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America’s Most Literate City

From Eliza French. Follow her on Twitter @elizaenbref; email her at eliza[AT]borderstan.com.


Reading in Dupont Circle. (Luis Gomez Photos)

We live in America’s “most literate city.” Washington, DC has earned this title for three years running in the annual America’s Most Literate Cities study. Dr. John W. Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, authored the study using research conducted by the university’s Center for Public Policy & Social Research.

Aside from national press coverage, the findings even a warranted Twitter shout-out from Mayor Vincent Gray. But what does this label really tell us about our city?

Six Criteria Examined

Researchers ranked all 76 cities in the study based on six separate criteria, and then considered all of the rankings to produce an overall literacy rank for each city.

Number of booksellers was the first area of evaluation. The researches assessed three factors — the number of retail bookstores per 10,000 people, the number of rare and used bookstores per 10,000 people and the number of members of the American Booksellers Association per 10,000 population. Despite local institutions like Kramerbooks and Politics & Prose, DC received its lowest score, fifteenth, in this category.

The study also evaluated education attainment, based on percentage of the adult population with a high school diploma and the percentage of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. DC ranked ninth on education attainment.

The Internet and Periodicals

Taking the top spot in both criteria, city’s strongest showing was in Internet resources and periodical publishing resources. These categories, like most of those considered in the study, focused not only on access to the Internet and magazines, but on how much residents utilized that access.

The newspaper metric, for example included the number of unique visitors per capita to a city’s Internet version newspaper, number of webpage views per capita to a city’s Internet version newspaper, and number of Internet book orders per capita, as well as the number of households with an e-reader

The nation’s capital tied with Portland Oregon for 13th place in library resources, and with Cleveland, Ohio, for fourth place newspaper circulation.

Interestingly, leading the pack in one of these categories did not guarantee a leading place in the overall rankings.  Plano, Texas, led in education attainment but ranked 45th in the comprehensive ranking, and Newark, New Jersey led in newspaper circulation but was rated 33rd overall.

No study’s methods are perfect, and not every “America’s top 10 fill-in-the-blank” lists has significance. Still, after three years as the country’s most literate city, DC must be getting something right. If nothing else, the ranking serves as a reminder of the incredible resources at our fingertips and an affirmation of our community’s engagement.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 43 posts on Borderstan.

French grew up in Northern Virginia and has been a Borderstan resident since July 2011. She recently graduated from Duke University and now works in media events. Her interests include food, art, fashion and culture. On the weekends you can find her volunteering at the Phillips collection, eating at Hank’s Oyster Bar, or window-shopping on 14th Street. Email her at eliza@borderstan.com or follow her on Twitter @elizaenbref.

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