

(Yes, I'm pissed that Boston wasn't ranked higher.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:28 AM on July 16, 2003


I find their criteria suspect. They can have no claim to plausibility once they list Las Vegas at #13. No one reads in Vegas: the libraries are appalling; the used bookstores are shameful; and one almost never finds any books for sale at garage sales (a measure I have found personally useful). Are they counting keno cards, or what? Tucson, at #28, is ten times as literate as Vegas by any reasonable standard.
posted by rushmc at 5:32 AM on July 16, 2003


(Holden clutches chest, keels over on the occasion of not disagreeing with rushmc)
posted by Holden at 5:46 AM on July 16, 2003


It gets worse—they list Las Vegas #2 on their libraries list! What alternate universe do these people inhabit? I tried to read the 100 novels voted best of the 20th Century, and the combined Vegas library system had less than a quarter of them.

(Wait, Holden...you mean, people sometimes dare to disagree with things I say on Metafilter? But...I'm so sensible, and so obviously correct! Why, that's craz...oh, wait, I see, you're just pulling my leg. Ha, ha. Whew, had me going there for a sec!)
posted by rushmc at 6:11 AM on July 16, 2003


I've heard that the non-gambling areas of Vegas are actually a nice place to live.

San Francisco's allegedly more literate than New York or DC, and supposedly has the highest concentration of people with advanced degrees, but our newspaper sucks.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:24 AM on July 16, 2003


It seems like the study could have been authored in a day with some help from some student assistants. I would think a literacy study would take literacy into account. Here's a database to search cities and states for literacy rates.
posted by Frank Grimes at 6:31 AM on July 16, 2003


Darn, forgot to use my new sig:

Once again from your intellectual, moral, social, and emotional superior,
posted by kirkaracha at 6:36 AM on July 16, 2003


As a long-time and uber-literate resident of the Mini-apple (Minneapolis) all I can say is "Uh huh! Uh huh! Uh huh uh huh uh huh! In your face!!!!! <spike>pigskin</spike>"

Sorry about that.
posted by mooncrow at 6:37 AM on July 16, 2003


OK, so cities with miserable weather rank in teh top five, makes sense.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:38 AM on July 16, 2003


That's why cities with high Klan enrollments and places where a toxic waste dump would be urban renewal finished ahead of a bunch of the usual suspects.

Nice Troll. Wow, I guess Bostonians really are literate, if they think this is the reality in Birmingham, New Orleans and Atlanta, sorry, I guess I should tone the sarcasm down for you. Had racism and filth been factors I'm sure many Boston and cities like it would have done much better!

OK, so cities with miserable weather rank in the top five, makes sense.

Make that top 2, what's so bad about Denver, Atlanta and San Fran's weather? They all suffer from a couple months of the bad and then 9 months of perfect, gee, that sounds just awful!
posted by Pollomacho at 6:51 AM on July 16, 2003


Oklahoma City and (gasp) Newark are ahead of NYC.

I smell a rat. But enough about Newark already.
posted by clevershark at 6:56 AM on July 16, 2003


I dunno. The calibration at #1 looks dead-on. MPLS! WHOOOOOOOOOOOO! Hoo-ha!
posted by COBRA! at 7:29 AM on July 16, 2003


Pollomacho-

I thought that the last line of my post made it very implicit that I was kidding. I'm sorry, unless you were sincere in your response, in which case I advise you to get out of the 70's.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:49 AM on July 16, 2003


Gonna have to agree with Cobra on this one. Whoooo!! Go Minneapolis!
The rest of you all suck. That is all.
posted by graventy at 8:05 AM on July 16, 2003


People who read hate freedom.
posted by drstrangelove at 8:11 AM on July 16, 2003


Chicago isn't doing that well at 45, but at least we're ahead of both NY and LA. That's all we really care about. Second City, my ass . . .
posted by aladfar at 8:35 AM on July 16, 2003


clevershark, have you been to Oklahoma City? I lived my first 23 years within 30 minutes of OKC, and I can tell you that there isn't much to do there besides reading a newspaper.
posted by howa2396 at 8:40 AM on July 16, 2003


I'd like to toss my hat on the "WHOOO MINNEAPOLIS" pile. My hometown, and still one of my favorite cities.
posted by kavasa at 8:51 AM on July 16, 2003


Any method to the madness of doing the whole site in images instead of text? Don't see that very often.

I was happy to see former hometowns Atlanta GA and Portland OR listed. To a certain degree both towns fell all over themselves quite self-consciously to portray themselves as being literate towns in the weekly "alternative" rags each week, sounding off about the number of bookstores and indie-cinema, but I guess you're free to flaunt it if you've got it.

Of all the towns I've lived, I'd say Charlottesville VA was the most literate, especially for its small population, and yet it was unranked while Va Beach(!) was a respectable #29.

People who read hate freedom.

That joke just keeps getting funnier every hundred or so times you say it, drstranglovebot.
posted by dhoyt at 9:05 AM on July 16, 2003


Anyone find it ironic that an article on literacy is published in such an ugly, illegible format (images rather than plain text)?

Anyway, props to Minneapolis... though I find it interesting that St. Paul, the city directly east of Minneapolis, ranks at #11...?! Guess it's not a regional thing...
posted by bhayes82 at 9:17 AM on July 16, 2003


I think he meant "People who read hate America"
posted by graventy at 9:18 AM on July 16, 2003


I'd say Charlottesville VA was the most literate, especially for its small population

I think you just answered why it wasn't on the list, small population. There are plenty of tiny college towns with as high a level of intellectual discourse as Charlottesville, however this is about cities not small towns mostly made up of a college or two or more even.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:33 AM on July 16, 2003


Grew up in Minneapolis, went to grad school in Seattle, then moved just south of San Francisco. What do I have to show for living in all these literary hotspots? Way too many books! (Usually I like books, but I moved this weekend. A couple hundred books get pretty cumbersome when you lug them across town.) As far as newspapers, the Seattle P-I is far superior to the SF Chronicle and the Star Tribune.
posted by cholstro at 9:33 AM on July 16, 2003


What about online reading and book buying? I read a lot, but buy most of my books online or secondhand; as for news, I have a few weekly subscriptions and generally catch the rest on the internet... (I buy the sunday paper and occasionally the tuesday). Also, I usually use private libraries - through schools or foundations - are these are included in the "bureau of circulations" numbers?

I'm not surprised Minneapolis is up there, though. The clips new york's NPR station plays from Minnesota PR always make it seem like a smart little town. And I have to say, they have the best airport food I've ever come across.
posted by mdn at 9:44 AM on July 16, 2003


Bit surprised to hear San Fran ranked 5th, though but I suppose that's more Oakland's fault than Berkeley.
Oakland has its own (lower) ranking. Berkeley is nowhere near qualifying for this study due to its small population.

As for New York: consider the *massive* inner-city population: Oakland times a million.
Consider it relative to population. Per capita, if by inner-city you mean below poverty level, I'm guessing just the opposite.
posted by G_Ask at 9:59 AM on July 16, 2003


I think you just answered why it wasn't on the list, small population.

Kinda figured as much. I didn't read the study thoroughly enough to get a better idea for the criteria regarding population (though definitionally Charlottesville is still a "city"). I guess the same goes for Chapel Hill, and so on.
posted by dhoyt at 10:11 AM on July 16, 2003


Right. And friggin' Newark came in 1st for newspaper circulation. This study says nothing. That's why cities with high Klan enrollments and places where a toxic waste dump would be urban renewal finished ahead of a bunch of the usual suspects.

Thanks for proving my point Mayor Curley.

Continue to wear your suit of ignorance, it suits you well.
posted by justgary at 10:29 AM on July 16, 2003


Sorry, just don't quite get the kidding part.
posted by justgary at 10:30 AM on July 16, 2003


Grew up in Minneapolis, went to grad school in Seattle, then moved just south of San Francisco.

Wow, sounds like you've been dumbening each time, maybe eventually you'll end up in El Paso?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:50 AM on July 16, 2003


In line with what others said, I think cities like S.F. and Boston suffer by being counted without their Berkeleys, Cambridges, and whatnot. It would have been smarter if the results were keyed to metropolitan statistical areas—mostly because many of the city statistics measured relate to the larger area (in other words, of course a lot of periodicals are published in Atlanta for a city of 394,000!). In that sense, the data for smaller college-town areas should have been included all the more, since they are at a statistical disadvantage (unlike "nucleus" cities, they have to actually drum up participants from their own population in all their cultural activities)!
posted by Zurishaddai at 11:26 AM on July 16, 2003


I'm not surprised Minneapolis is up there, though. The clips new york's NPR station plays from Minnesota PR always make it seem like a smart little town. And I have to say, they have the best airport food I've ever come across.

Ha. The reason for that is that MPR has sort of a delusion of grandeur, and is slowly trying to expand its way outward to challenge NPR on the nationwide scene. They've been buying stations in southern CA, I believe.

But in their megalomania, they do put out some good programming.

And hey- who're you calling little? We're totally bigger than Sioux Falls and Des Moines put together.
posted by COBRA! at 11:28 AM on July 16, 2003


In line with what others said, I think cities like S.F. and Boston suffer by being counted without their Berkeleys, Cambridges, and whatnot. It would have been smarter if the results were keyed to metropolitan statistical areas

If you check out the full paper you'll see that they did include such metro areas.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:40 AM on July 16, 2003


Los Angeles is below San José?! HELL, no. I've lived both places. L.A. has a thriving book culture (and an especially vibrant used and antiquarian book market), multiple daily and weekly papers (The Times, The Daily News, Biz Journal, Downtown News, Daily Journal, LA Weekly, Variety, the H'w'd Reporter, the alt. to the LA Weekly [changes constantly]), a newstand on every other corner, a citywide library system, a countywide library system, library systems for all the mini-cities within the county (Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Glendale, etc), and tons of random microlibraries devoted to specific subjects. The libraries at UCLA, CalTech and USC are not minced cheese either. San José? San José has dick.
posted by jengod at 11:45 AM on July 16, 2003


i've got a send a quick shoutout to Louisville KY (just b/c nobody else will). it's crazy to rank it above Portland, but oh well. kudos to the 'Ville!

i think newspaper circulation pushed it up there. everybody in Louisville reads the same damn thing - the daily Courier-Journal. i'm not sure newspaper circ is such a good measure of literateness (anymore).

San Jose isn't that bad.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:59 AM on July 16, 2003


If you've read this far, congratulations, you don't live in New York.
posted by Hildago at 12:22 PM on July 16, 2003


they did include such metro areas

Huh, well it's dang confusing that they list Atlanta as having a population of 394,000. But this makes me even more skeptical that what look like glaring mistakes to any seasoned bookprowler are just that.
posted by Zurishaddai at 8:28 PM on July 16, 2003


New York may only be the 47th most literate city, but it is probably the best city to live in as a bibliophile with institutions like and the NY public library, as well as its rich literary history...
posted by andrewraff at 11:40 PM on July 16, 2003


New York may only be the 47th most literate city, but it is probably the best city to live in as a bibliophile

Really? I've heard many a bibliophile complain about the lack of good (used) bookstores in New York.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:24 AM on July 17, 2003


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