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Twin Cities Star in Literacy Study

Minneapolis has regained its spot on the top of the 2007 list of America's most literate cities. It held top honors in 2004 but was nudged into second place by Seattle in 2005 and 2006.

St. Paul ranks third and is called the "rising star" by John W. Miller, the originator and author of "America's Most Literate Cities 2007." From 16th place in 2004, St. Paul rose to tie for the 9th/10th slot with Cincinnati in 2005 and to 5th place in 2006.

Other top cities are Seattle in 2nd place; Denver in 4th; Washington, D.C., in 5th; St. Louis in 6th; San Francisco in 7th; Atlanta in 8th; Pittsburgh in 9th; and Boston in 10th. Minneapolis, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Denver, and Washington, D.C., have appeared in the top ten every year since the study began in 2003.

Study details
Miller's research was conducted in collaboration with the Center for Public Policy and Social Research at Central Connecticut State University, where he serves as president. Cities shown by U.S. Census to have a population of 250,000 or larger as of July 1, 2006, were studied (69 cities for 2007). Literacy was ranked using the following six key indicators.

• Educational attainment (number of adults with a high school education and number with a B.A. or higher): Minneapolis ranked 6th; St. Paul ranked 8th.

• Library resources (number of school media personnel, branch libraries, volumes held, circulation, and library professional staff): Minneapolis and St. Paul tied at 10th.

• Internet resources (number of library Internet connections, Internet book orders, visitors to a city's online newspaper, and web page views): Minneapolis ranked 8th; St. Paul ranked 10th.

• Periodical publishing resources (number of magazine publishers with a circulation exceeding 2,500 and number of journals with a circulation exceeding 500): Minneapolis tied with San Francisco for 6th; St. Paul tied with Boston for 4th.

• Number of bookstores: Minneapolis tied with Cincinnati for 3rd; St. Paul ranked 8th.

• Circulation of weekly and Sunday newspapers: Minneapolis ranked 3rd; St. Paul ranked 12th.

"This set of factors measures people's use of their literacy and thus presents a complex and nuanced portrait of our nation's cultural vitality," Miller explains in the study's introduction.

A rising star
Miller notes that although Americans' education level is increasing, our literate behaviors are decreasing. "This is particularly obvious in our lack of support of bookstores and the constantly diminishing circulation of newspapers," he says.

St. Paul "has held its own in very declining markets for bookstores," Miller says, and it has had large increases in the publication of magazines and professional journals.

Perhaps most noteworthy, St. Paul is the only city in the study that did not show a declining Sunday newspaper circulation. And only St. Paul, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Louisville consistently had increases in weekday newspaper circulation.

In addition, Miller says, "St. Paul's library system is good and improving: it is one of the few cities which improved in all three variables of branches, volumes, and circulation. Public access to Internet communications has increased substantially in every year the study has been conducted."

With its 5th highest percentage of the population with a high school diploma and the 10th highest percentage with a B.A., "St. Paul is certainly a bright spot," Miller says.

Other bright spots
The study has some good news to report: Across the cities studied, publication of magazines rose 87%, and reading online increased. Compared with five years ago, 43 of the cities have a higher percentage of high school graduates and 46 have a higher percentage of college graduates.

Overall, in terms of number of buildings, circulation, and collections, "libraries are staying even," Miller says. St. Paul was one of three cities that had an increase in circulation figures.

More schooling, less reading?
On the other hand, the numbers were down in weekday newspaper circulation in 94% of the cities studied, and in the number of retail bookstores in 95% of the cities studied. It appears that an increase in education does not necessarily bring an increase in reading.

These figures and findings of a November 2007 publication from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), "To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence," indicate that "at all levels, Americans are reading less and reading less well," Miller says.

The NEA gathered national data for an overview of Americans' reading for pleasure. In its Preface, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia writes that the report shows "a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans. Most alarming, both reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates."

These declines, Gioia says, "have demonstrable social, economic, cultural, and civic implications." Miller agrees, stating that from the data in his literacy report, "we can better perceive the extent and quality of the long-term literacy essential to individual economic success, civic participation, and the quality of life in a community and a nation."

About the author
John W. Miller has been President of Central Connecticut State University since 2005. He originated the study of America's most literate cities in 2003 during his six-year term as Chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He received a doctorate in education from Purdue University in 1975, a master's degree in education from Northern Illinois University in 1972, and a bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio University in 1969.

"America's Most Literate Cities 2007" is available at http://www.ccsu.edu/AMLC07.

"To Read or Not to Read" is available at http://www.nea.gov/research/ToRead.pdf.