Washingtonians are the nation’s most well-read citizens, but they’re reading less these days. And so, it appears, are city dwellers everywhere.
That’s according to the latest findings of an annual study of the United States most literate cities, which ranks the “culture and resources for reading” in the nation’s 75 largest metro areas. The study examines not whether people can read, but whether they actually do.
“What difference does it make how good your reading test score is if you never read anything?” asks researcher Jack Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain , Conn. “One of the elements of the climate, the culture, the value of a city is whether or not there are people there that practice those kinds of behaviors.”
The study, based on 2010, looks at measures for six items – newspapers, bookstores, magazines, education, libraries and the Internet – to determine what resources are available in each city and the extent to which its inhabitants take advantage of them.
Now in its eighth year, the study finds little to celebrate. Were Washington’s top score in 2010 applied to the 2004 rankings, for example, the city would land at No. 7.
The study identifies “worrisome trends” consistent with other national research, including declines in newspaper circulation and book-buying, along with sluggish growth in educational attainment. Increases in Internet usage and stable library patronage aren’t offsetting those declines, it says.
Among details in the study, which can be seen at www.ccsu.edu/amlc2010:
Washington’s climb to No. 1 this year was likely helped by troubles in Seattle, which has claimed or shared (with Minneapolis) the top spot four of the past five years. In recent years, Seattle has lost a newspaper and some legendary local bookstores have struggled.
New Orleans, which ranked 42nd in 2005, then dropped off the list because its population dipped after Hurricane Katrina, has more than bounced back. It returned last year at 17 and this year climbed to 15. Changing demographics likely explain the spike. “A lot of the people that left and haven’t come back were poorer,” Miller says.
Ten of California’s 12 largest cities landed in the bottom half, including Sacramento, the state capital, at 45, and lowest-ranked Stockton, which has been at or near the bottom since the list debuted in 2004. San Francisco was ranked 6; Oakland squeaked into the top half at 37.
One bright spot: The use of public libraries has remained consistently strong over the years, particularly in manufacturing towns. Toledo, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, Ind., for example, were in the bottom half overall but were two of six Rust Belt cities in the top 10 for library resources.
Robert Lang, an urban planning and policy expert at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, acknowledges cause for concern but questions whether results necessarily mean people are reading less.
“People are reading more things and less in depth. They’re getting briefed,” Lang says. “The bigger finding (is) what’s consumed is different.”
Source: USA Today